Jason Hartley: Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time (Scribner) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jason Hartley

Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time

Published by Scribner

Jun 15, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

As a music critic, I don’t find Jason Hartley’s Advanced Genius Theory intimidating or insulting. I need to get that out of the way, because that seems to be one of the primary defenses of the theory. Basically, Hartley’s theory, explained here with excellentand oftentimes hilariousexamples, is that certain musicians later in their careers get so far ahead of the curve that it is misinterpreted as terrible. Where Hartley’s theory runs into trouble is in the idea that there’s no critiquing these musicians.

It makes some sense, of course. Who am I to criticize Lou Reed? What can I say about Sting’s later recordings? However, isn’t one of the chief responsibilities of a musician to make music that’s enjoyable? Especially when those musicians ostensibly record what could be loosely defined as pop music? Not every artist turns into John Cage when they reach a certain peak. It’s much more likely that they’re bored or out of touch oreven more likelyout of ideas. For a musician, Hartley is the ultimate cheerleader: once they reach a point, they’re infallible. I believe part of the job of a critic is to predict how the album will hold up over time, and if the later work is indeed “advanced” as Hartley theorizes, then time will bear that out.

For all these critiques, however, Advanced Genius Theory is fun reading, especially if one is interested in such things, as I obviously am. Hartley’s somewhere in the Chuck Klosterman family, with less appeal and not quite as much humor. The theory, as it is, can’t quite sustain an entire book, and without Klosterman’s humor or, say, Malcolm Gladwell’s intelligence, it runs out of gas towards the end of the book. Of course, I may just not be advanced enough to recognize the genius of the later chapters. (http://advancedtheory.blogspot.com/)

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June 15th 2010

I think that the book isn’t suggesting that you can’t critique and artists later work—more that the “popular” view of the later work should be questioned, and that maybe even your own pre-dispositions to the work should be questioned, so that you can form a more authentic reaction to the work itself. I think the point is, that its hard to view the newer work of an entrenched artist with an open mind. And a question—is it really the artist’s responsibility to make music that is enjoyable? And if so, what constitutes enjoyable? I think the point is, artistic genius is a process that necessarily goes beyond popular/enjoyable…

June 15th 2010


September 24th 2010

@Jenny—There’s a lot of truth to what you’re saying, and that’s the piece of the theory I enjoyed—the idea of trying to look at these works with fresh, and more open, eyes. I could, and probably should, have put that in the review. But I found the contrary idea that these things are beyond our understanding limiting. That was what I reacted most strongly to, and therefore it seemed most pertinent to a review. It’s worth noting, for Mr. Hartley and others, that this book has inspired a lot of conversation, and I’m glad that you responded in such a way.