It seems my role in the world is shaping in front of me. Aside from father, husband, instructional designer, etc., I’m beginning to see myself as a curator of sorts. This blog is ground zero, but I have and will venture out from time to time to curate craft beer and indie rock cultures.
I bring this up because my gentleman dabblerhood has me prepping for more DJ gigs. No. I am not that kind of DJ (nor this). The kind of DJ I am is the kind that plays his own records between bands at a Hairhole benefit and once again for Monday Vinyl at Uprise (September 24th). In this capacity, I’m not really creating anything. I simply present what I think is good and worth preserving.
How can this translate with my craft beer enthusiasm?
Well, it has with my involvement in the Columbia Beer Enthusiasts. I helped create and manage their online presence while doing my part to create events that promote craft beer to all of Middle Missouri. I’ve even been asked to host some beer/ice cream/record pairing events, but that’s still top-secret. I’ll let you know when this materializes.
All of this curating comes together in written form on the blog you’re reading right now. Hopefully, it will eventually materialize on actual paper, but that’s a work in progress. I may have to back off and curate some other writers to accomplish this goal…
Anyways, the point is that if we can’t create, we should curate. Consuming thoughtfully is good, but it barely contributes to the cause. Curating promotes a culture to the masses, encouraging others to join in or at least appreciate said culture. Maybe I should just change the blog’s name to Curating Beer and Pavement…
Or not. Thanks for reading once again and participating in the conversation.
I submitted a piece for the new craft beer journal Mash Tun and was all-but-assured that it would be included. Apparently, it was rejected. I say this because there’s no way for me to actually see the journal, but my name is nowhere on the announced list of authors. Plus, the editor quit replying to my emails. Oh well. I don’t have time to be a writer anyway. Below is what I thought would be a first draft, one that would develop after some suggestions from said editor. No hard feelings, just disappointment.
Update – The editor got back to me and explained that the piece didn’t fit with a few of the historical pieces included in the journal. Some assistant was supposed to respond to my emails but never did. Maybe I’ll try again.
Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement
We live in a world of turmoil and uncertainty. Economies are tanking. Tensions are rising with threats of terror and violence at every corner of the earth. Folks arbitrarily take sides. It’s a distressing time to be a human.
So, we look for escape. We take up hobbies to pass the time or alter our minds with chemicals in order to forget all of our troubles. Our daily lives are consumed with activities and interests that help us ignore the unrest all around us.
I have taken up a few hobbies in the interest of helping me avoid dealing with the chaos of our times. One such hobby involves beer, that of the hand-crafted, artisanal variety as well as the kind I brew in my kitchen. The other hobby has to do with my obsession over independent music, better known as indie rock, although no one really calls it that anymore.
On the surface, these two interests have very little in common, aside from the fact that they’re both my interests. However, I have found that one interest tells me more about the other every day and vice versa. Here we have two industries that defy the current downward trajectory of our economy through continuing expansion, improving distribution, and breaking into mainstream markets. Plus, they bring people together. All this is done by breaking from the status quo, suggesting that whatever is mainstream is maybe doing more harm than good.
There’s a coalition here to be built, a coalition between the craft beer world and indie rock community. You see, these two industries have more in common than they realize. It all comes down to the descriptors I and many of you use to describe beer and music. Craft beer is hard to maintain and develop without its independence while indie rock is nothing without a musician’s craft. This is where indie and craft meet.
I have explored the intersections between craft beer and indie rock for some time now. One aspect is simply the fact that we all love beer and rock music. The other aspect is the intersection between those descriptors “craft” and “indie”. For me it’s obvious, but for others, it’s a stretch.
Craft is generally considered a type of skilled work. Historically, craft has been judged not only on quality but also quantity. In order to maintain a high level proficiency, production had to remain small, manageable. Larger production tends to remove the craft, creating product with increased simplicity and often more defects. As more artisans or workers were needed, the craft was diluted. When craft is increased, volume tends to shrink, but the quality of the output grows exponentially. Independence from corporate interests can insure that the craft remains paramount over profits.
Indie is short for “independent.” To be independent, one must be self-sufficient, free from the tyranny and limitations of corporate decision-makers more intent on making a buck than putting out a good product. Independent rock music and music labels are considered such as they are not a part of corporate owned music factories. There are only 3-4 of these major labels left, but they are huge and deeply connected in corporate industries that have nothing to do with art or music. Still, as these major labels deal with the handcuffs of corporate profit margins, indie labels are free to let their artists create and hone their craft.
Craft and indie need one another, feed on one another. Indie labels happen to demonstrate a fair amount of craft among its artists. This focus is lost in the craft at the majors as the shift is toward making music that satisfies corporate bottom lines takes precedence. And craft brewers are the most independent of beer industry as they provide a higher quality alternative to the three or so corporate beer producers. One could really call them craft rock or indie beer if it was desired and neither would lose meaning.
Now, don’t get me wrong, both indie rock and craft beer have intentions to make money. How else would they exist in a capitalist society? The difference between crafty and independent heroes and their corporate counterparts is that they won’t put profit ahead of the craft or their independence. Sure, some indies and crafties have sold their souls to corporations, but they are the exception not the rule. The indie and craft movements are about small scale and high quality. Corporations don’t know how to do this.
And we’ll gladly pay for whatever indie labels and craft breweries are selling despite higher prices. Even during this recession, indie labels (as well as the stores who sell them) and breweries have seen steady growth. Craft beer especially is growing at an incredible rate. Even during economically hard times, we’ll find the money to support independent, craft producers of our favorite goods because we know that their products are worth it. This is no truer than it is for indie rock and craft beer.
Despite the success indie/craft producers are enjoying, our corporate overlords still rule the markets, but their share is shrinking. The large, corporate breweries are watching their sales drop as is the industry as a whole. However, craft beer continues to grow. The music industry is suffering as well. Yet, more and more indies are popping up all the time and they continue to put out music. If there’s room for these smaller players in their respective industries, then they must be doing something right.
So, the indie and craft markets are what’s king these days. They may not own high percentages of their markets, but they have found sustainable business methods that feature slow, controlled growth and a focus on the craft. They maintain their independence through their success. This is where they intersect. I think there’s a lot we can learn from indie rock and craft beer. That’s where the coalition comes in. Here’s to building international coalitions through beer and Pavement and here’s to indie beer and craft rock.
Now, how did I ever come to this place? How have I made a connection that seems trivial at best and absurd at worst?
There are stories to tell that explain my epiphany. The stories are numerous and varied. Few occurred where I felt this deep connection between both craft beer and indie rock. However, the accumulation of these experiences have led me to this great cause of my life: building international coalitions through beer and Pavement.
Honestly, my first epiphanies happened in the 1990’s and they involved music more often than beer. There was a giddiness I remember feeling waiting for my first Pavement show in the Algora Ballroom in Cleveland, OH. A few weeks prior, I experienced an electrical sensation getting pummeled by Archers of Loaf in the old Columbus venue known as Stache’s. There were the hours pouring over records in my favorite record store, Columbus’ own Used Kids. These moments are etched in my mind forever.
Why did this music mean so much to me? There was an urgency, a hunger, a passion missing in the corporate sludge clogging the airways. These musicians were working stiffs like I am. They were doing something I could have done and they did most of it on their own with what little cash they could scrape together. It was accessible. It was authentic. It was ours.
Craft beer came much later. I suppose I had as much experience with music when I discovered Pavement and Guided By Voices as when I gave up corporate, rice adjunct lager for a Stone Ruination for good. I still remember that night I grabbed a sixer of something bland and a bomber of that epically bitter brew with the menacing gargoyle staring back at me. The night I cracked open that beer, it all changed for me.
There were other beer epiphanies. My first Russian Imperial Stout challenging my ability to finish a single beer in one sitting. The beers from Jolly Pumpkin and Russian River awakening parts of my taste buds I had long since neglected, never once thinking I’d rediscover them in a beer. Then there was the first time I tasted my own brew, realizing that I never learned to play guitar at the same level I learned how to properly dry-hop a beer.
Through all of these discoveries and sensations, the value of craft and independence stood out. From the ashes of DIY movements past rose artisans who create beer and art unlike anything corporate money could ever hope to emulate. Craft beer and indie rock share these values. In this, I find comfort in the human condition that encompasses an authentic even intellectual appreciation for a good beer or ear-shattering album.
So, as you enjoy your next finely-crafted double IPA, dry-hopped on unimaginable amounts of Simcoe or tongue-splitting sour ale, aged in Chardonnay barrels and infected with yeast strains formerly considered unacceptable for human consumption, drop the needle on that Guided By Voices record from your college days. Or when you attend the next Pitchfork-endorsed rock show among the PBR-wielding hipster set, order that imperial stout hidden in the back of the cooler. A coalition is being built through beer and Pavement, a coalition dedicated to craft and independence. It’s time to join us.
Still, I’d like to see the hall recognize bands that should be inducted, like Sonic Youth, Alex Chilton, Brian Eno, etc. A nice list of snubs was printed in the Village Voice just last week. So, there are plenty of bands left out to fill its own hall.
Although I hate the R&RHoF, I worry that Pavement won’t garner an induction when they’re eligible in a couple years…
Not really, but I worry that some great bands will not get their due credit, whether that means a nod from the Hall or not. So, I’d like to propose an indie hall of fame. I’d probably start with bands represented in each chapter of Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Lifeand go from there. That would mean Black Flag, Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, (previously mentioned) Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Big Black , Dinosaur Jr., Fugazi (yes, Ian MacKaye gets in twice), Mudhoney, and Beat Happening all get in for starters.
Of course, maybe craft beer should have their own hall of fame. As far as Americans go, there would be space reserved for Fritz Maytag (Anchor Steam), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Jim Koch (Sam Adams), Charlie Papazian (homebrewing), and Michael Jackson (beer critic). There’s room for brewers from other countries, but I’d avoid brands of beers. Let’s stick to inventive brewers and founders of various breweries or advocates of beer in general.
Someone needs to get on these halls of fame. Why there isn’t a craft beer and indie rock hall of fame, respectively, I shall never understand. If I didn’t have other, more important tasks at hand, I’d make my life’s work the establishment of one or the other. For now, I’ll leave this debate up to you, my dear readers.
Still, what I do here in terms of looking for the crossover appeal between craft beer and indie rock deserves its own attention. I can at least give over a post or two a month declaring a certain performer or brewer as deserving of my hall of fame. So, that’s what I’ll do…
As with any hall of fame, there should be certain criteria, criteria I will list below. Members of the International Coalition of Craft Brewers and Indie Rockers will…
- …work independently from corporations for at least five years of their existance.
- …maintain a sense of independence from corporate will and focus groups.
- …stick to artisinal and/or traditional ways of practicing their craft.
- …have at least one anecdote of crossover appeal with indie rock or craft beer.
- …appeal to my readership and me.
What else? What other criteria should I consider for this hall of fame?
Also, let me know if you’d like to pick up the cause of either proposed hall. I would gladly lend a helping hand in making them happen.
1 As if I’m ever clear.
2 That said, I visited the hall at least twice during its first year in business. It would be interesting to go back 15 years later to see how it’s changed. I would probably be disappointed like I was for the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
3 If I have one essential read in this world, this is probably it. No one reads nonfiction, especially nonfiction about indie rock. To fully understand independent music, one has to read this book. It’s so complete in both its variety of subjects and its depth of coverage.
4 Actually, I’d let him in three times. Once for each of the bands mentioned as well as a third time for his work with Dischord Records.
I have things to say about this, but you all should comment and do the thinking for me…
Is it redundant to keep coming back to sentimentality?
The above video works because it taps into the sentimentality of the photo series by artist Irina Werning better known as “Back to the Future.” Feist has always had a warm, inviting voice and her songs are comforting remembrances to which we all can relate. The combination of the song and the images should make you smile as you remember your own childhood pictures, stashed away in some cardboard box.
This idea of sentimentality is an important one, contributing to the success of indie-craft markets. Connecting to these feelings and memories are what give a glass of beer or record a soul. This is something corporate entities try to manufacture in an effort to separate you from your money, but the personal approach of indie-craft producers makes such an approach more authentic.
I keep going back to it, but the Deschutes promo from earlier this year has a similar effect on me. Sure, it’s advertising and marketing at its finest. However, there’s something about these small businesses tapping into our collective experiences that sets them apart from their corporate overlords.
Does the Feist video speak to you? Is sentimentality important to you when choosing music, beer, etc?
This past weekend, many Americans proclaimed themselves Irish as an excuse to get ridiculously drunk on green beer. Aside from the nausea induced by the idea of fizzy yellow stuff tinted with food coloring for anyone who takes craft beer seriously, St. Patrick’s Day is just another horridly bastardized cultural holiday Americans have ruined in the name of over-consumption. Throw in Cinco De Mayo and almost any day associated with a saint (including the Super Bowl – Saint Lombardi), holidays meant to celebrate a culture and its many contributions to society are simply dismissed as another way for industrialized, rice-adjunct lager to destroy our livers and taint our criminal records, not to mention their assault on our taste buds.
As a beer enthusiast, I love any opportunity to celebrate with beer. However, whether it’s for a holiday or just getting together with friends, I cringe at the idea of drinking with the sole intention of just getting drunk. It’s particularly offensive once we associate drunken debauchery with an entire culture just because that’s how it was marketed to us. Is it really fair to celebrate our perception that the Irish are a bunch of drunks?
The mainstream take on St. Patrick’s Day is beer culture at its worst. There is no acknowledgement of actual Irish tradition. Green-colored, light American lager is not what’s served in Irish pubs. So, it’s not even remotely authentic. If there was ever a time for some “real ale”, St. Patrick’s Day would be a fine day to try some. What makes this all worse is that Irish culture is so much more than beer… Of course, this is a beer blog, so I’ll stick with what I do.
Who’s to blame for this misappropriation of St. Patric’s Day?
I blame the big beer makers and their marketers. Someone did some research and found that there’s a fantastic pub culture in Ireland. Instead of emulating the beer in Ireland, they decided just to add food coloring to the cheap stuff (or buy a name in the case of Killian’s). All in the name of making some profits in mid-March, these companies and their marketing machines have misrepresented a holiday that celebrates the accomplishments of an entire culture.
This marketing then does what the beer companies do best which is appeal to the lowest common denominator in hopes of selling more product to mindless consumers. The message is that on March 17th, we all wear the most ridiculously green outfit or costume we can find and drink ourselves silly. It doesn’t matter what sort of nod we think we’re giving to Irish culture, we just want to drink.
This is too bad. After all, a holiday such as St. Patrick’s Day could have a positive effect on our perceptions of Irish culture. For one, it could be a day to positively look at immigration and all the contributions immigrants (not just the Irish) have had on this country. Besides, it only takes a quick trip over to Wikipedia to realize that St. Patrick’s Day has other meanings to the Irish and their connection to Catholicism that only remotely has something to do with drinking. A moment to recognize Irish immigration, culture, and history might be hard to do between green Jello shots and keg stands.
To be clear, I am not against partaking in some St. Patrick-themed fun. The day used to serve as an excuse for the Irish to feast and beer goes well with a good feast. Having some greenish attire and calling yourself Irish in search of affection is cool as well. What I’m railing against is the practice of mindless over-consumption under the guise of a cultural celebration. Let’s have some fun but do it with a purpose.
I meant to post this before St. Patrick’s Day (hence the inevitable verb tense issues). So, the point is moot. However, as we near industrial beer’s next great holiday, Cinco De Mayo, remember that Mexicans don’t really celebrate this day and that it has little to do with a skunked beer enhanced with a slice of lime.
Do you play favorites?
Martyn Cornell, AKA The Zythophile, did this bit praising brown beer. While most in the comments and among the beery blogosphere have chosen to focus on Martyn’s ode to brown bitter, I walked away (virtually) with a different message. Martyn’s post is about how we can’t really claim to like beer if we have favorite beer styles.
What spoke to me was a comparison to music (in a beer blog – I’m partial). One can’t claim to love music if all he likes is one particular genre or artist. We’re limited by favorites and we fail to listen or search out new music if we continually turn back to the same old same old. Granted, I proclaim Pavement as my favorite band of all-time, but I’m not limited by this declaration.
Martyn goes on to demonstrate how he doesn’t have a favorite music or beer, but there are things he could handle over an extended period with one kind of music or beer. He names quite a wide range of music he likes. However, the post is about his love for English bitter, a style that would suit him for a time if that’s all he could drink.
I get this.
Some of you may not be aware that I taught fourth and fifth grades for ten years. When one
teaches facilitates the learning of 9-11 year-olds, it’s easy to pick out favorites. There’s the really bright-but-shy kid who always saves the day with her insights. I always had a soft spot in my heart for the kid who had everything going against him, but he showed up at school everyday, ready to learn. I could go on and on, but the point is that playing favorites limits us. If I had spent all my time and efforts on those few favorites, I wouldn’t have discovered the gifts of my other students. More importantly, I would have done a disservice to those who were not my favorites.
You don’t like beer if you only order one style at the bar. Think of all those other breweries and styles on which you’re missing. I honestly drink a lot of IPA’s and DIPA’s. However, I don’t know that I would truly appreciate these beers had I not begun to branch out into sweeter or more sour territory. In fact, I often have nothing hoppy on-hand since discovering many other styles of beer. (Plus, these beers are best enjoyed fresh. So, they don’t stay around long.) It’s better to not play favorites in this instance as sticking to one beer or style gives one nothing with which to compare.
The same can be said for music. Listening to the same albums and bands over and over only means that you’re not listening to something else, possibly something new. It’s easy to fall into ruts, wondering whether or not you have the energy to pursue new music. We should branch out now and again with our listening habits. Even when I lump all of the music I favor into the category “indie rock”, I fully recognize that there’s an incredible amount of variety, so much variety that it’s silly to name it all using the same ambiguous label. I can say that I love music because I truly love many kinds of music.
Now, all of this love for variety does not necessarily mean that we don’t linger with a few
favorites gems. I still listen to at least one Pavement album a week. Last night, I ordered a double IPA from Six Row followed by a Green Flash Barley Wine at dinner. Insound is sending me an LP by Lee Renaldo and The Shins shortly after. My last beer I brewed was a repeated fav, Big Black. Old habits die hard. Creature comforts are…well…comfortable.
Yes, we’ll say that we have favorites, but by definition, we would consume little or nothing else. That definition?* Preferred before all others of the same kind. So, for my purposes here, I’m looking at how this manifests to the extreme.
If IPA’s and Pavement were my favorites, I wouldn’t be listening to Beach House as I type this, wondering when is the right time to pop open that Lou Pepe. Maybe there should be a better term for what Martyn describes and I’m ripping off, but, for now, let’s not play favorites.
*This is for Bill. Although, I doubt it will satisfy him. I just hope it clarifies from where I’m coming.
Update: Please read the comment thread, particularly Bill’s comments. My intention was not to make music and beer exclusionary, but that’s the message I sent. I’ll leave the post up as is, but you should read the entire discussion.
I’ve dabbled here and elsewhere with writing reviews. The advantage of keeping a blog that focuses on both beer and music is that there’s plenty of material to review. Some of my better bits have reviewed both.
The trouble with writing reviews is that it takes some of the enjoyment from the experience. If I’m thinking ahead to my next blog post every time I place the needle on the record or pop the cap of a beer, I’m not staying in the moment. It becomes work somehow even though I fully realize that this here website is a hobby and not a source of income by any means.
Still, I’ve tried to write reviews. The music reviews have gone well… for the most part anyway. I’m pretty happy with the Believers review I just wrote. There was a pretty good Walkmen review I wrote a while back. Honestly, the music reviews are easier, even more fun to write.
Then, I considered why this might be. Stan has a list of newish beer rules somewhere. One of those rules suggests that one should drink a beer at least twice before passing judgement on it. This makes sense. However, I’d like to interject that some of the most rewarding discussions and reviews I’ve seen/heard/read have been based on one serving of a beer. The best beers can inspire mountains of content with a single serving. Still, I see the point.
To properly grasp a beer’s essence, once should spend some time with it. Drink the beer in a variety of glasses and contexts. Try it paired with foods or at different temperatures. I get this and endorse it. Write whatever review you want, but this is probably the best way to fully appreciate a beer.
What does this mean for RateBeer/BA fanatics? What about those blogs that review a beer a day? They should do what they want, but I probably won’t be writing many more reviews like that, if any. I tried a couple at the beginning of the year, but it’s time to move on. Reviewing beer is not what I do best. Enjoying beer? That’s another story.
So, how is this different than music?
For one, a record has a chance to be consumed over and over without consequence. I often have to drive for work and can give an album a good listen while driving 2-3 hours round trip. Then, there’s usually a session of listening once or twice on vinyl while my kid plays and we wait for dinner. When I write a record review, I’ve had time to let it marinade. A beer review is often a one-shot deal, especially with a rare brew.
Also, the beer review has a formula where record reviews can be whatever I want. In a beer review, it’s generally expected that one addresses the appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. Even when I’ve taken some poetic license with this format, I still generally come back to the basic review template. With records, it’s easier to write whatever comes to mind and go off on tangents or address each track. Thankfully, music is easier to perceive as something that doesn’t fit within a neat category like beer. Maybe beer scholarship hasn’t come as far as that of music writing. Maybe it has. I just find music easier to write about.
So, expect me to continue writing record and show reviews and cut back on beer reviews. However, there will be exceptions. I’ll probably review a beer and you won’t even realize it. We’ll see.
Now, I have a deadline that’s already been extended. I need to get back to that project.
Folks are really hung up on definitions. Some definitions seem vague and disconnected. Others change depending on the context. Still, certain definitions are there just to create controversy. Whatever the definition, whether it be beer or music, they make for excellent fodder for a blogger in need of a topic to post.
The “session beer” is a highly controversial term. Beer Advocate has their somewhat Americanized version of what most Brits consider to be session beer. Then, there’s the session beer gospel as preached by Lew Bryson at his Session Beer Project. I’m not going to go into the definition of the session beer except to say that whatever you’re drinking over an extended period of time that doesn’t completely drop you beneath the table is close enough to a session beer for me. I’ll let others debate ABV criteria as I rarely choose a beer solely on alcohol level. (Although, I have avoided certain beers that would have rendered me unable to drive home.)
There’s been some talk and disagreement over the origins and definitions of the West Coast IPA. Jeff at Beervana attempted to solicit the help from his readers in order to align his own definition with the masses. This sort of topic borders on debates over terroir and a vain attempt to identify one’s region with a beer style. It’s really no different with the controversy over Cascadian Dark Ales and/or Black IPA’s. Brewers/marketers are trying to tie a beer’s definition with their particular region. Sure, styles originate from and often taste different when brewed in different locales. However, the makeup of the beers are generally similar. I enjoy how an IPA from Michigan tastes as much as I enjoy how one from San Diego tastes. Locale is a factor, but I won’t define a beer style solely based on region. It feels limiting and lazy.
Lately, a couple of definitions have come under fire. It seems there is a crisis over what constitutes craft beer in the UK. I’m not familiar with Simon Johnson’s Reluctant Scooper, but in his post titled “The Craft Beer Manifesto“, he takes a jab at what defines craft beer (in the UK, at least):
1: Only use distilled otter’s tears
2: Use only barley that’s been warmed by the breath of kindly owls
3: Craft beer cares, so only use hops that have been flown halfway around the world
4: You can have it any colour you like, as long as it’s not brown. Unless its an Indian Brown Ale
5: Beards allowed only if they’re ironic
6: It’s not “inconsistent”, it’s “experimental”
7: It’s not “hiding faults”, it’s “barrel-ageing”
I found his list (all twelve) to be pretty funny. However, scrolling through the comments alerted me to some curmudgeon-like attitudes toward beer. I don’t know how everyone defines craft beer, but it seems to me that it’s beer brewed using traditional methods on a relatively small scale. The definition that Johnson hints at – with tongue firmly planted in cheek – is what has been marketed to us in one way or another. Some has been by design as breweries fight for their own unique place in the industry. Some is a creation of the craft beer geek culture where bigger, extreme-er beer is appreciated most. I think it’s a simple thing really, determined by brewing methods and production. Still, the manifesto is a funny list to discuss at the bar. (H/T Stan)
Another blog post has pondered the definition of a brewer. Zak Avery ponders the question perfectly and the proof lies in the responses he generates from his readers. The definitions are all over the place as each commenter has his/her own perspective on what constitutes a brewer. Simply, I’d suggest that a brewer is anyone who brews beer. There are good and bad brewers, ignorant and knowledgeable brewers. If we want to get technical, we could divide brewers between home and commercial, but sometimes there isn’t much difference in this dichotomy. The debate could go on, but that’s why it’s such a great question or rumination. (also H/T Stan)
Indie rock takes its name from “independent,” which describes both the do-it-yourself attitudes of its bands and the small, lower-budget nature of the labels that release the music. The biggest indie labels might strike distribution deals with major corporate labels, but their decision-making processes remain autonomous.
On the surface, that seems easy enough. However, when bands sign with major labels, whether or not they really do make “autonomous” decisions is up for debate. Too often, the idea of indie rock has been assigned to a certain aesthetic. Honestly, I am guilty of limiting this segment of music to the music I like: guitar-centric, rock music preferred by white males who attended college in the mid-90′s. I realize that I’m ignoring a huge amount of music when I proclaim indie rock as my favorite genre of music. Really, what I should do is say that I appreciate indie rock, but I prefer bands like Pavement, Guided By Voice, Sonic Youth, The Walkmen, etc. Luckily, it’s not up to me to define indie rock for you. We have AllMusic and Wikipedia for such trivialities.
Where definitions get interesting in indie rock is where we actually start to define genres and sub-genres. Lo-fi was made popular as an aesthetic where bands recorded in bedrooms on cheap four/eight-track recorders. Riot grrrl defined a generation of punks hellbent on injecting the DIY, punk scene with some estrogen. Baroque pop was the only monicker someone at Spin or Rolling Stone could muster in order to explain what Arcade Fire or Beirut were doing. I could go on and on with genres and subgenres made popular in indie rock circles. The topic of these genres is enough to write a book on its own.
So, what am I getting at?
It seems a great deal of time is spent on blogs and books and whatever media one prefers trying to define everything. The only problem I have with this is that so many of us (myself included) spend a lot of time trying to define it for others. No longer do we listen to (or read) each other and try to meet at an understanding. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. A certain amount of anonymity and/or distance provided by the interwebs does that. I’m trying to get better at this and simply state that what I post here is just my perspective. Sometimes that’s clear. Sometimes it’s not.
I prefer to see these definitions as evolving tools to better understand one another. If you and I have different ideas as to what a session beer is, it might make for a more enjoyable session if we know from where each person is coming. Let’s say that I am a Lew Bryson disciple and will only drink session beers measuring in at 4.5% or less and you’re the type that can’t taste anything below 9% ABV. It would be helpful to know that I can throw back several pints over the course of evening while you may want to limit yourself to sipping one or two beers over the same time period. Without this understanding, one of us comes off looking like a drunk: you for drinking high gravity beers at the same pace as I or me for throwing back five pints in one sitting.
When I talk music with people, the definition discussion is much easier. No one is stuck to one definition for a band or an album. We prefer to delve into what the music is doing for us and what influences it resembles. Conversely, the beer nerd conversation is dependent on the definition of a beer or its style. Thankfully, this grip on definitions is loosening as some in my beer circle would rather talk about tangibles of the moment or how the beer tastes in that particular context. To me, these discussions over definitions are so much more useful and productive rather than one party insisting on whatever is etched in stone while another pontificates that all formal definitions are obsolete.
Thankfully, Martyn Cornell provided some reason to the conversation and yet another term to help describe what we beer enthusiasts like. He used the post to promote the idea of “fine beer”, you know, like “fine wine” or “fine dining”. I’m all for it, but I won’t use this space to go into that. His main point is the same point I’m trying to make. Basically, the labels we use to describe what we like (craft beer, indie rock) are just the words that make it simpler to tell outsiders or newcomers what we like. It’s a way to organize store shelves and record bins. It doesn’t adequately describe all the reasons we like what we like. It’s shorthand. It’s easy, almost lazy. (Martyn didn’t say this exactly. I’m sort of paraphrasing.) So, the energy spent defining lazy terminology is energy wasted.
I will continue to use the terms “craft beer” and “indie rock” to describe my tastes in drink and music. I will probably also try to define these interests with each blog post. However, I am not trying to define these specific terms for you. What I am attempting to do is to define what I like and why. I am trying to make the case – like many have done before me – as to why this is important. I am not attempting to define beer and music for you. I am just trying to engage the conversation, the thing that goes neglected when we have to define everything.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss
I recently watched the Pitchfork.TV documentary on the making of the Flaming Lips classic LP, The Soft Bulletin. If you haven’t heard the record, you’re missing out. It’s absolutely one of the ten best albums of my life and it may also be one of the saddest. Wayne Coyne has often talked about how sad songs can make us feel better or give us a sense of being part of something larger than ourselves. This is expressed in so many words in the doc and comes through in the Dr. Seuss quote above.
We love sad songs. Our favorite bands record mostly sad songs. There’s a reason bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, Bright Eyes, etc. are so beloved. It’s similar to the fanaticism for Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. These artists know how to speak to our sadness and this comforts us somehow.
Interestingly, we also choose alcohol more than almost any other drug. Alcohol’s a depressant, bringing our sadness to the forefront. Yes, the effects of our drug of choice is mostly intended for us to feel that sadness again.
It should be clarified, however, that just because we choose music and drugs that make us sad that we still appreciate high quality. Sure, there is music and alcohol that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Those are not the people about which I’m talking. No, I prefer to focus on those with discriminating taste. There are no more discriminating enthusiasts alive than those of us who follow indie rock and craft beer. Characteristics such as quality and authenticity are important to us. Yes, these things are somewhat subjective, but one cannot deny the care and skill it takes to create and appreciate such endeavors.
So, why does the indie rocker play that sad record over and over? Why does the beer enthusiast go back to the bar time and time again?
I think that we all just want to feel something. As the Dr. Seuss quote suggests, it’s better to have experiences even if it means some sadness is included. To feel something, anything, means that we’re alive. It’s even better when that something is real, something that reminds us we’re not alone.
Celebratory emotions can do that to a point. We can feel joy and camaraderie with our friends and family after a great triumph, but we know whom we can trust when we’re down and out. Our real friends and most trusted family members stick by our sides in the toughest of times. We comfort each other when we reveal a bit of ourselves. Sadness brings us together in a way happiness never can.
And this is why we listen to sad songs and drink beer that fills us up, slows our reflexes, and lets our guards down. This authenticity in feeling sadness helps us to feel alive, almost ironically triumphant. When I listen to The Soft Bulletin, I can relate to the sadness in those songs, but at the same time the dynamics of that music makes me feel said triumphs. If I can survive some of the things I have survived so far, I can do most anything. And that just makes me want to crack open a good beer.
1OK. So, I don’t really think that alcohol’s purpose is to make us sad. However, by slowing things down, we tend to reflect more on our life and inevitably our failures. Or think of those drunken nights when you felt so down due to your state and the embarrassment of having lost control. With alcohol, things slow down and our emotions can often match the rest of our body’s pace. They don’t call them depressants for nothing.