Nihilism is the only answer to the reigning social order, and shall forever be, but the “fun” part of FSN is to be found in the great and idiosyncratic wonders of personal happenstance, which is your business, my business, and nobody’s business. Within the determined and material world of personal circumstance, culture earns a lion’s share of the quotidian, and shall forever, given the wonders of instant availability of popular culture.
Most writers, artists, singers, actors, and the busboys, all that constitute the celeb-world of popular to upper-crust classicist culture, are neoliberal in orientation. Franzen, Foster-Wallace, Bruce Springsteen, Martin Mull, Jane Fonda, Oprah, Bono, Jon Stewart, any roster eclectic but recognizable, of our A-listers and former A-listers, would qualify them as decidedly uncritical. They play roles as apologists for empire and tradition, ego-bloated and artiste-manque influenced, aspiring to pronounce upon the known world from their own earned superior commercial post. Foster-Wallace goes to church, Bruce uses the cadences of the black church to mouth the beer can troubles of the average Joe, libertarian anarchist professors cash the paycheck from Department of Defense off-shoots – it’s all the same neoliberal affectation, never challenging the dominant commercial mindset of productive, industrial popular art.
Yet there is one formerly popular artist of impeccable artistic gifts who can lay claim to having challenged the neoliberal, supersystemic order, and he is alive and unbowed, a testimony to the powers of individual creativity to conduct his creative gifts in accord with the players of fun social nihilism. Paddy McAloon, the Brian Wilson of the 80 band Prefab Sprout, has made some of the best Pop of the 80s and beyond, and he has continued to issue one-man band masterpieces of Pop through 2014. Paddy writes hooks into his accessible, poignant songs, better than Elton John-Bernie Taupin, more melodic and and hummable than Mark Knopfler, establishing a master class in surviving the demands of early fame, ill physical health, and industry pressure to write and sing Pop.
Each album from his career, including the epic pop of 1993’s “Wicked Things,” contains brilliant pop, guitar driven, 80s synths only a minor presence, with impassioned everyman singing, assured knowledge of the great traditions of Pop from Americana to country-pop to Motown. Others may see some of the songs as silly, treacly, or who knows what, but in the small, rarefied pantheon of pleasurable popular culture, no one has done it as long and with as much genuine humanity as Paddy. The antidote to the despair of nihilism lies in the work that others may find in other popular artists, but you must put in the hard and patient work to find them – they are not in the Top 40 of today, they are not at lectern in the great halls, they are not MacArthur “genisues,” they have not been done well by the arbiters of neoliberal success, but they will be enduring.