Billy Brentford feels let down by Morrissey and PJ Harvey and their political stances, but argues that the audience have the final say.
‘The Death of the Author’ is a 1967 essay by the French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes. Barthes’ essay argues against traditional literary criticism’s practice of incorporating the intentions and biographical context of an author in an interpretation of a text. Barthes instead argues that writing and creator are unrelated. A text’s unity lies not in its origin, or its creator, but in its destination, i.e. the reader.
In light of Morrissey’s recent comments about quasi-fascist eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage being a ‘man of the people’ and an anti-intellectual that the British media despised (Mozzer obviously doesn’t watch British TV, this guy is on a LOT) – and another favourite of mine, PJ Harvey accepting an OBE from the Queen and coming out as pro blood sports – I’m wondering – should Barthes’ re-thinking of literary criticism be applied to pop music? Is the author dead? I disagree with Harvey and Morrissey’s worldview unreservedly, but before I knew it, I bought all their records.
should Barthes’ re-thinking of literary criticism be applied to pop music? Is the author dead?
I guess I feel fooled. There’s so much mysticism wrapped up in the three-and-a-half minute slab of plastic that emits these strange and fuzzy warbles. Plus, in Britain we tend to regard pop music as a branch of art rather than a branch of showbiz. We imbibe singers and guitar-manglers with an aura of the auteur.
The Smiths and the early PJ records showed a unique twist on the guitar-bass-drums-voice British art rock sound. Both were fronted by charismatic outsiders with an apparent agenda to empower their fellow nerds – and we lapped it up. Now older and richer, Moz and Peej are establishment figures with the apparent views of the prog rockers they replaced.
They say we get more conservative as we get older. Or were they always like that? Have they changed, or are there clues in those earlier works that suggest their disgust with the political and sociological situation of the time was simply a wistfulness for a (non-existent) bucolic past?
Barthes’ postulation can easily be dismissed: there is always a person behind a text. And as the lyrics and the image are so important the two cannot be separated in the case of Harvey and Morrissey. These are not ‘faceless’ dance groups or political activists. Plus, of course in the case of The Smiths there’s a band, a four-headed gang: and Johnny Marr has tweeted his disgust of the UK Conservative’s former-leader David Cameron liking his first group.
And as the lyrics and the image are so important the two cannot be separated in the case of Harvey and Morrissey. These are not ‘faceless’ dance groups or political activists.
Perhaps therefore we have the Death Of The Author, then their rebirth. We hear the music first, then, if it connects, we read interviews and hear the musicians’ opinions on everything from crisps to genocide. BUT, it’s us, the audience, that own the concept in the end; we should be steadfast, the ‘authority’ over the ‘author’.
Meantime, I’ve got some PJ Harvey and Smiths records to sell. I understand the most valuable is my first press of ‘Rid Of Me’…