Weekend Reads: Grunge’s Rise & Fall, Music’s Future, Midi-chlorians, Logan Paul, Woody Allen & more

Also: The downside of algorithms, movie gun violence, John Williams, enjoying art by sexual predators, and diversity and movie criticism.

After the runaway success of Nevermind, record labels rushed to find the next Nirvana. “The Grunge Gold Rush was a unique three-year period, from roughly 1992 to 1995, when roaring, anti-everything bands such as Butthole Surfers, Foetus and Ween had benefactors who paid them hundreds of thousands, even millions, for doing what they’d always done. Swept up in the record industry’s net during this time were lasting rock superstars (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Tool) and commercial flops that never had any business being close to a major label (Cell, Quicksand, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Jawbox).”

What does the future hold for the music industry? Could artificial intelligence and virtual reality be responsible for the next crop of pop stars, or the next big music festival?


Om Malik worries that streaming algorithms are hindering our enjoyment of music. “The algorithmic world we live in puts convenience and speed ahead of these abstract concepts of human consciousness and connections. Facebook has blunted the idea of friendship, and relationships, LinkedIn has turned business relations into a spectator sport of likes, follows and recommendations. Algorithm writers forget that we all need narratives, stories we need to tell each other to have a real connection.”

How do you reconcile hating gun violence but loving guns in movies? “If you also harbor an appreciation for stories filled with violence and crime — for some of the most compelling stories ever told, in other words — and you have even a smidgen of a bleeding heart, this is the moral dilemma you must grapple with… We oppose gun violence — naturally, of course we do. But also, we sure do love to watch it.”

Star Wars Logo
A long time ago…

John Williams’ inimitable Star Wars scores do just as much storytelling as any line of dialog. “In one scene, Leia, Luke’s Force-capable sister, communicates telepathically with her son Kylo Ren, who has gone over to the dark side and is training his guns on her vessel. Leia’s theme is briefly heard against a dissonant cluster chord. Earlier in the saga, we might have been subjected to dialogue along the lines of Don’t do this! I’m your mother!’ Williams’s musical paraphrase is more elegant.”

Abraham Riesman ventures into dangerous territory, makes a case for midi-chlorians. “Maybe midi-chlorians are as stupid an explanation of the Force as their real-world critics say they are. What if high midi-chlorian counts had a loose correlation to Force sensitivity, but weren’t actual causes of it, and the Jedi just misinterpreted their data? […] From that point of view, the prequels are a tragedy about well-intentioned intellectuals whose myopic condescension led them onto a path of war and self-immolation.”

Logan Paul
Logan Paul

Youtube star Logan Paul generated some recent controversy for posting a video that featured a suicide victim. He took the video down, but there’s plenty more where it came from. “Every time there is some hue and cry about something like Logan Paul callously filming a dead man hanging from a tree, it’s a pushback that seems totally ineffectual — and ignorant of the scope of what is actually happening with YouTube, which is viewed by many, many young people in a way that is more obsessive and more internalized than probably anything any of us experienced in our own youths.”

Is it OK to watch (and even enjoy) movies and TV shows made by sexual predators? “We don’t need to erase these men and their art, but we can no longer see it as unalloyed entertainment or drama, hermetically sealed off from the real world.’ The moral compromise required to view it in that way is too great. And as the last few months have constantly reminded us, we’ve already made enough moral compromises.”

Woody Allen
Woody Allen

Speaking of sexual predators, why does Woody Allen still have a career? “Allen now works in a Hollywood that is ferreting out and blackballing powerful men accused of misconduct, an environment in which Dylan Farrow and others have continued to speak out against him. After Harvey Weinstein, the industry seems willing to expunge any and all accused predators from its ranks. So why are actors like Gerwig and Winslet still struggling to figure out and articulate their relationship to Allen?”

Alissa Wilkinson considers how we watched and talked about movies in 2017. “Those questions hummed beneath many of the conversations about the year’s movies, conversations that often leaned away from traditional formal analysis of a film and toward engaging with the broader culture that surrounds a movie. Those sorts of conversations move beyond the text of the film to see how the creators, audiences, and cultural climate both acts upon and is affected by the movie. And looking at just a few of those conversations shows how difficult (but rewarding) it can be to take popular art seriously, and what we can learn from seeking out perspectives that are different from our own.”

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