This small Mao shaped “little red” flexi book (actually a pretty shade of pink), contains a wide-ranging collection of intelligent, aggressive, radical and downright weird essays where pop-culture drowns up to its neck in political quicksand. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Hollywood glitter gulch, punk rockers, folkies and dj culture are put on the skewer and sucked through a contemporary Oscar Wildeian kaleidoscope. This patchwork quilt of pointed barbs and missives to the Heart-of-Darkness is aimed at “thinking rockers” and backyard anarchists, but its real audience should (we hope) find a much wider net. The Psychic Soviet might be just the antidote for stagnant times and muddy thinking. If you disregard some of the misguided (or is it ironic?) romanticism for the lost “socialist” Soviet regime, there are some excellent critiques on capitalism, imperialism, and its embedded nature within the arts, entertainment and culture industries.
The essay on “Rock n Roll Real Estate” shows us the connection between changing music styles and the rehearsal space musicians can afford or are allowed to work in. Svenonious suggests that the rise of acoustic folk, dj culture and self-made “electro-clash” techno music in the late 90s, grew directly out of Alan Greenspan’s monetary policies of low interest rates, that helped revitalize real estate and building markets — trends that were according to Svenonious “a reaction to the lack of insulated space.”
Within Psychic Soviet, the meaning, stability and growth of all musical genres is thrown into question. For Psychic Soviets, rock n roll is an evangelical cult; a pagan religion in opposition (and also mirroring) Christianity. The roots and heroes of the Blues, “gimmie that old-time religion” are equated with Judaism and Old testament prophets. Touring is “missionary” work (“Rock N Rolligion”). Elsewhere, punk rock is viewed as a latent branch of gay culture and Hip-hop dismissed as rampant greed & materialism personified. The now dominant DJ culture is invoked as preposterous “ninja spinning” poseurs. Svenonius runs riot, bursting the over-inflated balloons of pop culture sycophants.
The “Seinfeld Syndrome” chapter follows the rise of the urban yuppie and revitalization of the inner city to pop comedy television programming. Svenonius is often serious, ironic, and weird, all at the same time. That’s all part of the pleasure in reading these quirky palm-sized theories. They all contain kernals of truth wrapped in absurdity. Often too much weight is given to insignificant diversions such as Seinfeld or the gay subtext of Tolkien’s hobbit world. Yet despite the philosophical confusion, the Psychic Soviet is a fun joyride, a short comedic travelogue through our cultural trenches and pathetic times.
One problem with this kind of critical oddity, is that its often conspiratorial, trite, ranting, self-centered and lacks firm research. It’s condensed hipster “head thought” aimed at youth culture in dire need of more insightful and high quality information. The complex nature of the urban condition, postmodernism, ecology and contemporary culture is not addressed or skimmed over in brief. Jazz, perhaps the most important and influential musical genre, is merely brushed aside, dismissed out of its virtuosity. Blame for our drifting macho-nation is laid squarely on imperialist aggression, and relentless greed. There is sadness for those Soviet era goodtimes, when rock n roll was fighting socialism on the frontlines. Yes, we know it sucks. Meaning was lost once rock tore down the walls.n Music is often a utopian state, however its marketing is an unfortunate contrivance we’ve learned to live with. In some cases, the artist has been able to take control and distribution of his own works. D.I.Y. culture has made a positive impact. The Psychic Soviet reminds us that rock n roll was fun, often confusing , non-serious cold war aggression.
Svenonious calls the proliferation of Starbucks and the malling of urban America a global crisis with roots in the suburbs: “The colonial arrogance of the suburban bourgeoisie was in fact indistinct from other imperialists through history…” The Psychic Soviet claims booming city real estate, shopping, swinging sex, and shifted wealth to the metropolis are the results of comedy shows like Sienfeld and its lower rung spinoffs; Friends, and Sex in the City, all selling and luring the suburban bourgeois class into global slave-endorsing coffee bars and tony urban chic dwellings. There’s some truth in this exaggeration and by some stroke of luck that tragedy was avoided in D-town How lucky to have remained authentic.
There’s plenty of room to place all our miseries on the capitalist system, yet I was hoping there would be some importance placed on education and the choices we make as individuals. Where does responsibility lie if not within each of us? The revolution in all music, poetry and art is itself — that is one space where possible utopias can conquer mediocrity one person at a time. The obsession with pop culture and celebrity driven desires has left an indelible and “vampyric” mark on us all. The dangerous global repercussions of American arrogance is a reality we need to deal with beginning on a personal level. Peace & awareness begins at home.
“Little Red books” are often meant to incite, to be taken as instructional, polemic tools for the masses, portable thought weapons. The rise of individualism and free expression is often at odds with socialist dogma which usually entails the end of private property. The message in Psychic Soviet never draws us deep into anarchist territory. This little pink book is palatable, soft on the stomach and easy to digest. The voices here are those in revolt of mediocrity and the bland thought-scapes of American culture, but they are also those obsessed with underground culture, the alter-ego of pop-culture.
Svenonious serves up a rich banquet of barbs and conspiratorial ideas, especially residing within our hallowed American rock culture. Some of these are reminiscent of Algonquin roundtable times and the famed retorts and bon mots of members H.L. Menken and Dorothy Parker. Svenonious understands fashion trends in culture as the commercial farce and marketing tools they are. He does not suffer fools lightly. “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” Menken was fond of saying. Looking deeper into their psychic make up and fleshing out their true form is an art The Psychic Soviet accomplishes with lavish wit and occasional stabs of elegance.
Svenonious is a new world rocker with old world values. The time of mass transformation via socialist utopias may be a pipe-dream lost in the ruins of the 19th century. Sevenonious often cites history, but leaves out important details and even-handed reporting. He is one of the few people left nostalgic for the collapsed Soviet regime and cold war politics. You gotta love the chutzpah. The dissidents of that era will offer up a different opinion, and if the Soviet collapse has caused us some â€œPSDâ€ (Post Soviet Depression), perhaps it was worth the vicodan.
There’s a speaking-truth-to-power punch in the Psychic Soviet, yet it’s also balanced with self-doubt and ironic humor. All good philosophy tends to retrace and condemn itself. A tendency to lecture his reader on already over-exposed music history grows tedious or perhaps could explain the collection as a layman’s primer to rock n roll. In his introduction labeled lightly enough as “Instructions” Svenonious states in a straight deadpan, “This volume should clear up much of the confusion regarding events of the last millennium…” He denies any ties to academia and describes his essays as “free verse” â€“ organically constructed. As a “living volume” there is a good deal of confusion left in its wake. The reader can always fill in the blanks, there are even extra pages for note taking.
As a portable culture primer, Svenonious still needs to revisit the history books. His better essays are ones that cut through the underbelly of the music industry, and drive home lessons he’s got an inside bead on. The Seduction of Paolo Hewitt is a hilarious send-up of producer Alan McGee and Oasis, realized as a short play based on Frankenstein, the movie. Here is dissident folk music for the zip age (those ending in “00”).
There’s a lot here to stimulate arguement and opening discussion is perhaps the main point behind Psychic Soviet. This pink manifesto is as American as pie. Forging the tough questions is the first step in clearing out the cobwebs of a nation circling the drain. The writing style is solid, wry, and in a sea of insignificant rock ‘n blather, The Psychic Soviet has a steady beat and you can dance to it. Crank it up. Join up. Psychic Soviet’s unite!