Dialectic of Pop, 321–332


I. Off-ground Modernism


There were modernists in popular music in its broad sense (music that is not written down but recorded) long before the time of ‘modern youths’: among advocates of the complex atonal bebop of Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk in the late 1940s who opposed themselves to the old guard of hot jazz; among the youth movement of ‘Mods’ (literally, ‘modernists’) from the north of England, fans of rhythm and blues, i.e. black American music, in the 1960s; and in the avant-garde milieu surrounding Brian Eno and certain German musicians such as Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius (Harmonia) in the mid-1970s. But it was back in the 1930s, with the emergence of magazines devoted to a modern music5 itself driven by the democratization of the phonograph, that cutting-edge critics began writing articles and reviews advocating the advancement of jazz and modern popular music, hierarchizing records and placing them in a pantheon of works not just worthy of being distinguished from all comers, but capable of signifying the present moment, setting up a new historical truth dissonant with tradition. Long before rock critics, it was jazz critics who sowed the intellectual soil with the seeds of a modernism that borrowed from the critical conception of Adorno as well as the reflective conception of Clement Greenberg, arrayed together against the kitsch nature of popular art…