The new Smashing Pumpkins album has pitted my no-sell-out mentality against my desire to avoid nostalgia for its own sake, against my wish for Billy Corgan to write a decent, whistleable album (Courtney Love managed that, if nothing else, with America’s Sweetheart: you’d think the two of them, gosh, after all they’ve been through, they just might… hum.) In fact, all these conflicting urges aren’t so much having some sort of Queensberry-rules contest with everyone clean, oiled and begloved, but rather a messy, no-holds-barred tussle in the Oxfordshire mud, pulling ears, gougeing eyes and pressing each other’s faces into the mire. And I haven’t even thought about buying Zeitgeist yet.
In the comments, rgl points out something frequently overlooked by the Albini crowd and their crowing about not selling out:
I’m a music student, and often music which is now considered to be High Art was published with uncomfortably obsequious dedications from the composer to some rich member of the aristocracy
Not wanting to divert this into my own pet subject or anything, but the most recent LRB has an excellent article about Dryden in this very context. His reliance on patronage, with even his laureate status being more patronage from the crown than what we would now consider state support à la Arts Council funding, certainly bent much of his verse into a particular shape, but there is arguably high art occurring, even flourishing, within the rather restrictive, footbound borders that his sources of income proscribed. The requirements that The White Stripes’ live act places on their material are just as restrictive, in different ways.
Steve Albini writes very coherently and stridently, and makes a decent if not always convincing case for purity in art, but as rgl implies he already has the privilege of what I think Metallica laughably called “the fuck-you money”. I think that was in the context of exhorting fans not to deny their record label (and to a tiny, tiny extent the artists themselves) huge amounts of cash by illegally downloading their music through Napster. What’s that you ask? “Whooster?” Yes, funny how things change, isn’t it?
But ultimately the no-sell-out argument comes down to: would you only ever want to—and genuine purists close your eyes for the next few words, at least—consume products that self-identify entirely as some sort of straight-edge version of art? Can you understand the human condition—post-Warhol, post-Lichtenstein, post-NME, postmodern if you really insist—-by only ever engaging in discourses that deny, or at any rate reject utterly, the commodification that has produced so much of today’s high art? Is this not just pandering to the same short-sighted, vacuous high-mindedness as Rock Against Drugs movement did? And didn’t I just mention Courtney Love?