Joshua Clover


On his book 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About

Cover Interview of February 23, 2010

A close-up

I think in some sense any portion of the book will give a sense of it at the level of the writing, the way it wants to talk about its subjects. And it’s composed in relatively small sections, a few pages each. But I’m not sure any single passage would get at the arguments or the motion of the book.  1989 builds its case stone by stone—if you’ll forgive the wall metaphor!

For me part of the pleasure is watching the import of some isolated moment—for that’s what pop gives us, isolated moments—slowly become visible as part of a larger dynamic.  But I suppose there are a couple favorite parts. The Jesus Jones song, “Right Here, Right Now,” gets taken up twice—once in the Introduction and once at the beginning of Part II. If one were to put these two passages together, one would get a sense of the approach, and how the book develops its account.

Alternately, I’m fascinated by the history of the song “Listen to Your Heart,” by Roxette. There are a couple sections at the end of Part I, in Chapter Four. It’s an example of a song that more or less defines schematic pop cliché, albeit really well-done. One naturally assumes it’s a sort of cipher: catchy, generic, hum it for three weeks and move along, nothing to see here. And yet its historical place is astoundingly rich and particular. This was the Number One song on the charts when the Wall came down. But that’s merely the beginning of its strange relevance, of its unique place in the development of the music biz, and its implausible role in the politics of central Europe.