(Looking Out For) Number One

The New Puritan ReView
Vol. 1 / No. 1
mid-flight from NYC to Mpls.
Saint Valentine’s Day 1986

Here it is – the very first piece of writing that laid the ground work for the next decade-and-a-half of self-indulgent criticism, which came to be known as The New Puritan ReView. Dated in some respects, still relevant in places, not the most literary thing I’ve ever written, but I guess it had to start somewhere. Most of the sentiments expressed here still convey how I’m feeling about the state of the arts over twenty years later, which is kind of a disappointment in itself, but you’ve got your music collection to turn to, and I’ve got mine. No complaints there, at least.

I’m really racking my brain, trying to imagine what might constitute a “Best Of ’85” list – having spent the last six months in a NYC record store. I heard little evidence of any new releases, justifying placement on such a list; a few exceptions were:

Psychocandy / The Jesus And Mary Chain
Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven / Love + Rockets
Treasure / Cocteau Twins
Hounds Of Love / Kate Bush

The first two made it because of the way they shamelessly ripped apart countless facades of so-called civilization, exposing each and every one of us for all to see, in all our trashiness and unabashed splendor; then as consolation stitched it all back together again with just enough melody to soothe the savage beast it had so rudely awakened. Remember as a child, being slipped your medicines in a spoonful of honey, to make them easier to swallow? The second two LPs succeed on much the same level, except they go straight for the heart, leaving logic and emotion swirling like Nijinsky in a catharsis of awe and inspiration.

Although these four LPs were the hardest to keep off my turntable (and out of my Walkman), I am all too aware that they might seem to categorize my tastes as being incredibly trend-oriented, as these same releases made it to many year-end lists. So, for the benefit of the skeptical, I should add that most of what got me by in the last year, unfortunately did only that – got me by. I didn’t ever feel that the majority of 1985 releases broke any new ground – conceptually, or in terms of performance – and a record that succeeds only by default is soon forgotten when something really good comes along.

1985, if anything, was the year of the crossover – remember jazz fusion? Progressive (aka “prog”) rock? “New” Wave? How about disco? Punk (any variety)? Well, 1985 had to be the year that would mark the return of these and other long-forgotten (but not lamented) marketing schemes that we all thought (and hoped) the summer of 1977 had put to rest, for lack of anything more original. The new hip thing to do was play an acoustic guitar (in any context), and this was certainly the year in which it finally became acceptable to make mega-bucks playing rock & roll, as long as you didn’t plan to spend it on yourself – yes, I’m talking about “fill-in-the-blank” Aid, proven strategy for extending the lifetime of your musical career. Your fifteen minutes almost up? Not to worry, there’s always some needy entrepreneur ready to promote your second coming as rock’s new Messiah, just stage a benefit. You’ll be tomorrow’s headlines, and you’ll be given the keys to every major studio in the world – but why stop there?

Now, just stop and think a minute …what has the record-buying public been clamoring for, if not to hear every form of music known to man, all rolled up into one nice, neat package, so no matter what your personal taste is, you and everyone under the sun get exactly what you want – from the same record, no less …

One of the country’s leading music journals recently dubbed this ingenious (not to mention innocuous and totally inoffensive) product of the ’80s, “World Beat”. It is, more pointedly, a bastard offspring, whose genetic (or should I say generic?) parents would be ashamed to admit having given birth to – but what does it matter, as long as it keeps everyone on the dancefloor? Everybody is happy, right? And social consciousness is easily salved as well – buying a record whose profits go to charity, for instance, means you’ve already done your part – you don’t even have to be polite to the minimum-wage clerk who sold it you, he probably lives an alternative life-style anyway, dig?

The point I’m trying to make here is that if we continue to promote obscurity for its’ own sake, success by default, and surrender to popular demand as opposed to standing your own ground, then I hope to God I never again have to hear any more self-presumed rock prophets screaming about the threat of Reagan-ism – or Nazi-ism, or Communism, or any form of fascist oppression. Because at that point, the biggest threat we will be faced with will be our own collective mentality protruding from our own communal asshole – and that’s when I start to think really hard about Pete Townshend’s ageless optimism: “Hope I die before I get old!” Here’s hoping that the next year shows more promise than the hollow proposition of the last one …

P.S. Be sure to expect more of this in the future, and don’t forget to send hate mail and letter bombs to….

© J.Free / The New Puritan ReView; 1986; 2022