Saturday, 26 April 2014

In Defence of Alan Bissett, Heavy Metal and Open Interpretation (1)

And so it continues: The Daily Telegraph has a pop at Alan Bissett, on the grounds that he needs to lose some weight. This one hit home for me - I am heavier than Bissett and have more of a paunch. Personal insults are taking it way too far, and I actually thought that bit where he stripped down to his shreddies revealed a fairly good body.

Not that I appreciated it in any way other than a neutral, calm manner.

Of course, press attacks on artists that get personal are obnoxious and need to be called out. More than that, it seems that these journalists are encroaching on my territory, art criticism. I have always made it clear that I am not a journalist (no shorthand for starters), and their articles are making it pretty bloody clear that they are not critics.

You see, to be a critic, you need to have some basic understanding of the function of art. Art isn't a series of instructions to be blindly followed by the audience. It is a creative expression of a subjective viewpoint, presenting ideas for discussion. Regardless of the way it is presented, the apparent sincerity of the artist or the opinions expressed, an intelligent audience is free to interpret.

By intelligent, in this case, I mean able to see or hear or feel or touch.

Let's switch attention to another right-wing newspaper and see how The Daily Mail addressed the suicide of a young man.

A sixth-former who became introverted and withdrawn when he met his first girlfriend was found hanged after spending three hours searching for death metal songs on YouTube, an inquest heard.
Oliver King, 16, viewed songs including The Body of Death of the Man With The Body of Death by Pinkly Smooth before taking his own life while his mother was out of the house.

He left no suicide note and had never received any medical help for depression or mental illness.
But he texted a friend weeks before his death saying 'I imagine killing myself every day' and police found deleted images on his iPod which included the words: 'I'm sorry I want to give up. I’m sorry I want to die. I’m sorry I want to kill myself.'

The inquest heard Oliver, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, turned from an outgoing schoolboy into an introvert and began wearing dark clothes, long hair and makeup after beginning his first serious relationship.

He began listening to metal bands he had not listened to before, including Avenged Sevenfold and Black Veil Brides, and relations with his parents became strained.

The teenager began spending little time at home, lost weight and fell behind with his A-level studies. He had coursework deadlines the day after he died in February last year.

After the inquest his father Adrian King, 43, a management and IT consultant, said: 'I think the music did contribute to his state of mind. He was hanging out with the wrong crowd and I believe this lifestyle was more to blame than anything else.'

The surprise expressed that a teenager might have trouble relating to his parents, the salient fact that academic pressures are barely acknowledged compared to the space given to his 'death metal' enthusiasm, and the emphasis placed on the music as a catalyst suggest that there isn't a deep understanding of... well, life behind this article.

Just as a comparison, here's a description of some people listening to Wagner.

Thus again there arose a silence, full of expectation... out of evenly trembling waves of sound, in gradual, cruelly voluptuous crescendi, continually sinking back into themselves, there developed the most violent attack on human nerves... everyone, in their own way, felt gripped, overwhelmed, tortured, delighted, dishevelled. Even Frau von Ramburg could not maintain her dignity; she began to writhe on her chair like a snake.

Ferdinand von Saar is a better writer - that is a beautiful description of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde - but it articulate the same moral panic. It suggests that music can change personality. 

I'm bored now, but here's the connection. Slagging off Alan Bissett for his opinions, or blaming metal for suicides, or Wagner for an aristocratic family having an orgy, is to miss the possibility that the human mind can interpret art. It doesn't take a genius to recognise that reading anything with irony completely subverts its meaning. The particular work that took a slagging, Ban This Filth! has problems, but they are caused by Bissett's willingness to offer multiple interpretations: his physical vulnerability reflected the emotional vulnerability he was chasing in his speeches. 

Oh, and Avenged Sevenfold are not death metal. I got cornered at a party once by a speed metal fan. Forty minutes later, I knew the difference between black, speed and death metal. In detail...

Oh yes - and this: the Werther effect. Expect the next sanctimonious article not to include the line '... a copy of The Daily Mail was found by his bed.'

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