Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pop Culture Books # 4 Twee

'What I'm reading now, and it's just great. A historical and cultural investigation into a particular sensibility taking in all the great writers, artists and musicians who have championed a gentler way of doing things. Taking in Walt Disney, Anne Frank, J.D.Salinger, Truman Capote, Jean Seberg, Jonathan Richman, Edwyn Collins, Morrissey, Wes Anderson and so on. Every sensitive icon you could possibly want. Wonderfully written and encyclopedic in its scope, it's sure to act as the source for a lot of the music I'll post here over the coming months.' 

      I first wrote this about Twee just yesterday and a day later I'm through it, partly owing to a long train journey, but partly because it utterly enthralled me until its denouement. On Pop Culture, encompassing mostly music, television, film and fashion as its title suggests, Spitz is quite excellent, both in terms of his choice of key players who have played their part in contributing and shaping the sensibility and in assessing exactly what they added to the construct. The chapters on Richman, Collins, Morrissey, Cobain and Murdoch and the bands they led are original, perceptive and hugely pleasurable for anyone who treasures these people's records. Me for starters!

     From this point on, one hundred pages from its end destination I found my attention began to wander and I even resorted to skipping paragraphs and sometimes pages. Partly because Spitz's main focus moved from music to film, the internet, the technological revolution we've all experienced in the last twenty years and how they inform the Twee phenomenon he was at pains to define. The focus here becomes relentlessly American, where it hasn't been before with Spitz jumping with some authority from New York to the UK over the preceding five decades. Boston also gets a look in with Richman and the Modern Lovers but according to his account Twee remains a predominantly East Coast concern in the States until it spreads nationwide after the millennium, much as punk had spread accross the country from its initial CBGB's base in the eighties.

As for the what goes on in the remainder of the book, with the exception of Wes Anderson, who I do think is, and will continue to be seen as an important figure, I was either unfamiliar with many of the players or cultural products he was discussing or, for example with the films Garden Stone and Juno, I feel that despite their basic enjoyableness, comment on an idea that is being set in stone, put on display like an exhibit behind glass. Something is just not nearly as exciting as it was. A basic process of passivity and consumption is setting in. Because so much of the best stuff in this tradition has been produced already and now it's most of all about collecting, refining, complementing in the minutest detail and most of all revering the canon. Or else, if there is an act of creation going on aping and mirroring what has gone before in ever diminishing circles

    So while Spitz makes a splendid case in defining the idea of Twee, he's on shakier ground when attempting to justify using the term Revolution in relation to it. While I applaud the set of records and related culture that he extols, (it's pretty much me to a large extent, or certainly a sizable proportion of me), he does, and this is not a direct criticism of his book per se, make you yearn for more of the sheer creative, engaged energy that he describes in the first two thirds of the book.

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