Highly-regarded publisher and author Curtis White (whose Memories of My Father Watching TV is one of the best books I’ve not quite finished yet) has written an amazing essay about Kid A. He makes everal interesting points about culture, Radiohead, and reviews, but has a particular thing for knocking fellow author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity down a notch for his New Yorker review. Here’s an excerpt-
Consider the instance of Radiohead and its recent and controversial album Kid A. The music of Kid A and its public reception make explicit the drama implicit in the relationship between an autonomous art (or, at least, an art with the desire for autonomy) and an administered culture. Take, for example, the review of Kid A, written by novelist Nick Hornby (“Beyond the Pale,” New Yorker, October 30, 2000).
Hornby’s review is not an objective evaluation of an artwork. It is the reassertion of a familiar, grim and very repressive aesthetic. Hornby begins his review with the obligatory homage to Ray Charles and Elvis Presley, thus establishing his orthodoxy, his faithfulness to the one true Church of the Commodified Vernacular. Hornby can then begin to lay out the aesthetic grounds for Radiohead’s heresy to what Hornby calls “the old-fashioned dynamics of rock.”
“Kid A demands the patience of the devoted; both patience and devotion become scarcer commodities once you start picking up a paycheck.”
Could he be any plainer? Art is about exchange. We give the artist our hard-earned money and the artist . . . what? Doesn’t try our patience?
Hornby gives more content to what it is we expect in return for that which we’ve given from our paycheck. Hornby argues that Radiohead’s previous album, OK Computer, had “some extraordinarily lovely tracks,” and in Kid A’s best moments “something gorgeous floats past.” So, in the World of Art according to Nick Hornby, the first and highest principle is that it should be a fair exchange, you should “get your money’s worth” (as his mother probably told him), and aesthetic tenet #2 is that the art should be “gorgeous” and also maybe a little bit “lovely.” Now, beyond the obvious fact that this is an old romantic tautology and Hornby has no idea what he’s talking about, it does reveal that the fundamental premise of Hornby’s aesthetic insistence is pleasure. My money is well spent if I “enjoy” the album/movie/sitcom/football game.
You can go read the whole thing over at the Center for Book Culture.
(Thanks to Bill, who was very patient even though his email got caught in the spam filter.)