Tuesday, March 31, 2020


Someone quoted Frank Zappa* over at Chicago Boyz, and I replied that he may be the best example of a pseudointellectual to come out of 60s rock. This set me to thinking, of course, who his competition is for that honor. This seems like a group-participation project. Defend your choices.

I think I am excluding the true folkies, pre-Dylan.  First, they would sweep the field and there would be no one else standing when we got to the quarterfinals, so the game would be no fun.  Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, right out. Second, even though they occasionally had top-40 pop hits, they don't really qualify.  Folk-rockers are in the mix, though. So, Kingston Trio out, Bob Dylan in.  Dylan isn't going to be a strong nominee anyway. Even first-water intellectuals get ahead of themselves and say pretentious stuff sometimes, so I can certainly cut some slack to a guy who has been as generally original and interesting as Zimmerman has.

From the opposite direction, I don't think a band or singer who ordinarily didn't pretend to be any more than a rocker or a fun time should get penalised for a one-off attempt at Being Significant.  "San Franciscan Nights" by the Animals was execrable, but they usually didn't deviate from their brand as hard-luck teen years rockers. Few pop-country singers get over their heads like that, but it does happen.

I am uncertain what to do with someone like Joni Mitchell.  She used very interesting tunings and was a good lyricist. It was the vacancy of her ideas that irritated.  Perhaps that should be the definition of exactly what I am referring to when I say pseudointellectual. You have to have some intelligence to even get into the ring, so you don't get extra points for that once the competition starts.  Everyone on the list will have that in some form or another.  It is the half-baked ideas that are the issue.

Nominate, or discuss criteria, or both.  I want to hear yours before I give mine.

*Another quote of his. "You've seen 'em! You've seen 'em with their little FISH on the back of their cars!  Just remember: THEY ARE THE ENEMY!"  (Pro-choice rally, 1988)


Anonymous said...

The pot calling the kettle black. Sometimes its very clear.

RichardJohnson said...

I don't know if CSNY approach even the level of pseudointellectuals, but some of their political songs now grate on me just like the proverbial fingernail across a blackboard.

Consider their song Chicago.

Though your brother's bound and gagged
And they've chained him to a chair
Won't you please come to Chicago
Just to sing

In a land that's known as freedom
How can such a thing be fair
Won't you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring

We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It's dying ... to get better

Politicians sit yourselves down
There's nothing for you here
Won't you please come to Chicago
For a ride

Don't ask Jack to help you
'Cause he'll turn the other ear
Won't you please come to Chicago
Or else join the other side

We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It's dying ... if you believe in justice
It's dying ... and if you believe in freedom
It's dying ... let a man live his own life
It's dying ... rules and regulations, who needs them
Open up the door

Somehow people must be free
I hope the day comes soon
Won't you please come to Chicago
Show your face

From the bottom of the ocean
To the mountains on the moon
Won't you please come to Chicago
No one else can take your place

Though I must admit that at the time of the Chicago convention, I had already made my decision about the song and its message. I hitched out to California, and at the time of the convention was hiking in the Sierras with my cousins.

While this may be construed as the act of an apolitical person, I had long been very interested in politics. I had a JFK poster on my closet door from 5th grade until I left for college. (Too bad it got thrown out- could have gotten some money for it today.)My favorite non-math course in high school was Introduction to Politics, which also involved writing a term paper on Soviet agriculture.

I was torn about the Vietnam War. I was at the time a pacifist, but quite aware that the Cong had nothing to do w pacifism. While 500,000 troops seemed like the wrong approach- in addition to making the Draft a reality- I had little liking for the protestors.

First, the politics course informed me quite well about life behind the Iron Curtain. Second, a classmate of mine, at one time the object of a crush of mine, had a mother who fled China after the Communists took over. (Not the only Iron Curtain refugee I grew up with, either.) Third, though I didn't use the term at the time, it was apparent to me that some of the Vietnam war protesting in my area involved a certain amount of virtue signalling- the cool people are against the war, doncha' know.

The song grated a bit on me, even back then.

Come to think of it, CSNY here sounds a bit like The Folk Song Army. IIRC, some of the CSNY members used to be folkies.

Trimegistus said...

John Lennon retires the title.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

PenGun - Please outline your reasons for calling me pseudointellectual, said the spider to the fly. I am already smiling.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Richard Johnson and Trimegistus, interesting examples.

james said...

When you write "pseudo-intellectual," my mind turns immediately to social/political commentary.

We're not short of "not-even-wrong" in the other domains (medical/engineering/science), but perhaps they're more daunting -though there's no shortage of people eager to explain the truth about medicine to Mayo.

Did any of the rock stars get into pushing medical woo? (I have a miserable memory for names)

Anonymous said...

Well lets start with your reasons for calling Zappa, of all people, a pseudo intellectual. Then I can get a feel for what you are getting at, as its not obvious in this particular case.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No, no, you don't get to play that way. You made the accusation against me personally, not "critics of Zappa in general." You have to defend the point. If you want to do that by making a detailed case why Frank Zappa is an actual intellectual, or that I in particular am not, either would be fine.

You don't get to argue by insinuation here. You have to pony up.

Anonymous said...

I don't have to do anything. I'm not sure you are even worth fooling with so far. If you are happy to just call people names without backing it up, then why would I waste time on you?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Two strikes. I did not call you any name. Sorry my entire discussion with examples didn't overcome your feeling hurt that I don't like one of your heroes.

Anonymous said...

Comprehension is a problem I see. Yes you did not call me any names so why .....

Zappa of course, is who you called a pseudo intellectual.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Strike three. Yes, I did. Twice.

Anonymous said...


Jonathan said...

Not a musician but - Woody Allen? Or is he a parody of a pseudointellectual.

Was Tom Lehrer a pseudointellectual, a lampooner of pseudointellectuals, or both?

Folk singers from my childhood seem to have been mainly pseudointellectuals. Pete Seeger. What about Burl Ives? What about the authors of "The Pushcart War" or "The Red Balloon" - pseudointellectuals or just commies?

Thinking about lefty folk songs (pseudo folk songs?) during the Vietnam period. The lyrics don't wear well.

RichardJohnson said...

Was Tom Lehrer a pseudointellectual, a lampooner of pseudointellectuals, or both?

I would say that anyone who graduated at age 18 with a Math degree from Harvard (and a Master's degree at age 19) would qualify as an intellectual. He might also qualify as someone who did not live up to his earlier promise -either in terms of mathematics or in terms of doing little songwriting beyond his late 30s.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Lehrer strikes me as the real deal, but not a rocker, for this exercise. I don't know enough about movies to have a valid opinion on Woody Allen.

Tom Bridgeland said...

Lehrer was terribly funny at the time, but for me unwatchable now.

Estoy_Listo said...

Trimegistus called it. John Lennon in an overwhelming win, "Imagine" being exhibit A. A pathetic figure to me now. Idolized beyond reason, how was he to live? It must have been especially difficult knowing that he was clever but not especially talented.

Anonymous said...

You are not just a pseudo intellectual, but also intellectually dishonest. A big ass wasp will just destroy spider webs. ;) For your consideration, the prologue to his opera, Thing Fish:


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, singing "Imagine there's no countries" at The Concert For Bangladesh doesn't have that sting of intellectual precision, does it? He was witty, and deserves credit for that. Sgt Pepper has worn well as poetry as well as being innovative. He did have a fair bit of do-it-just-to-shock-'em about him that is often the first downfall of the bright and cynical. It's easy to do, hard to do well.

Tell me your thoughts on CSN&Y and Jefferson Airplane

Sam L. said...

I was an Airplane fan, AVI. Grace was sooooo Slick.

Grim said...

Socrates would want us to define what an 'intellectual' was so we could more readily explore what a false one would be. Where I come from it's more likely that 'intellectual' than 'pseudointellectual' would be used as a term of abuse anyway. (Which is why we have fewer of them; there's no social benefit to pretending to be an intellectual.)

I would say that an intellectual is defined as someone who habitually finds himself or herself driven to think through the abstract aspects of problems, even when it isn't practically helpful to do so. A non-intellectual is thus someone who does not feel driven to do so; a pseudointellectual is, then, someone who pretends to be that but is not really.

We do have these sometimes even in the South, especially around universities. Some of them are decent people who got through college, still didn't really know what to do with their lives, so went on to grad school and began pretending they belonged pursuing an advanced degree. Their fakery is harmless, as they usually are, and indeed just defensive cover. A lot of the game-playing type of analytic philosophy is like this. They can be a lot of fun, actually, because their whole lives are game-playing, so they have learned how to play games in an engaging way.

But there are also pernicious ones, whose game playing is more about aggressively declaring loyalty to systems of belief that they do not really care about except that their aggressive loyalty wins them a place. Marxists were the classic example. The most pernicious ones today are the male feminists, who are first to the barricades to try to destroy someone over pronoun usage but treat women horribly once they get them in private. I know some of these that multiple women have had very nasty experiences with, so much so that they wouldn't tell me what happened out of fear of what I might do. I suppose I might do many things. Though I am no feminist, it is apparently clear that I do not endure men who mistreat women.

In any case, since you asked, that is how I would frame it -- er, abstractly. Then I don't have to name names, since it should be obvious enough who fits into which category.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sam - so was I. Now I wonder.