Anti-Word Of The Day: "rave-up"
The Anti-Word Of The Day is, as you have probably guessed, not a word or term I want to catch on, but rather one which I would like to drop headfirst into a vat of lye.
Voila: "rave-up," beloved by album reviewers who have run out of time before deadline — or synonyms for "danceable," the one. The original meaning of the term "rave-up" is "a wild or raucous party," and over time it has come to mean "an exciting, energetic musical performance." I have no quibble with the definition, but it's used too frequently, and it's often inexact.
At the risk of seeming to pick on Stephen King, let's look at two examples from his writing. (I think, but can't prove right now, that he's used it more than twice, but let's leave it at two.) The first is from King's list of the top ten albums of 2008. Discussing AC/DC, King notes, "If Girl Talk is rock-and-rap James Joyce, these guys are rave-up William Faulkner: They've found their own little groove place and keep digging it deeper." Okay, I know all those words, but in that order, they make my head fizz. I think King meant to convey that, like Faulkner, AC/DC does not vary what they do, but they do what they do so well that there's no need for variety.
Why not just say that? Or use another word? "Rave-up" is too poppy for AC/DC anyway, I feel, or AC/DC too diffuse for the term; Angus & Co. make music for missions, pool-hopping, fixing things in parking lots. Why not say that? The article is a slideshow, King had a word count, and I know how it goes with that, boiling all the connective tissue off the bones, but "rave-up" is the opposite of overworked. It's lazy.
It's even lazier (or his editor is) when King uses it again only a few months later in a 2009 column about earworms. The column itself is less preeningly obnoxious than his usual EW output (I have gotten that exact FreeCreditReport.com earwig). Alas, it contains a reference to "Tim Armstrong's ska-dance rave-up 'Into Action.'" I have not heard the song in question, but doesn't the hyphenate "ska-dance" more or less imply a rave-up? "Ska-dance dirge," now there's a qualifier I'm not going to expect. "Rave-up" is redundant here.
Writing about music is hard. In one of my very first columns, I complained about self-serious Rolling Stone phrasings like "arty, flailing dissonance." Leaving aside the self-seriousness of my own brittle contempt for a moment (but only for a moment; that "Bishop or Auden" reference is simply unacceptable, and I apologize), I still don't think the phrase makes much sense, but then, I don't know how I'd describe PJ Harvey instead. Describing a piece of music, the quality of the sound, to people you don't know, whose musical tastes you don't know, is a Super Password exercise in synasthesia, and if you only have 75-100 words to work with, you might say something the prospective listener can use to make an informed decision. You might just as easily disappear up your own bunghole like the house at the end of Poltergeist because you overloaded your similes and didn't just say what you meant straight out.
That's what bugs me about "rave-up." It's a sophomore-workshop pile of bones with no suggestion of the shape it used to have. It's supposed to mean a lot of things, but it's been made to mean too many things, so now it doesn't mean anything except "not Enya (probably)." Don't use it again until 2015. Thanks.
Tags: AC/DC James Joyce music our friend English PJ Harvey poetry degree + internet = mandatory protective goggles Stephen King Tim Armstrong unearned self-importance William Faulkner