Hipster Rags: A Ramble

I got an awesome surprise in my mailbox Thursday. There was a new issue of Arthur waiting for me. The California-based hippie magazine had folded a few months earlier, half-way through my current subscription. But the bi-monthly is now back, and they're honoring the remainder of our contract together.

I'm often conflicted when reading hipster rags like Arthur and Vice. I have to wade through lots of collectivism and new age nonsense in order to gain exposure to bands I wouldn't otherwise. And then, read through interviews from worthwhile bands espousing collectivism and new age nonsense.

From the current issue of Arthur :

Arthur: So many people think you're being ironic. Does that bother you?

Becky Stark: ...Every time anyone asks if I'm serious about celebrating peace on earth I have to say, "Are you seriously asking me that question?" For real. I'm the weirdo? For talking about peace? In the midst of a horrific insane war? What? What have things come to that people think it's a joke to play music that celebrates peace?

Putting aside in my mind that Stark went on to use the word terracide a few paragraphs later, whenever someone talks about "Peace" I'm reminded of an Ilkka Kokkarinen post, and his observation that, "in reality a 'pacifist' is simply someone who has outsourced his use of force to someone else."

Would Stark advocate that all opposition in Iraq immediately accept all terms of the Bush administration's occupation and cease all of their violence in the name of "Peace"? If not, I have to conclude that even Californian hippie artists think that violence can be justified, even if they won't cop to it while posturing in interviews.

Despite features like, "One Man Goofing Off: A visit with legendary Zen humorist Henry Jacobs" Arthur doesn't have much of a sense of humor. There are the usual conservatives-and-rich-people-are-bad satires that preach to the choir, but the magazine never pokes fun at its readership the way Vice does (I tend to like a lot of stoner bands, however, so I tend to find more music I like in Arthur).

Not liking New York City hipster bands as much as stoner rock, Vice makes amends to me with some really great, bizare content. This month's issue has an interview with Wim Delvoye, who has purchased a plot of land in China in order to legally continue his art (tattooing pigs). It produced the amazing quote that follows:

"I tattoo pigs because they grow fast and they are so much better to tattoo than fish."

Delvoye goes on to mention that he will try out tattoos on humans first, and if he likes them will then ink them on pigs. To really mess with their readership, Vice prints that Delvoye is a vegitarian.

I always find something worthwhile in every issue of Vice and Arthur sandwiched between denounciations of mercantilism (but only ever referred to as capitalism). In the current copy of Arthur there was a full page ad for Joe Carducci's new book Enter Naomi, which is about Carducci's time running the independent record label SST in Los Angeles in the 1980s (the title refers to a music photographer that Carducci worked with closely during his time with the label).

Carducci's first book, Rock and the Pop Narcotic is one of my favorites. It was published back in 1995 (although a second and third eddition have since been printed) and readers were told to look for future publications from Carducci. Finding out about his new book, a dozen years removed from his first, made the current issue of Arthur worthwhile by itself (not that there isn't other valuable content).

Carducci is one of the only right-of-center rock critics I've found (although that doesn't mean they aren't out there), and it speaks to the quality of his work that someone who doesn't despise the middle class and occasionally speaks favorably of Reagan gets his ads run in and is allowed to contribute to Arthur.

His ad in Arthur even went as far as to list the ISBN for his third book which is scheduled to be released on the 28th of this month. I was able to pre-order it at Barnes & Noble using the ISBN while it still won't come up as a search result by title or author. (And for all the griping Arthur does about big business, Barnes & Noble is taking pre-orders for Carducci's third book while Carducci's small independent publisher isn't yet at the date of this posting.)

Getting back to the folks that fill the pages of Vice and Arthur (both the authors and artists), I often wonder why there is such similarity of thought in rags that hold themselves up as free thinking and indepedent. It's probably along the lines of Jane Haddam's Why Intellectuals Love Marx.

Why am I now thinking about hippies doing something out of the ordinary and registering my blank stare as proof positive that my middle class mind can't handle how awesomely weird they are, when really I'm just unimpressed. To be fair, I do think the folks at Arthur realize that Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and their legacy have had precious little effect on the middle class. As a result the failure of The Sixities tends to generate resentment towards everyone that failed to jump on the psychedelic bandwagon.

For some musicians and other artists, that society doesn't immediately recognize their greatness and turn their hobby into a career is proof enough that the free market works against creativity (the knobs at YearlyKOS who proposed starting a bloggers union seem like the same type of folks).

I don't remember if it was on this site or back at Catallarchy, but a post about the free market offering a diversity of scenes where pretty much anyone could achieve some sort of status has stuck with me. Not everyone is as in to rock music as I am. I work with a woman that is nationally ranked in Scrabble as an example. I don't spend my time constantly expanding my vocabulary and she doesn't dig through coastal hipster rags looking for new music to check out. This works out great for both of us, but apparently not for some creative types.

What's wrong with some people viewing music as a background, and not a focal point? The fashion industry holds themselves up as tastemakers and producers of fine art while at the same time playing U2 and bad house music during their runway shows, and they're not wrong because of it.

For all the complaints of consumerism killing art, with just a little work I'm finding all sorts of good music being made in the here and now (and I've never gotten much of anything worthwhile without putting in some kind of investment).

And what is the alternative? How should support and exposure for artists be given out? Minnesota Public Radio has a rock station in addition to their flagship called The Current, and The Current blows goats. I attend a small music college in the Twin Cities, and in one of my classes an instructor of mine had the following to say of a local band's single he had just produced:

"I don't like the sound as much as their earlier stuff, but it'll work for them because The Current will play the shit out of it."

Even when you've got a public radio station playing what the general population would consider to be obscure stuff, and often self-confined to local artists, they still develop a sound and aren't really that diverse (and this in a state where the single largest employer is the state). They also produce some stupid commentary. I heard one of the DJs at The Current smugly say that he could get everything he needs from music locally.

While trying to praise the local music scene is a good thing, because I understand that consciously making an effort to support local bands means you'll have more good shows to attend in town, his comment was moronic. The musicians that make up the local scene have been influenced by other artists all over the country and world. That such a moronic claim can even be made is due to the massive exchange of artistic ideas across vast distances and cultures made possible by modern society. But it does fit in well with the nonsense of sustainability, which will score him points with his listeners.

It leaves me with the question, am I personally better off that Reason, Liberty and the Quarterly Jounral of Austrian Economics aren't doing features on Comets on Fire? Only a dogmatic Randite would consider exposure to different and opositional viewpoints a bad thing. At the end of the day, I can always point to kibbutzes in Israel and ask where in the USSR were people openly allowed to live in an alternate economic system (or even modern day France and possibly soon Wisconsin), right?

But if the hipster rags I read practice the opposite? I do have to concede that Arthur publishes Carducci. And at the end of the day even Rothbard said good things about Alexander Cockburn's writing, and CounterPunch has published Dave Zirin!

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On Vice magazine

You mention that Vice can criticize itself with more ease than Arthur (which I've never heard of, leaning toward electronic music myself - like Wire mag). I think this is true, and it's paid the price to some extent. Some years back on some hipster blog I came across, the topic of Vice's "crypto-conservatism" came up. Wittily bashing environmentalists and publishing articles called "Is Blacks Gay?" (referring to the fashion tendencies of celebrated "pimp culture") is just pushing it in the Right (wrong) direction I guess.

Ha, remember the article on the elusive "gay slob"? Great stuff.

Re: On Vice magazine

I do. I guess this could be considered crypto-conservative as well: