[Editor's Note: In honor of our 33 1/3 sale — buy two new (not used or sale) books from Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series, featuring critical writing on seminal albums, and get a third free — we're pleased to feature blog posts from some of the people behind the 33 1/3 series.]
The notion of the guilty pleasure is a funny one when it comes to rock or pop music. This is music we listen to because we like it, right? 'Nuff said. It's like those "God said it, I believe it" Christian bumperstickers: I dig it, therefore it's good.
But a lot of the stuff we like is stuff we like so much that we want to explain why we like it, to justify our pleasures, to praise or argue about value. This is especially true if you are, like me, one of those goofballs who write articles and books about pop and rock records. But here's the rub for the pop-rock scribe, whose ranks have only ballooned in the wake of the Internet and the rise of the music blog: Is all the music you love worth writing about? Or is some of it too trivial, lame, regressive, possibly even, you know, wrong? Amidst our refulgent culture of sonic hedonism, when everything is loved by someone, the general critic still has a peculiar privileged access to the guilty pleasure: the band that consensus (or our friends) dictates we really shouldn't like, for political or aesthetic reasons, or that if we do like we shouldn't be too loud about.
I faced that issue a bit when I decided to pitch David Barker about a 33 1/3 book on Led Zeppelin. I wanted to write about Zep because they were my favorite band in high school, and very few critically substantial things had been written about them. But while Zeppelin is now generally loved and even revered, in their time they were widely reviled and mocked by hipster rock critics, and they remain a bit embarrassing — at once too blue-collar and too sword-and-sorcery and too ridiculously successful for substantial verbiage. It's no accident that, with some important exceptions, almost everything written about them is tawdry tell-alls or fangeek lore. And that was part of the fun of writing my book: I wanted to see how seriously I could take the sonic fictions that Led Zeppelin created, and how deep the rabbit hole of occult interpretation would take me. It went pretty dang deep.