1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About by Joshua Clover

By Joshua Clover

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11 The couplet marks the time. It offers two pairs, and insists on the necessity of both: aesthetic success must accompany political content as a pedagogical t h e b o u r g eo is a n d t h e b o u l e va r d 31 necessity, and communication must cross lines of class, race, and geography to exceed subcultural status. This double synthesis, then, is the program for a political art. This is the measure of Public Enemy’s achievement, rather than articulacy or militancy as such. That is, their significance lies in their realization of an explicitly social-political, confrontational problematic in relation to an aesthetic form that expressed the same problematic otherwise: a total work that solicits engagements and generates affects in multiple ways.

Indeed, almost the opposite: the inquiry regards the extent introduction 17 to which history can sometimes only appear as trace, as mood and affect— the very things pop is more apt to capture than the grain of quotidian life amid great upheavals, or the subtleties and grandeurs of history writ large. Nonetheless, there is room for songs that seem desperate to clutch at history itself, such as the catalogic spasm of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”— lead single from an album released on November 10, 1989.

The song’s affect is one of uncontainable delight, paraded no more in the vocal than in the clangorous guitar samples and a profoundly deep bass easier to feel than hear. ” Moreover, the emergent genre doesn’t yet know enough to limit itself to black-on-black violence, and the song ends in an armed showdown with the judicial system. 31 The account, and the song, gesture at the more general preservation—for a time—of the mode of inter-group confrontation within gangsta. ” This last supplied an inside-out objectification.

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