The art of noise
The history is in the references and the geography. The bands and artists that Cope most frequently refers to add doglegs and sometimes just break the straight line from Memphis to Liverpool. (Its Irish variant, Memphis to Dublin, doesn’t exist. There are no references at all to U2 or My Bloody Valentine.)
Düsseldorf is, perhaps, the book’s biggest city. Again and again, Cope refers to Krautrock bands – Neu!, Kraftwerk, Can, Harmonia, Amon Düül II – and argues the case for their central position in the history of rock music. Listen to Neu!, then listen to everything worth hearing since 1972. (Back in the 1970s, I thought Kraftwerk looked like little smooth-skinned oul’ fellas. Now they sound so young – and even better.) The expected citations – The Beatles, the Pistols, Nirvana – are rarely there. The forgotten and the embarrassing – Black Sabbath, The Moody Blues – often are. If the history of rock music is often simplified as the fight between The Beatles and the Stones, Cope seems to offer a different bout, The Beatles versus The Velvet Underground, and he has slipped the horseshoe into Lou Reed’s glove.
Reed “made songs that we could never anticipate”, and he’s also taken his music past the three minutes, beyond melody and hook lines, away from song, into sound and noise. Many of the artists in Copendium, including Cope himself, have tried to do the same. At its best, Copendium reminds me of The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross’s superb exploration of 20th-century classical music. The penultimate chapter of that book is called “Beethoven Was Wrong”. The assertion itself might be wrong, but it’s the only attitude to take with you when you’re getting behind your first drum kit.