Getting back to the Gilmore book, an interesting aspect of its citation of “Heart of Glass" as an indexical citation of the time period was that, if polled at the time, everybody would have chose that as just the song to be so employed; it was indexical of its time as a past time even as it was current!
Thinking of this period also reminded me of a minor vexation that has stuck with me all these years, though most recently occasioned by seeing McCartney at Citi Field last year: the theories of canonicity proposed by the way teenager so that period valued the solo, post-Beatles work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. This valuation was one-way and total: Lennon was cool, McCartney was not. (This was before Lennon's murder, which of course changed things, it was understandable afterwards why Lennon, for a time, would be more highly regarded, but I am skipping of the time before). That McCartney sold more records, that the people involved actually knew most solo McCartney (I e. Wings) songs than they did solo Lennon songs, did not move them; nor was the preference made on the basis of n sort of musicological or aesthetic criteria. Lennon was cool, basically, because the adults, or the elder siblings, in their lives told them this was so; there was no autonomous judgment, no heart-swell of an incipient generational cri de coeur.
To put it in theoretical terms—and, en passant, I might indicate my Theory book is mow definitely published, a copy is by my desk as I type this—one might use this to say something like: usually, the debate over pop culture is framed as a contrast e g. between Adorno’s wholesale rejection of it as conformist instinctual trash, and corporate versus Hebdige’s defense of the proliferation of subcultures and consciously styled practices in the aftermath of rock, punk, etc. But what if one has the conformism Adorno castigate manifested itself in a minor snobbery that seems to be Hebdigean in savvy but is in fact totally ersatz and handed-down? Or, to put it another way, when high art is no longer used as cultural capital, when a mass phenomenon is used in just the way Bourdieu discussed avant-garde painting being used as such, how does that affect the frame? (In a sense this question continues the thread I started with my Caillebotte post on this blog of spring 2009). It may well be that the solo work of John Lennon was better than that of Paul McCartney; at this point, to make that judgment I would have to listen to their entire oeuvres and probably write on them. It is not the judgment that was the problem; it is that the people who made it had no adequate criteria of reaching that judgment.
Additionally, the unthinking preference for Lennon had these problems:
1) -- It branded itself as the consensus of a new generation-that later to be called Generation X—yet not only was the valuation in question made of artists of a previous generation, the critical judgment and valued were totally those of elders—if was as if something manufactured in one country was relabeled as being made in another than marketed as echt indigenous to the second country.
2) -- It had nothing to do with msic-0evne the most atavistic, instinctual, un-cerebral response to music, It had totally to do with wanting to be cool and in with the in-crowd. The only lessons about aesthetics that were relearned were the lessons of canon-making.
3) --It used a form originally liberating, and intended by both Lennon and McCartney in their different ways, to still be liberating, as a mode of confirms and oppression, of a herd mentality that was precisely hegemonic because it presented itself as a sophisticated cutting-edge judgment.
4) -- It used a potentially critical perspective—of not just supposing McCartney’s larger sales made him a better artist—to foster a stupid consensus. And it made somebody who took risks with his life and art—John Lennon—into an organ of cultural policing and of social authoritarianism. McCartney deserved better so did John Lennon. In addition, this attitude used the semantic and emotional vocabulary of critical judgment, without the actual presence o fit. This was even worse than just not being critical at all, merely being enthusiastic or consensus-driven, because this attitude had the aura, the aroma, of a critical mentality without its real presence. This led to the assumption, vis a vis critical thought, that this generation had ‘been there, done that’ and that, for this generation, such critical frames as e. g. literary theory of the 70s and 80s provided were supernumerary. Much of the backlash against theory in the 1990s and 2000s can be traced to this perception that a critical stance had already been canvassed and integrated when in fact it had been only glimpsed.
I pledged not to get into the McCartney-Lennon debate, and John Lennon is profoundly important to me in a way I cannot even get into here, but I can’t resist throwing this out—if Lennon had lived, would he ever have collaborated with Michael Jackson?