Sep 232011

Relevant or just plain good?

Now try this:

Irrelevant or just plain shitty?

Although I certainly agree with the general gist of Machinery’s REM thread, and would, myself, add at least 10 years to his over-generous assessment of REM’s breakup being “15 years too late,” I think that framing such a discussion around  “relevance” is a mistake. No performer is going to remain relevant forever. Some great performers do not attain relevance while they are active, even. Relevance is largely irrelevant. What matters is the quality of the work. REM’s work after, let’s be generous here, Document may be more relevant than what came before, or it may be less relevant. I have no idea. Perhaps many people find “Everybody Poops”–er, “Hurts”–to be far more relevant than “Radio Free Europe.” I suppose there is nothing preventing a mawkish, bathetic, and dull-as-dirt song from being relevant to people.

Since of course the Stones have been mentioned, the problem with their post-Tattoo You (say) records is not irrelevance, it is shittiness. You might say that the two are related, but in all fairness, the best Stones record ever was not going to make them relevant in 1990.

Let’s try this exercise again:

Relevant or just plain good?

Irrelevant or just plain shitty?

Are Rod Stewart‘s rock crimes founded on being irrelevant or on shittiness? I mean, how relevant were the Faces? But the records are good, so who gives a damn?

Not especially relevant but quite good, thank you!

So,  I suggest we put this criterion in mothballs.


  6 Responses to “The Unbearable Irrelevance of Relevance”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    This is a great example of an excellent post with extreme relevance that I don’t have the mental energy to respond to. Can’t I just say “REM suxx”?

    No, I suppose not. I’ll circle around on this later; it deserves a thoughtful response.

  2. I made a very similar argument re the world of literature a few years ago, in another context. Relevance = speaks to people at the time, or about conditions of the time. Could also be called “Importance.” It has some overlap, I hope, with good/bad, but isn’t the same.

  3. BigSteve

    The obvious question is ‘relevant to what?’

  4. misterioso


  5. 2000 Man

    I think “relevance” in Rock terms usually means “I’m an old fart and I don’t like this, and since I can’t prove that it’s shitty, I’ll say that it isn’t relevant, which is my euphemism for it isn’t selling well, but my usual argument is that just because something doesn’t sell well doesn’t mean it’s shitty.”

    If someone is talking about REM or the Stones’ music from the last fifteen years, then it’s relevant. It might not be good, but it’s still relevant.

  6. relevant, shmelevant, that Faces clip kicked ass and I’m reposting it.

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