Monday, June 2, 2008

City Kitty (Notes on Twee #4)

Here's a little pop structuralism for you:

"…[C]ultural types which occur in very similar forms in every society, because they are constructed around very simple polarities, are used to fulfill different social functions in different communities … No doubt relationships between any two societies would be made easier if, through the use of some kind of grid, it were possible to establish a pattern of equivalences between the ways in which each society uses analogous human types to perform different social functions." (Tristes Tropiques, 25)


"Travel is usually thought of as a displacement in space. This is an inadequate conception. A journey occurs simultaneously in space, in time and in the social hierarchy. Each impression can be defined only by being jointly related to these three axes… only by a miracle can it happen that a journey does not bring about some change or other in this respect." (ibid, 85-86)

Now consider the case of Dean Wareham, born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1963, exported to New York in 1977, starts Galaxie 500 in 1987. Unlike Britain, which has a long history of nancy boy sensitivity in the arts (often also associated with homosexuality and child-cult), or America, where the terms "rock" and "sexual revolution" were polysemous if not synonymous, NZ/Australia are known for a distinctly polarized sexual and musical politics. So Wareham (much like his neighboring countrymen the Go-Betweens) starts from a premise of unquestioned rock masculinity which he is able to cleanly invert, rather than subvert. There's not a trace of inner conflict in Wareham's role reversal: his sweetness is all refusal, no compromise.

Put this sensibility on a plane to America and watch what happens. In his new context, Wareham appears not as eccentric (like Jonathan Richman or Calvin Johnson) nor as effeminate (like Morrissey or Stuart Murdoch) but as a new, available archetype of heterosexual masculinity. Voilà: the rock star as knowing, narcissistic wimp.

(To be expanded.)