There is only one Nation of Ulysses

by Peter Rojas

IanS.jpgIan Svenonius brought his irreverent irreverence to the Bluestockings bookstore on Monday evening. I’m not sure I’d actually go see him perform these days – those last couple mAKE uP records were already on the tired side – but it was hard to resist the prospect of a reading from his new book, The Psychic Soviet. (Especially since the reading was a mere two blocks away from my apartment).

MU1.jpgRather than actually read from the book, Ian spent about an hour or so expounding on his pseudo-(conspiracy) theories about the connections between rock music and the Cold War. The neo-Debordian in me loved it, but should anyone who wasn’t a fan of NOU or the mAKE uP really care?

Ian’s the master of projecting an aura of self-seriousness, but after years of making a career out of both declaiming and mining nostalgia it’s almost as if he’s become little more than an object of nostalgia himself. Even setting aside any debate about his bands’ musical merits (some songs hold up, some don’t), as the guiding force behind Nation of Ulysses and the mAKE uP, Ian had an underappreciated influence on the style, taste, and sensibility of an entire sub-culture of kids, myself included. Ian’s sounds, clothes, and oblique references pointed towards the parts of Sixties culture that you didn’t hear about much ten or fifteen years ago. Digging Godard, the Situationist International, and Arthur Lee might seem like obvious moves these days, but at the time they were revelations.

NOU1.jpg The Psychic Soviet encapsulates what he’s all about (and really has always been about): a revolutionary stance disguised as an ironic take on revolutionary stances. And maybe that’s why it makes sense for the former Sassiest Boy in America to be writing books rather than songs; rock music is so overwhelmed by the sort of retroness he pioneered that a shift in medium was almost inevitable.

[And now I remember why I decided not to go on and get a PhD.]