Building off last week's kick-around of the Tom Petty ball (okay, that was a weird metaphor), I've been thinking over the last few days how, exactly, I define power pop. Clearly, it has something to do with form, with particular chord progressions and distillations of influence (if Petty's not power pop, we noted, it would be because of the Southern rock blues influence), especially those inheritances of the British Invasion. But there are also pretty specific thematic concerns in power pop, which can mostly be classified in one of two categories: Sex and Rebellion.
I recently spent a week in the brains of over a thousand teenagers ruminating on the nature of the sonnet, and many of them assured me that one Keats sonnet had to have been about love, because sonnets just are, regardless of the words on the page. I was, shall we say, skeptical of this assertion, because I tend to be a theme person more than a form person (I also tend to be a prose person, but they didn't bother to ask me that). But I'm rethinking that now. Could William Carlos Williams have written "This Is Just To Say" as a sonnet? Possibly, and the form would dictate, to some extent, how we read that poem, less stripped down admission of guilt, more poetry of domesticity, say.
I've also been looking into my old scholarship, trying to gauge whether any of it is any good, or if I'm still as annoyed at it as I was when I put it down. My topic, throughout my academic career, has basically been adolescence and empire: how identity formation in colonial systems works out in literature, often through channeling, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, Sex and Rebellion. So you see how this fits together.
And so I give you two illustrative examples of that most Keatsian of bands, The Vapors. The Vapors were, like Keats, just kids when they hit, but they had famous admirers and rose fast (The Jam). Of course, they flamed out pretty fast, after one brilliant power pop record (1980's New Clear Days, of the ubiquitous "Turning Japanese" fame), and one grimmer but more interesting record (1981's Magnets, a consideration of violence, assassination, mass suicide, and other light topics). Musically, the records aren't so different, though the song "Magnets" itself definitely has a darker feel. But music speaks louder than words, and so consider:
First, we have a fan video bleeding two of the greatest tracks from New Clear Days: Trains and News at Ten. "Trains" is a love song, "News at Ten" is a song about adolescent rebellion. Duh.
(I thought there was a real "News at Ten" video, but I guess not.)
(Jeebus, was there ever a more British-looking band than the Vapors?)
Compare to the much-less-generically-clear paean to the Jonestown Massacre, "Jimmie Jones":
(What a bass line! I forget, sometimes, how much I love this stuff.)
So a question: the first video is definitely and definitively power pop, but what about the second? (And if you're fascinated by the Jonestown Massacre, as I was in my adolescence, you might enjoy this video by my blogbud Spike Priggen, which uses one of those weird early 80's movies about the tragedy as its visual text.)