Thoughts on MIFF

11 Aug

By Cam Grace

Is anyone allowed to say that they don’t like Iggy Pop? I know it sounds rather incredible, but there I said it. Feel better now? I know I do.

Are you as fed up as I am with ‘Alternative Rock’ and the way it’s canonised and mythologised out of all rational proportion? Nobody in the real world ever talks about The Replacements or Big Star and do you want to know why? Because their canon is largely rubbish. The MC5 never arrived at Heathrow amid a shower of tickertape with the word ‘Legends’ stamped on their foreheads simply because no one bought the records. However, if every hipster muso that cited them as an influence had actually purchased one of their albums, the band (or their surviving members) would today be reclining on yachts in the South of France. Go figure.

We live in a world where artists with mass appeal are automatically rendered as suspect or artistically inferior. Nowhere is this bigotry more evident than in Backbeat, the music component of The Melbourne International Film Festival. Each year the prohibitive tyrants of cool at MIFF (probably resplendent in goatees and Ramones t shirts) wheel out the same tired roster of movies featuring ‘good taste’ alternative artists. Featured among this year’s stellar roll call are Miss Nikki and The Tiger Girls, The Descendents. Warumpi Band, Death and Bikini Kill – artists so obscure, we can’t be completely sure they actually ever existed. Which begs the question. Hasn’t anyone made a decent film about Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen or George Michael?. As far as I’m concerned, there’s every bit as much excitement contained within Petula Clark’s Greatest Hits than anything released on Sub Pop. The world is too scared to admit it but Shirley Bassey is cooler than The Strokes. Fact.

My Backbeat wish list might look something like this: Fleetwood Mac – a mélange of maniacal drug abuse, mental illness and inter-band adultery – a soap opera as compelling as their glittering pop singles. Problem: They sold billions of records. Jackson Browne – a life of political and environmental activism, familial suicide, spouse bashing allegations and a teenage dalliance with Nico. Problem: Sold truck loads of records (not to mention a worrying association with the LA Yacht Rock Scene). What about Pink Floyd or The Eagles and the perplexing internal chemistry that inspired some of the greatest discs of the last century. Problem:…..I think you get the picture.

I don’t need to delve into the semiotics of cool to explain the ongoing appeal of Patti Smith any more than I could explain Iggy Pop’s devoted fan base.
Everyone is familiar with the image of the outlaw hero. Flirtations with art, drugs and the avant garde are ubiquitously present and correct, but the real deal breaker in terms of preserving a reputation appears to lie in the perception that rather than being great artists who never sold any records, they are actually feted because they never sold any records. It’s been at least twenty years since a decent platter was released with the name Iggy Pop on it, but ‘The Godfather of Punk’ has been able to recline comfortably by selling off his songs to sell Nike footwear and car insurance on television commercials. Gimme Danger indeed. Similiarly, John Lydon has hoovered up more cash spruiking Country Life Butter on British TV than he made in 30 years as a recording artist. The truth remains that if you sell your songs for commercial gain, you are forever removed from the artistic experience.

Despite an official program which boasts full page advertisements for upcoming concerts by Don Mclean and Cyndi Lauper, MIFF’s Backbeat program has once again been swamped with the tedious clutter of alternative mythologies. You can form a disorderly queue behind those of us who live by the maxim that good taste is boring but in the end, I guess the cool people know who the cool people are.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on MIFF”

  1. confusedalotofthetime August 13, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    The problem with your argument is that old school mainstream musicians had to actually have musical skill to sound as good as they did. Analog recording equipment was vastly different to what is used today. These days anyone can buy a program and auto tune themselves a single, It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have any talent particularly if they had zero skills to begin with auto tuned the crap out of their shit music then lip sink @ their hideously overpriced concerts filled with flights of fancy gizmos to entertain their audience all in the name of $$$$. A musician will make music because they LOVE music, it is in their heart and soul.

  2. Mr D. August 30, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    So I guess you guys are with me on funding a Roxette docco? I mean, they had the look. But seriously folks, Fleetwood Mac’s appetite for destruction has been well documented, at least in print, while the ABC have played almost as many Pink Floyd doccos in recent years as SBS have WW11 ones…almost. Trouble with doccos on seriously good or seriously successful bands (you know the difference) is that that fawning producers crave their idol’s approval and the thing ends up as saccharine as every Stones docco made over the last 40 years. But I’m with you on the Iggy industry – only Paul Kelly has received more overblown and unwarranted adulation.

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