How to Spot a Charlatan

A few days ago, we linked to an interview with Peter Matthew Bauer that the AV Club hosted, but expressed a bit of trepidation with our comments in advising whether or not one should read it.  Though we were big fans of Bauer’s solo album, we feared the potential for it to be an irritating piece because of the particular writer responsible for the interview.  It turns out our concerns were well-founded, as Rick Moody once again provided his unique combination of pretentiousness and ignorance.

The actual interview was rather illuminating, since Moody generally let Bauer lead the conversation, and the reader didn’t have to bother with Moody’s attempts at rumination and conjecture.  Bauer provided several insights into his journey into discovering his voice as an artist, as well as details about both his upbringing and the dynamics of his previous band, The Walkmen, as the group eventually dissolved.  The problem was the first half of the article, when Moody attempted to provide some background by contemplating over the place of Bauer’s old band within a grand theory of rock music, as well as comparing Bauer’s Liberation! with the his other bandmates’ solo efforts.  There were several irritating individual lines that landed with a thud, with various descriptions and theories that alternately showed Moody’s haughtiness or laziness.  Consider the statement “[t]his band made two short recordings, EPs as they used to be called and are still sometimes[.]”  Why add all this unnecessary verbiage?  They’re still called EPs, even when people weren’t buying vinyl, and nobody calls them anything different.  There’s also the mini-rant about the press release announcing The Walkmen’s “extreme hiatus”: it’s “an example of the overuse of extreme that I have come to find denotatively irritating. It’s either a hiatus or it’s not, and it’s only in retrospect that anyone will be able to evaluate the adjectival qualities of this hiatus.”  Within the context of discussing the careers of different bands, this kind of terminology is actually useful–declaring that a new album should not be expected any time soon but to make sure not to rule out a reunion at some point–but for Moody, I guess it’s his chance to take a stand against the fact that the kids just don’t know how to speak any more.  And he does so in the most irritatingly pedantic manner.

It’s not just Moody’s shitty writing, it’s his lack of professionalism that’s also infuriating.  When talking about Hamilton Leithauser’s solo album, Moody writes “I feel like the single, “Alexandra,” is about Alexander The Great, merely changed to a feminine ending, and is, accordingly, a tribute to the idea of attempting to rule the world.”  Sounds like a great theory (when divorced from the actual song, but whatever (seriously, read those lyrics and try to figure out any connection to the historic ruler)), except that the song was written about Hamilton’s daughter, and he just changed the name because it fit better.  I would not expect everyone to know this fact, but I also would imagine that a professional writer like Rick Moody would bother to do at least some cursory research before writing his piece.  Then again, Moody spent multiple paragraphs talking about Jonathan Fire*Eater, one of the two predecessor bands to The Walkmen, to make some grand point about rock and roll.  The problem is that Bauer was in the other predecessor band, The Recoys (a group he was in with Leithauser, the person with whom Moody makes the most direct comparison).   Of course, Moody does not mention The Recoys at all; in essence, Moody’s entire thesis about the nature of rock and roll is irrelevant to the interview, and is just an excuse for him to ramble about “private schools” and class.

This was not a surprise.  Moody had previously caught our attention when Salon published an exchange he had with Dean Wareham (former member of Galaxie 500, Luna, and others), where they discussed the relative merits of “Get Lucky” and the new Daft Punk record in general.  The problem was not with his opinion about the song, to which he is perfectly entitled.  It’s the fact that there were several arguments and lines throughout the discussion that indicated that either Moody had no idea what he was talking about or that he would miss the point entirely.

For example, he simply refused to understand the basic artistic conceit of Daft Punk itself, that the duo’s goal was to produce music that was as mechanized as possible (seen in their previous work), or in the case of Random Access Memories, an album that was supposed to resemble a robot’s attempt to recreate human music.  His condemnation of the method used to record the album (using live session players from the era) also betrays a total lack of knowledge of how disco music was produced (using live session players).  And for further proof that Moody doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, consider his praise for Captain Beefheart, aka Don Van Vliet, who employed the same method of hiring musicians to bring his vision to fruition.

Or take a look at this word salad: “But the French robots apparently do not know about “Trans,” [ed. note: he’s referring to the Neil Young album] or rather, they are too cynical to care about “Trans,” and they bank (it’s the operative word here) on the audience’s lack of knowledge about the history of the vocoder. So they use it again and again like a neurological tic, and given that this vocoder section is the only appearance on this song of the actual robots rather than their surrogates—the musicians who are hired to make the song sound as though it has actual soul—it is inadequate as a sign of the auteurs.”  At no point does he explain why the history of the vocoder is necessary to understand the song, and that it is apparently unsatisfying for the songwriters to only make a cameo appearance in their own song.  And all this occurs before an unhinged rant that touches on the “tyranny” of four-four music, that it’s wrong for French guys to pay tribute to the black music of their youth, and a total misunderstanding of the basic concept of Kraftwerk.  That’s right–at one point, Moody asserts that Kraftwerk used the vocoder to hide the weakness of their vocals…instead of further entrenching their entire philosophy of mechanizing and dehumanizing music.

More than anything, it’s so hard to believe that Moody never understood that the title of the album should have tipped him off to its goals.  Random Access Memories combines both the robotic nature of Daft Punk (with its allusion to RAM) and a tribute to the past with the slight tweak to the plural of the last word.  These songs were written to represent facsimiles of past musical genres, as interpreted through the “minds” of robots.  So, if despite the human touches in producing the album it still carries an air of artificiality, that’s the point; if it sounds like a reproduction of black American music from the 70’s, that’s the point because that was the music that Daft Punk enjoyed in their youth.  If you don’t care for the concept, then fine, but at least acknowledge that this was the intention.

Rick Moody is a fucking idiot.  Not your normal idiot, mind you–it’s clear that along the way he’s learned a lot.  It’s just clear that he never understood at all what it is he learned.

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