George Starostin on music today

Longtime readers of Hey Dullblog will recall that I’ve posted about Starostin’s music reviews before. He’s prolific, insightful, and unafraid to swim against the tide — though he’s never a contrarian for controversy’s sake. His reviews of the Beatles catalog are well worth reading. His original site is here, and the site he is currently updating is here.

On September 1 of this year Starostin posted a lengthy essay entitled “Music: Where The Hell Is It Heading To (Twenty Years After)?” Hard to believe that it’s been two decades since Starostin published his first long essay about the state of music, but so it is. I recommend you read the whole recent essay and the comments, and I’m going to refrain from commenting on it myself.

George Starostin is a Russian linguist who reviews astonishing amounts of music in his spare time.

I’ll just say that Starostin manages in this piece to consider important questions about the significance (or lack of significance) of much contemporary music and why the music scene has changed as it has, without succumbing to easy nostalgia. This piece of writing reminded me of the essential meaning of the word “essay”: “an attempt or effort.” Starostin’s trying to get his head around what’s going on with music today in a way that feels quite authentic and brave.

Here’s one paragraph, to give you a taste:

“One odd thing that I quickly noticed [after restarting reviews on the blog] was that, regardless of the change in strategy, my new reviews for old school artists still tended to attract far more attention than my reviews of 21st century artists, even regardless of their overall popularity or critical importance. Refreshed assessments of the Beatles, Beach Boys, or Black Sabbath catalogs yielded hundreds of views and quite a bit of comments; new reviews of any of the artists listed above, with very few exceptions, yielded dozens of views and very few occasional comments. At first, I did not pay much attention to this, ascribing this peculiarity to the fact that most of the readers, in all likelihood, were from my old fanbase, and that old fanbase had no obligations at all to accept my strategic deviations. “George only writes well about The Beatles, and has no idea of whatʼs been going on since 1975 “, that sort of thinking. Well — okay, maybe I deserved this, maybe I had just painted myself way too much into one corner to have any right to expect that anybody would ever care about what I could say about Aphex Twin, let alone Boards Of Canada. Iʼll just mosey along with the flow and hope that time will heal some of the wounds… for now.”

I look forward to hearing what HD readers think of Starostin’s ideas.

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  1. Avatar Justin McCann wrote:

    I read this when it came out and loved it. I’ve been ranting about aesthetics enough here lately so I’ll just say that I agreed with a lot of the essay and found it extremely well written, thought-provoking and engaging. The reactions in Starostin’s fan group were almost as interesting as the piece itself, a mixture of “right on, brother”, “you’re just an old man ranting at the clouds” and “largely agree but have you considered x, y and z”.
    I wish all critics could write like Starostin: mixing the head and the heart, having the humility to revise their perspectives as they listen to more stuff, ignoring critical trends yet not debunking them for the sake of it (as you said), writing clearly without oversimplifying, avoiding pretension and arrogance, and having a stylistic voice of their own rather than writing in the snarky way they think critics “should” write. The Internet produces a vast amount of dross, but every so often it produces a genuine intellect who’s willing to write a mind-boggling amount for free.

  2. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Now that I have had the opportunity to immerse myself into a long and detailed comparative experience of everything from 1920 to 2019, I can say for certain that the 2000s (at least the mid-to-late 2000s) and the 2010s are the first period in a long time to lack a distinctive “musical face” of their own. Most of the big differences have been functional and technical — the rise of YouTube, streaming, etc. — but stylistically, it is hard for me to tell 2009 from 2019, simply because there is no specific thing that would make me go “oh, this is so 2009 and so not 2019” or “this is so 2019 and so not 2009”.

    That’s something I noticed. And not only in music, but in fashion (clothes, hair, etc.). But then I wondered if it was me. I wondered if I’ve simply reached an age where those things just go over my head. Someone 15-25 years old probably perceives all sorts of subtle differences that I’m missing.
    I’m sure someone who was my age (61) back in the 1960s couldn’t differentiate between Hard Day’s Night Beatles and Let It Be rooftop Beatles. “It’s all guitar noise and garbage can lids banging!” And yet, in their own youth, they probably appreciated the progression of Bing Crosby’s sound from 1929 to 1939.
    I honestly don’t know.
    Does one reach an age where it all looks and sounds the same?

  3. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    A long-running gag in my Only Solitaire group is my unabated hatred for Taylor Swift; clearly, though, I do not hate Taylor Swift for being a boring songwriter,

    And here I disagree. Although I’m not a fan of Ms. Swift, I admit her songs are catchy and perfect for what they are. I know some people are grumpy that she left country for pop music, but wasn’t she simply following a long tradition that goes back to Patsy Cline and before?

    I admire her for standing up to the music industry, fighting for what’s hers, and being generally empowering to her young stans. I’m not familiar with many of her songs, but those I’ve heard were certainly catchy and enjoyable.

    I’m so old I remember people being dismissive of the early Beatles; talking about them the way folks talk about Taylor Swift now. Who knows what’s in the future?

  4. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    One more thought: I wonder if I can’t pin any kind of “face” on this decade because it’s a jumble of various retro trends? This Jen Sorensen cartoon made me wonder:

    • Nancy Carr Nancy Carr wrote:

      I tend to think that’s accurate, Sam. Have you read Simon Reynolds’ book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past? One of the chapters, “Good Citations: The Rise Of The Rock Curator,” explores what Reynolds sees as a shift from music creators responding primarily to events around them / lived experience to responding to other, earlier music creators. Think Oasis as perpetually calling back to the Beatles.

  5. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    “The externals are terrifying”

    Journalists from the Beatlemania era sound the alarm.

  6. Guys, I began to read this and I don’t know whether it was the infernal sans-serif typeface or my reading glasses or an encroachin’ sense of my own mortality, but had to pull out after about word 5000. Can someone please give me the TL;dr–?
    There are some interesting ideas in here, surely, and I sense I’d have lots to say about it, but — it strikes me that the capacity of the internet to accommodate an endless amount of text has had somewhat of the same effect on writing as the explosion of new music has had on music.

  7. Avatar Hologram Sam wrote:

    Can someone please give me the TL;dr–?

    Yes, but unfortunately the TL;DR runs about five pages.

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