Post-Rock? Post-Nothing!

A 'new' term to describe an old music; thoughts on the dead.

There is (almost) nothing rock critics like better than coining a new term to describe a new genre of music, even if the genre isn't new at all. Consider the currently fashionable phrase "post-rock," which is being used to refer to such a diverse group of artists as to make it completely useless.

I would argue it was useless the first time it saw print.

"Post-rock" is the fresh way to describe the work of Chicago's Tortoise, an instrumental ensemble that has been creating gorgeous low-key albums for the past few years.

Of course it's not enough to simply describe Tortoise's sound, or that of their label-mates, The Sea and the Cake. One needs a word, or a phrase.

Post-rock.

According to Mark Athitakis, who wrote about five "post-rock" albums last week in the SF Weekly, an alternative weekly published in San Francisco, the term was first used by the British critic Simon Reynolds. "Writing in the Village Voice, Reynolds 'post' prefix implied that these artists were making music more advanced or better than rock," Athitakis wrote. "Supposedly, it was the sound of the next wave of rock music, an expansion of the strictures of conventional verse-chorus-verse pop, employing instruments and improvisational concepts to open up the range of notes and tonalities."

Uh huh.

Post-rock. That would be the music that came after rock. The next thing.

So why is Pere Ubu, which has been making their own unique experimental rock since the '70s, included in Athitakis' round-up? Or, for that matter, Sonic Youth, another career combo dedicated to surviving on their own terms, but none-the-less, a band that has been experimenting with rock for nearly two decades.

Perhaps it's because the hipsters wouldn't be able to stomach the new Tortoise album, TNT, if it were described as "new age," or even "new music" (which is how the work of modern composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass was referred to in the late '70s and early '80s.

I love experimentation; I love artists that go against the grain, pursuing their own idiosyncratic vision to where it takes them. But don't call it "post-rock." It's a dis on anyone currently making rock, and creates impossible-to-meet expectations for the work of the artists whose work it is used to describe.

MOURNING THE DEAD

Too many artists have died recently, but the loss of two in particular really hit home: shock-rocker Wendy O. Williams and punk 'zine publisher Tim Yohannan.

Williams took her own life. I have no idea what led up to her committing suicide. I don't expect Williams to show up in a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum exhibit, but she deserves to be there.

I met Williams once, at the very beginning of t he '80s, following a mind-blowing performance by her band, the Plasmatics. We spent an hour or so in a San Francisco park, doing an interview. Williams was the link between the theatrics of Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Kiss, and Marilyn Manson. But because she was a woman, her outrageous stage show -- an over-the-top mix of sex and violence set to an explosive punk-metal sound -- was even more taboo-busting. Manson should think of her each night, before he beds down.

Yohannan, who died of cancer, was a stubborn man who carried the torch for what he thought punk rock was -- and what he wanted it to be. For Yohannan, punk was a clearly delineated sound. And if you diverged from that sound, you weren't punk and therefore didn't deserve to be in his 'zine, Maximumrocknroll.

I've never thought of punk as a sound. For me, punk has always been an idea, a sensibility, a spirit. Which is why Pere Ubu were (are) as much a punk band as the Clash. Why Sonic Youth are still punk, but the Sex Pistols, when they did their reunion tour, weren't.

No matter. Yohannan had his convictions, and he acted on them. He helped create a scene in Berkeley, CA that allowed Green Day and Rancid (and other less known bands) to flourish.

I didn't really know either of them, but I miss them.