It's Only an Opinion, but Hey...
Reading Paolo Hewitt's defence of his book Alan McGee and the story of Creation Records from Mark Morris' exuberant assault made me think of a couple of things. Firstly, it made me think about the nature of the relationship between 'artist' and consumer; specifically the relationship with the Consumer as Critic. Which, if you think about it, the consumer always is, making judgements on many levels from simply deciding if the record is good enough to warrant playing it again through deciding if the book is good enough to continue past the first twenty pages, or is good enough to force on friends at every opportunity to deciding if the movie is so dreadfully bad you really need to write your opinions down and stick them on a website/in a newspaper in an attempt to prevent others from wasting their cash on another piece of over-hyped garbage. Of course it's only an opinion, but hey...
The relationship between the artist and the Consumer as Critic then: it seems obvious to me that when the artist puts work into the public domain (as when a book is published, a record released, a painting hung in a gallery) the artist gives up the right to any notion of a singular reading of the work. The permission is implicitly given to the consumer to invest the work with their own meaning, to take the work and do with it what they will. If the work in question elicits a powerful reaction that seems to demand some kind of comment, they can take this right to impress personal meaning on the work to extremes, like the 'enhancement' of Picasso's Guernica by Tony Shafrazi whilst it hung in the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1974 but more likely they will do something like write a 'review' or an entry in their diary, and it's this continuation of the elliptical tracks of creation that's so important; critical dialogue with yourself about your world is, it seems to me, such a basic necessity of living (but hey, I'm willing to accept that this is just me who feels this way, and maybe it is because I went to Art School and had such concepts illuminated). The Consumer as Critic also implicitly has the right to question every level of the artwork being consumed. They are not obliged to accept without question any intention of the artist; there is no contract that demands the consumer must blithely accept any level of 'rightness' in the artist saying 'This is what I am trying to achieve'. The Consumer as Critic has every right to question this impulse as much as the content of the art.
Naturally all this reclamation of art from the artist can make the artist a bit tetchy. The test of the great artist is having the strength to ignore this 'criticism' and having the inner belief to follow their impulses regardless of what happens when the work leaves the protective enclosure of the studio / study / laptop and enters the public domain. Perhaps. Perhaps too the test of the great artist is in their ability to marry this intense self-belief with sympathy for criticism, to sift critical response to their work and to take back from the 'criticism' that which they believe can make them stronger. Or that might make them greater artists. And really it's the same process taken another leap around the loop; reclaim the meaning in the 'criticism' and make it what you need it to mean. Or ignore it.
Sometimes you can't ignore it.
Sometimes there is a need to stand up and say 'Stop right there' and in fact I think paolo used just those words in his article. Sometimes there is a need to perhaps make more explicit some of your intentions as an artist, and although as said before, the Consumer as Critic has the right to reject this (out of hand if they really want to), it usually makes some of the intended meaning and intention of the work in question clearer. It also usually makes the artist feel a bit happier, at least for a while. The trouble tends to be, however, that when we enter the realms of, for want of a better term, meta-criticism, things tend to get a bit personal and ugly. Which is occasionally diverting, but only occasionally and only for a split second and after that it's just boring and who wants to be bored, right?
The second thing that Paolo's article made me think about was whether or not I was interested in picking up his book and reading it. It took another of those split seconds to decide I didn't. Which is no criticism of Paolo, just a comment on my own attitude to the subject matter of his book. I think there are more than enough words about Creation and Alan McGee on Tangents already and I don't want to add many more here, but obviously I will, if only to tell you why I am not interested in reading any more people's opinions on the subject, or any other versions of the history.
I am bored by the history of Creation and I am bored by the concept of Alan McGee. Unlike Paolo, the story of 'An absolute nobody from Scotland coming to London with nothing and making an absolute fortune' is not one that impresses me, not one that interests me in the slightest. I'm much more interested in the apparent contradiction that seems to exist somewhere between the fact that the same person who wrote 'Love and Hate', 'She Haunts', 'Love's Going Out Of Fashion' (with Dick Green) et bloody cetera (it would be churlish to not admit that Biff Bang Pow! were one of my favourite groups at a time in my life when there were a million groups vying for attention) also gave us Oasis (not to mention far too many clones). I'm interested in how Creation went from The Jasmine Minks, Felt and The Bodines to Oasis and One Lady Owner.
Except obviously I'm not.
I haven't read Paolo's book, as I haven't read Dave Cavannagh's book simply because I don't particularly care anymore about the history of Creation; don't care about the characters in the slightest. If I care at all, all I care about is the bundle of records in my collection that are bona-fide classics and for that I thank McGee, but beyond that, well, you know I have my memories and for me these are the history of Creation records and that's all that counts.
I don't think anyone who lives through a particular cultural phenomenon or era is particularly needful of 'official' documents to commemorate them, unless of course that person finds it difficult to leave that era behind and progress to new avenues of interest. I don't imagine, for example, that any of the faces captured in the myriad of Warhol Factory books are particularly desperate to have the books on their shelves (I don't imagine there are many of them still alive, to be honest). It's the same with me and Creation records, or indeed the whole 'indiepop' scene of the mid-late '80s. I have boxes of fanzines stored away in cupboards, sure, but I don't need to read them anymore, and certainly don't need any more. Which isn't to criticise those who feel the need to collect those records and artefacts now. Not in the slightest, because their obsession with that particular slice of history is no more or less relevant than my own current predilection for Bob Dylan and tangentially to the folk sounds of Ramblin' Joe Elliot, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and backwards again to the sounds collected in Harry Smith's American Folk Anthology, from which to Smith himself (a bizarre shamanist character of intense interest), touched on, in and through Greil Marcus' Invisible Republic. Which itself is simply another step in my own loop of 'progression', being a visitation back to concerns first awakened back in the early '90s and about which I was reminded recently by picking up an old fanzine I wrote nine years ago in which I first began to explore these pathways, writing about Willy Nelson and Uncle Tupelo, Jimmie Rodgers and the Jayhawks, Hank Williams, Peter Guralnick and Jack Keroucac. From there of course I somehow swiftly leapt off to Drum'n'Bass, abstract hip hop and Jazz, now back to the roots of song, and next year who knows where... next week who knows where...
I guess it's like Paolo says; people change. Which maybe is all I have to remember as the answer to my query about how someone went from the sparking magnificence of 'Love's Going Out Of Fashion' to championing the dreary rock banality of Oasis. It's just that I guess I still also believe in everyone's right to decide if the changes that take place in the world around them are good or bad, are for better or for worse, and that more than this exercising of judgement, people communicate that judgement to the world for anyone else who might want to listen.
© Alistair Fitchett 2001