Sunday, October 12, 2008

Long Review: “ranters & crowd pleasers- punk in pop music 1977- 92”

Greil Marcus comes at the reader from a direction that not even people out in left field saw coming. Marcus’s book “ranters & crowd pleasers” takes an in-depth look at the world of punk music and what it meant during the time period of 1977- 1992. Starting with Britain’s version of punk music icons The Sex Pistols and ending with musicians that I would never consider including in a book about punk music, like Fleet Wood Mac and Elvis Costello, Marcus never throws the reader a pitch they see coming.

At first glance the biggest and best stands out of the book are the chapter titles. Nothing else makes the reader want to flip through the pages than giant phrases like, “Hi, this is America. We’re not home right now, but if you leave a message after the beep, we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”, “Flat, Toneless and Tiresome” and “Groovy Hate Fuck”. It leaves the reader with the impression that the author clearly has a sense of humor and wondering what the purposes behind phrases such as these mean.

Marcus’s observation and analysis of what punk music within the time period meant can really not be compared to any other critic. He breaks down the components of what punk music is and delivers it to the reader with a sense of humor and purpose. In the chapter “Ripped to Shreds,” Marcus examines another writer, Lester Bangs, interview with Blondie front woman Deborah Harry. Marcus finds that Bangs did an interesting job of examining the appeal behind the band and getting to the true story behind Blondie’s success. “Each song is a perfectly constructed concave system in which every single piece of information, kinda like a jigsaw puzzle except at the end instead of a picture you get a perfect blank. And that blank of course is nothing less than Deborah Harry’s face.” In the end Marcus accounts that Bangs not only helped the listener dissect the purpose behind Blondie’s meaning to their music but did so in a way that was fair.
Marcus is able to articulate his points such as these, either in support or against fellow music writers in ways that are repeatable and engaging to the reader.

At no point does the reader feel on the outs with the subject matter simply because they are not a fan of punk music or have never heard of some of the bands discussed in the short essay format the book is laid out in. It is Marcus’s ability to include and introduce the reader to the world of punk music and prove that not all screaming and waling is without a purpose that makes Marcus a great translator of punk music to the masses. However, sometimes points of the book it can seem that Marcus is over analyzing the ideas of punk music. Like in the chapter, “In the Fascist Bathroom,” where Marcus presents an piece written on Elvis Costello in which the mention of so many songs and how Marcus can find something to complain about with each one, makes me wonder why he even thought it was worthy of reviewing in the first place.

In the end, Marcus does an interesting and demanding job of holding the reader’s attention in ways that most other music critics have yet to achieve. I doubt that I have ever been as intrigued or inspired to listen to new music after reading any critics review as I have Marcus’s. He has also introduced me to new music that I had never considered listening to before like Gang of Four and definitely re-examine the works of Elvis Costello.

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