Monday, March 10, 2008

That snivelling, appropriating Bastard! Paul Anka, appropriation, anger and the rock song

Paul Anka? You know Paul Anka? I know Paul Anka? For late initiates into the cycle of life, we are unfortunately cursed with the game of rifling through dad's old record collection to fish out the 50's and 60's super-teen-hit of that era, piping out favourites such as "Diana", "Lonely Boy" and "Put you head on my shoulder". At least one sixth grader has the capacity to croon out the melodic favourite of at least one of the abovementioned songs. Anka, who so captured the hearts of lovelorn American Teens way back when has made a surprising return, no so much in sappy love ballads, but donning the simulacrum of all-American Classicism (a subverting wink at the only musical context that celebrates a wrinkled brow like aged wine)

At the brimming age of 50, Anka has decided to re-establish his personal musical space through two acts of nifty appropriation. After snugly fitting into the medium of the All-American Swing-Jazz era that has ensured its own reproductive survival into the 20th century with youths such as Michael Buble and Jamie Cullum, Anka has turned to a new medium of expression close to the raw-breasted appeals of youths today. See for yourself:

In addition, youtube is literally awash with Anka renditions of rock masterpiece favourites, enacting the unthinkable (at least to some music reactionaries, anyway) taboo of high/art interfornication. One enraged fan remarked: "...performing It's My Life with Jon Bon Jovi, Martin Sandberg,..." ?? go to hell, sucker!". Although "lonel99's" remarks may have been but the minority, Anka's own appropriative strategies calls into curious question exactly where we derive our "auratic" field of authenticity from.

In Walter Benjamin's earth-shifting essay "Works of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction", an oft-cited concept which Benjamin contemplates is the "aura" emanated by original artworks, as if they emanated a vapour of authenticity by virtue of their one-of-a-kind materiality. The autonomy of the single work of art, therefore, is drastically challenged with the technological innovation of mechanical reproduction, which allows not only for multiple copies of the same work, but also technologies defining new methods of artistic production that is predicated upon reproduction itself, photography (and now digital photography) being one of them. Benjamin's essay throws out an implied puzzler - where, therefore, is the 'work' of art located, supposing the existence of an aesthetic platonic heaven?

And, conversely, sources of antagonism. Can Anka's 'remake' of Bon Jovi's cult hit "It's My Life" authenticate its own existence, indeed have a complete ontology unto itself, without the umbilical of the original? Anka's toe-tapping pastiche extreme-makeover seems to stand well by itself, but fans are aware that such ahistorical methods of appropriation are legitimate by way of their novelty. The idea of the original, in fact, is what intravenously supports the system of approval around Anka, as long as the mode of appropriation does not cross niches that are too close for comfort. The 'author', as Benjamin has struggled with in other essays, has not been decentered. Rather, Anka's remake exists precisely as remake, an Other that is not the One, drifting about the periphery that feeds back into the center. But here, music does not lend itself so easily to Derridean freeplay. Rather, it points to the stronghold of authorship that lends itself to the preservation of these cultural artifacts and their social relations encoded within the performance, distribution and reception of the works themselves.

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