Chris Uggen's Blog: curses! my hubris has undone me again...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

curses! my hubris has undone me again...

i like chuck klosterman. at late-night sociology "meetings," i've ranted that few cultural sociologists have produced anything as knowing as sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs, his low-culture manifesto. now the ex-north dakota ubergeek is one prolific ex-north dakota ubergeek. at an airport last week i found him loitering around the back pages of three magazines. in spin, he identifies a moment -- october 1991 -- when nirvana's nevermind had just shipped to retailers yet metal royalty still held court on the magazine's cover. it is a funny piece, but what struck me was klosterman's riff on hubris. everyone on top is probably "overrated" by definition, but it must be tempting for such folks to believe that they will remain overrated forever. here's klosterman:

"no one saw Nirvana coming in the autumn of 1991, and neither did this magazine. Or it probably wouldn't have put Metallica on the cover. The cover image is actually a great photo of Metallica, mostly because they're all laughing like stoned hyenas. "Ha ha ha," Lars Ulrich seems to be saying. "We are invincible. Metal shall rule the '90s. Our band will never need psychological counseling and we would certainly not film it if we did. There is no way anyone will ever create a file-sharing technology that will allow people to hear our music without rendering proper payment. We're at least as good as Rush."

hubris is a funny thing. we generally don't see what's coming until it is far too late. i'm sure that lars ulrich and the lads are doing just fine these days. and who knows whether it was hubris? they could have been thinking anything in that '91 photo shoot:

lars: "billy crystal was so funny in city slickers"
james: "not as funny as silence of the lambs!"
kirk: "ha, ha, ha -- you guys crack me up!"
jason: "i can't believe i'm in freakin' metallica..."

for me at least, the column was a useful reminder that the cool stuff in 2005 is pretty unlikely to be considered the cool stuff in 2019. this likely holds for science as well as culture. so whose nevermind is shipping tonight? don't look back, something might be gaining on you...

15 Comments:

At 11:58 PM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

Please..... lets not forget, its 2005 and Metallica still ROCKS.

 
At 12:26 AM, Anonymous tony iommi said...

rock? you mean like in creaky wooden chairs on the porch? :)

 
At 1:01 AM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

no way... their newer stuff is average at best. But some of the old stuff, "Kill'em All" ... "Ride the Lighting".... "Master".. just timeless.

To be fair Tony, there is plenty of newer music I like. But those old dudes can still play!

 
At 9:45 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

I would add "One" to the list of "timeless" Metallica tracks. I had an acquaintance once who was nuts about Metallica's mega-orchestral album (I have no idea what it was called, but what is the deal with metal bands teaming up with orchestras?), but I haven't heard anything "good" by them since the early '90s. I've often wondered what would have become of Nirvana given time and more albums. Guess we'll never know. "Nevermind" was certainly a defining phenomenon of my late adolescent years.

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:49 AM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

Sarah,
"One" is an all time great... and the album with the San Franciso Symphony is S & M... as in Symphony and Metallica

 
At 10:21 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

Is it possible that Metallica had hubris that Nirvana, or other bands or musicians for that matter, lack?

I was recently looking up for other releases of The Four Horsemen, an early-1990's rock band, whose sound was a more contemporary take on southern rock, was "new" to me (relative to the other musicians on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball," anyway). I found out that their singer died in 1999 after four years in a coma, and that all went down six months after their drummer died. So much for them.

That has little to do with hubris; one article on the Horsemen pointed out that the singer (Frank Starr?) thought himself to be the once and future king of all things rock; IIRC, he thought nothing of then-club-rockers Guns N' Roses, for instance. He knew he was destined to be the next major rock icon.

The only reason I bring them up is because, circumstantially (this is a band with a history of unfortunate circumstances), their debut album released on the same day as "Nevermind." One can easily see the sales trend of that album.

Nirvana is, potentially, an anomaly. It is difficult to identify how much, if any, hubris they had; as a matter of fact, I would argue that part of their popularity was that, in terms of their music and attitude, they were completely antithetical to their rock contemporaries. Cobain would never tease his hair, or wear a studded leather codpiece (for instance). Is that an absence of hubris, or would it simply be buried under layers of their ambivalence towards popularity?

At the risk of getting too far along here, I'd actually argue that hubris is something necessary to develop in order to become a popular mainstream musician. It may differ from person to person; I imagine that Britney Spear's hubris differs from Bono's, whose differs from Eddie Vedder. Nirvana's, since it is difficult to identify if they had any or not, is simply extraordinary. But let's not point at Metallica strictly, just because they are far more comfortable and forthcoming with their hubris than others.

 
At 11:06 AM, Anonymous chris said...

thanks, mike and sarah. yeah -- i like to distinguish between hubris and pretentiousness. maybe i'll do a post on the latter (in rock and soc) as well. i just came across a hilarious robert fripp (of king crimson) interview. i didn't mean to pick on metallica, though. i just wanted to share some klosterman musings that cracked me up on the plane -- plus, it was a welcome reminder not to take myself too seriously.

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Jon said...

The thing that still cracks me up about Nirvana is that they're such a good example of how, once ambivalence towards popularity becomes popular itself, you end up with a whole stream of followers who are rebelling against conformity by, well, just conforming to something different. It very well may have been genuine for Nirvana, but I remember a whole slew of bands (and annoying kids I went to school with at the time) for whom a particular type of ambivalence towards popular became a convenient vehicle for popularity.

Personally, I hated Nirvana at the time because, as I guitar player, I generally think it's cool when guitarists know more than three chords and play in tune, and the talented guitarists of the 80's (you can know the 80's for many things, but not guitar-playing prowess) were subsequently sent into exile for at least a decade and are only now re-emerging as socially acceptable. Anyway, I'm rambling, but the extreme conformity present with "noncomformist" movements/subcultures always cracks me up. As the great Frank Zappa said, "Everyone in this room is wearing a uniform, and don't kid yourself."

 
At 11:30 PM, Blogger Tom Volscho said...

Metallica's last good album, in my silly opinion, was "And Justice for All", after Bob Rock produced the "Black Album"...that was the signal. It was over (though I must say Sad but True and Wherever I may Roam" are OK.

Look at Slayer, they have to be pushing their mid to upper 40s and they are still playing ridiculously fast devil music.

 
At 11:49 PM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

Tom,
I tend to agree... "And Justice" is great... for me "Black" was better than average, and the rest below average.

 
At 10:56 AM, Anonymous tommy bolin said...

jon, that's (another) great zappa quote. i miss frank like some folks miss bill clinton. so, i suppose that you were the other person who bought those "shut up and play yer guitar" albums.

hey tom, i always think about good ol' lemmy when i start musing about aging wonders. i mean, the dude was a prog-rocker back in the seventies, created motorhead (a virtually impossible band to classify), declined and fell with western civilization, and still seems to get around. scary. not much hubris or pretension to his game, though.

 
At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not being a metal fan, i can't add much to this thread, but i had to chime in to say to chris:

yo, dude, enuf with hating on cultural sociologists! we have feelings too, you know! :)-

 
At 1:58 PM, Anonymous kathy h said...

oops, i didn't mean for that last comment to be anonymous . . .

i'm proud of my tribe!

 
At 2:11 PM, Anonymous chris said...

hey kathy, i don't hate, i celebrate! here i'm celebrating klosterman. still, have any cultural sociologists deconstructed save by the bell? or the appetite for replication reflected in wildly popular imitation cover bands? or how one's choice of muscle car is linked to supporting the lakers or celtics? can any tear off a little gem like this:
"The Rolling Stones are Gunsmoke. The Strokes are Kiefer Sutherland's 24. Jimi Hendrix was The Twilight Zone. Devo was Fernwood 2-Night. Lynryd Skynyrd was The Beverly Hillbillies, which makes Molly Hatchet Petticoat Junction. The Black Crowes are That '70s Show. Hall & Oates were Bosom Buddies. U2 is M*A*S*H (both got preachy at the end). Dokken was Jason Bateman's short-lived sitcom It's Your Move. Eurythmics were Mork & Mindy."

if so, i gotta start reading more cultural sociology!

 

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