Haven't you always wanted, secretly wanted, to title a post such?
As part of a recent binge on the Faces, I’ve been thinking about Greil Marcus’ claim, speaking about Rod Stewart, that – a rough paraphrase here – rarely has a singer betrayed his talent so completely. And that’s a wonderfully perfect statement. It’s pure rock criticism, and, it’s in its purity that it achieves perfection.
It single-handedly and in one stroke obliterates an entire segment of a man’s career, purely because the speaker takes issue with it. Takes everything a man has done, everything a man has become, after some given point, and labels it betrayal. Deems it worthless.
It positions the speaker as superior, as omniscient, as he who is capable of true sight, of true hearing, of true understanding, of cutting through all the bullshit of headlines and advertising. It makes the speaker, the critic, just as important as the performer.
And it’s right.
Because Stewart, with the Jeff Beck Group, with the Faces, with the loose, wild backing on his first three solo albums, was, honestly, amazing, capable in his best moments of embodying, even only as an act, everything that the male rock star could be: fun, hurt, macho, sensitive, a little drunk, boorish, in love with the world around him even as he recognizes its capacity for pain, and with a voice that could ache simultaneously with fragility and whiskey.
Or, at the very least, he, with those others, made good records. Not perfect, not consistent, not particularly tight, but always spirited, always human, always blending so well the joy and hurt that the best rock and roll represents.
And that’s why it’s perfect rock criticism. And why Marcus can feel free to argue – as ridiculous and grandiose and self-important as the claim might be – that “Hot Legs,” “Some Guys Have All the Luck,” etc, represent not just an artist in decline, but a fundamental betrayal.
Sure, it’s ridiculous to claim, even implicitly, that there is such a thing as behavior traitorous to the founding principles of rock and roll, to the constitution of rock and roll, or that it might have been better, somehow, to keep making, ad infinitum, the same three or four records for the next thirty years, but that’s what’s so great about the best pop culture criticism: it elevates something fundamentally trivial and yet of such day-to-day importance into issues of living, national importance.