I’m 35, married, and a parent, but I somehow do alright when it comes to keeping up with music. I receive about a record a week. My pace of seeing bands live over the years has hardly slowed despite my move to a sleepy college town. My RSS reader is loaded with music sites and blogs. I keep up.
Still, I somehow feel music is passing me by. Many of the bands I follow are either from the nineties or sound like they’re from the nineties. There are a load of shows set to fill the coming months, but I’m just not that enthused about any of them. Is this where I slow down with my music obsession? Is this where I grow out of it?
Granted, slowing down doesn’t equate giving up music forever. No one’s actually too old for music. However, it certainly becomes less important as one grows older. Plus, a downward trend has to start somewhere. Is this where I lose interest?
I was recently shopping in my favorite record store, Insound.com, for pre-orders coming out in early 2011. To my chagrin, few excited me. The records were either by bands I’ve purchased in the past who underwhelmed or bands I have never heard of. The first issue is an effect of buying so many records over the course of my fanaticism. That, I can live with, but it does limit my options. The second issue is mostly a case of me no longer reading half the music blog posts that hit my Google Reader everyday. Sure, I’m paying way more attention to beer these days than I used to, but I’m just not that interested in buying new music.
Even the bands I did order, aren’t really that exciting. I ordered records by Danielson, Iron & Wine, Destroyer, and Bright Eyes. All these bands have been around for a while. Danielson and Destroyer are difficult listens. Sure, they both can be brilliant at times, but I have to be in the right place to really connect with their music. Iron & Wine and Bright Eyes have been around forever and haven’t released anything that interesting for a long time. We’ll see, but I’m not expecting much.
Then, there’s the lineup of bands coming to town to play, not to mention bands stopping in nearby St Louis and Kansas City. Liz Phair, Tokyo Police Club, Cold War Kids, Tapes ‘n Tapes, Menomena, etc. are all playing town in the coming weeks and months. Meh. Most of these bands haven’t recorded anything worth listening to in years and the others are just plain uninspiring. Although I’m sure something worthwhile will come through town, I’ll at least save some money this winter.
So, what do I do? How do I regain some of that passion or at least my interest in music?
Well, the first step in this recovery is to return to what got me here: underground, often local, music. Someone was telling me about this motley group of musicians who get together and write songs in 48 hours just to turn around and have a shotgun battle of the bands. That sounded great, exhilarating. I had forgotten how many creative types and musicians just hang around college towns. Right after that, the same guy Facebook-invited me to a free show of locals at a club I frequent. Then, another friend invited me to a gig featuring his band. So, there are things to see and hear.
The hope is that I’ll regain my indie rock legs by going out to watch bands with a little more urgency and something new to say. That’s how I got into independent music. I went to crappy clubs and watched a lot of shitty local bands. Some of those bands were good or would have one good song. Still, the passion they put into playing for a sixer of PBR and a hangover the next morning was incredibly good for my soul.
Hopefully, I’ll have something to report in the coming weeks as I make myself go to clubs and watch some local bands for a change. It still kills me how out of touch I am with this scene. It’s time for that to change and for me to remember that I’m actually not too old for music.
1Even when they’re from the past decade, I’ve been listening for 8-10 years. That’s hardly new music.
2OK. So, a website doesn’t really constitute as a record store. However, when you live in a town without a good, physical facsimile of a record store, you do what you can. I’ve found that I can get any record I want from one website. I’m cool with that as I know there is a small group of kids trying to make this thing work. I can support that. I want Insound to be around for a while, maybe long enough to build real stores across the country…
3I am way more efficient a music buyer than I used to be. Now, I can get a sample of pretty much any band I want via the internet. That and the numerous blogs and music sites keep me pretty informed. It was never this easy in the nineties when you had to read zines and go to shows or watch MTV. (MTV used to show videos with music.)
4Hipster Christian you’re the only one.
5The beard is back with songs that sound more like the Eagles with every passing release.
6Always weird and easily the best New Pornographer, but this video and song aren’t doing it for me yet.
7Don’t give me a hard time over this one. I have a history with this band and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
8This one has already been postponed. I predict it won’t happen. I’m convinced I was never intended to see Liz Phair as every opportunity has passed me by in one manner or another. Nowadays, I’m not sure I would even want to see her live just to hear her crappy new material.
9But maybe Liz Phair is. JK, Lizzie! BFF’s 4eva! <3 U!
…I would know everyone that I saw. Now I go out alone if I go out at all.
Or so goes a popular lyric from a popular alt-rock track from a few years ago. It’s also how life turns out for the aging hipster. We make choices to get jobs and have kids. Our bodies don’t put up with the stresses of late-night living and three or more beers in an evening the way they used to. Our attention span is not capable of reading Pitchfork and updating our blogs.
I used to go out fairly regularly. I’d go see bands, especially local bands. I did this whenever I could afford it in college. I even did it as often as possible when I lived an hour or more from any city with the capacity for such things. I can remember several shows in which I fell into bed at 3 AM, only to get up around 6:30 AM or so to prepare for the day teaching fifth graders. The point is that I made a regular effort regardless of daily responsibilities to see local bands play music.
That doesn’t happen anymore. For one thing, I moved to a much smaller market with fewer good bands. So, it took me a while to catch on with these locals. And even when I did catch on, I found it difficult to make it out to shows where bands didn’t go on until 9 or 10 at night. Sure, I was invited out or promised to see a friend’s band, but occasions when that actually happened became few and far between.
This week, I had no familial responsibilities to keep me in. Work is relatively light in the summer and there was actually a show. So, I made the choice to see a local band for once.
Nonreturner is an outfit on local label/co-op Yards & Gods. The band, and most of the bands on their label, are quite prolific. But it’s not just quantity they produce, it’s also of a high quality. This is pretty amazing considering that they rarely tour and they’re giving away their music for free when it’s worth way more than that.
Of course, these facts just make them candidates for favorite local band status. I went through several local bands back in the day. None of them toured really. They were all on tiny labels that were labels in name only. They all made a lot of great music. While not all of it was free, it certainly was cheap. Sometimes, if you would buy a cassette tape, they’d fill it for you.
Anyway, Nonreturner had the unfortunate honor of opening for an act that didn’t even bother to show up. It was a hot, Monday night in the summer in a college town. Plus, before the venue reduced the cover, it was $8, a rather steep price for such an event. Well, I showed up anyway. Zach and Carrie of Nonreturner have been regulars in my blogs’ comment sections and I owed them at least $4 and a late bedtime.
I’m glad I did go out. Despite there being maybe 15-20 people in attendance and the bad metal band that played after them, Nonreturner were pretty good. Bands like Broken Social Scene and anything Bradford Cox came to mind as textures of drums, samples, guitar, and keyboards held together over Mojo’s shitty-ass soundsystem. Funny thing is, I sort of knew Nonreturner was this good. I didn’t need to see them to confirm this opinion. It was not the most inspired performance, but it was certainly worth the night out, making me think I should do it more often.
1Sorry, I know the Walkmen are passé for some of you and the sentiment of “The Rat” is a bit clichéd, but I couldn’t resist. This is a post going on in my head every time I go out or choose to stay in.
2This sort of points out why it’s so absurd that I use the term “hipster” so often. There was a time when the word would have applied to me. I’m just too old for that now. Or too boring.
3Which, strangely enough, was quite amazing. I gave up meat so that I could have more money to spend on such things. I remember choosing to smoke at a bar because I couldn’t afford as much beer as I could afford cigarettes. It’s funny how money would appear just so that I could go see a band.
4Well, they might have toured, but what I’m talking about are 1-2 month stints on the road. That’s how bands become nationally known. They tour the shit out of their material. Even then, it’s not guaranteed.
5So, at this very moment, there is no excuse for not going to the Yards & Gods site and downloading everything you can get your hands on. Start with Nonreturner, though.
6I once misread some liner notes that came with a 7″ and sent a guy two 90 or 120 minute cassette tapes to fill. He filled them both even though the offer was really only for one tape’s worth of music. I played the shit out of those tapes. They were so good.
7OK. So, Carrie is not an “original member” of the band, but she is taking the bassist Clint’s place in the lineup. Apparently, Clint knocked up his wife with twins. Babies get in the way of a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, but twins will destroy it.
8And I have promised fancy beers in a public forum. Twice now.
9That and Carrie plays a mean tambourine. She can also take the tambourine and do a figure-eight between her legs Harlem Globetrotters-style.
10This is not a complaint. There was no crowd and their drummer took a 10-minute shit right as they were to go on. So, it was no big deal. The music was good even if the feeling wasn’t great.
Slate1 proclaimed that the oncoming Pavement reunion signaled “the end of baby boomer cultural hegemony” and I couldn’t be happier. We finally don’t have to be hit over the head with the British InvasionTM, WoodstockTM, MotownTM, or Vietnam® at every cultural turn and Time/Life special offer2 until our cerebrums are numb and too full to remember any of our own childhoods. Generation X is finally relevant.
I’ve felt like my entire childhood and a large part of my young adulthood has been hijacked by the Boomer Generation and resulting cultural output. I grew up thinking the Stones and Motown were the beginning and end of music3. Movies like Stand By Me and Mermaids4 dominated theaters. Rolling Stone was the cultural Bible, telling us what was hot and proclaiming the next Dylan5 or Scorsese at every turn. Boomer mainstays dominated pop culture. Boomer culture dominated society. It wasn’t my experiences that counted; it was the experiences of my parents which shaped my memories.
This appropriation of my experiences and interests has been confounded by the adoption of younger generations (including my own) of the Boomer aesthetic. I can’t go anywhere without running into a 20-year-old hippie6 or a hipster7 with a bushy mustache and afro a la 1973. And the music…Kids with iTunes libraries filled with Beatles, Doors, and Grateful Dead make me ill. All this may explain my distaste for hippies and hipsters. Watching younger generations lose their youth to Boomers frustrates the hell out of me.
So, when Slate made their proclamation, I could not fully express my relief in our culture’s escape from beneath the foot of the Boomer leviathan. Of course, with that release comes the inevitable takeover of custom by my own generation, X. While this is a good development for me and my escaping youth, it might not be very nice to those out there who are younger and trying to create their own culture and experiences8.
There has been a rash of eighties and nineties aesthetics popping up everywhere, completely ignoring any new or original thought. Besides Pavement’s reunion, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion9, Pearl Jam10, and Soundgarden are all reuniting this summer. Check the Tumblr blog Look at This Fucking Hipster for plenty of retro eighties looks. Movies like The Wackness or Clerks 211 inundate the young with Gen X with that 90’s flavor. We’re everywhere…much like the Boomers have been everywhere for the past three or so decades.
I don’t know if this is better or worse. I’m just happy that the Boomer’s stranglehold on our pop culture is over. Thank you Slate, but more importantly, thank you Pavement for ending this reign of tyranny at the hands of the Baby Boomer generation. Bring on the Generation X nostalgia12!
1Where I met my wife.
2Only four easy payments of $19.99 (+$19.99 s/h)!
3To some degree, this may be true, but we are so far removed from that era of music that I actually prefer more material from the past 15-20 years than I do from the 60’s.
4I could go on and on about movies from 1975 to 1995 that featured stories set in the 50’s or 60’s. It was as if the only worthwhile stories to be told happened when Boomers were kids.
5Granted, Dylan is a modern-day genius and living legend. I have no problem with him, except that the man now mumbles into a microphone and is handed three Grammies instantaneously just for showing up. I find him unwatchable and nearly unlistenable in recent years, meaning the last 20.
6 A distaste that has been well-documented.
7I am somewhat ambivalent about hipsters. They at least are often trying to do something new and unique. We often enjoy the same music as well. Generally, I find them quaint, even harmless.
8Primarily, my daughter. So, she will just have to grow up listening to Pavement and Guided By Voices while watching anything with Harvey Keitel’s penis or Werner Herzog eating a shoe. We Gen X’ers love that shit.
9 A Jehovah’s Witness came knockin’ on my door on a Saturday while I was laying in bed with my wife! OR Take a whiff of my pant-leg, Baby!
10Wait. Did Pearl Jam break up? They might as well have. It’s been so long since they mattered. I lost touch with them when they fought Ticketmaster…and still found a way to charge $30 a ticket for their shows.
11To reveal my age, I saw the original in the theater. We had a great art house theater across the street from my college campus. I worked in the mail room over the winter break and saw a ton of movies over those two or three weeks.
12Actually, don’t. I think I’m tired of nostalgia all together.
When indie rockers grow old, they begin to resemble their not-so-indie forefathers. They do things like put out greatest hits records and break from their bands to collaborate with the hippest of collaborators. Pavement did one of these. The Shins’ James Mercer did the other.
Quarantine the Past is Pavement’s attempt at a greatest hits 1 collection. It’s really a great collection, but I’m completely biased2. They give you all the hits as well as a few hidden gems that need to be polished after all those years in the safe deposit box. Revisiting the two selected tracks from the Perfect Sound Forever EP3 was a good enough reason to blow my kid’s college fund on this bugger4.
Of course, this is what a band does to connect a younger generation to their catalog in one, affordable release5. Kids will pick up this LP and get a taste of what Pavement is like. Of course, as with all greatest hit collections, they will miss out on what makes the albums so cherished to long-time fans6. A selection from a band’s oeuvre never does it the same justice as the entire catalog can provide.
Quaratineine does what it can. It spread the tracks evenly among Pavement’s five LP’s as well as a few selections from EP’s and comps7. One cannot possible grapple with all that is Pavement from this record, but it’s a start. Like the collection of Nick Drake tracks I bought after watching that Volkswagen ad8, it only scratches the surface of what is to be consumed. Quarantine does this admirably, but is limited by the same thing that limits all greatest hits collections, especially from a band with no actual hits9.
James Mercer has been around the block, but his band The Shins has only been known for the past decade. That might not be long enough to garner the credibility of a Pavement10, but it is enough to earn a shot at recording an album with one of the industry’s elite producers in Danger Mouse. Sure, Beck and that guy from Sparklehorse who committed suicide have recently done the same with Danger Mouse, but Mercer brings his own style to the Mouse’s droppings.
Jangly guitars, emotive vocals over cool, hip-hop beats, blips, bleeps, and plenty 70’s soul accoutrement equal Broken Bells. It’s chill11. It’s crossover. It’s sort of boring and forgettable. Unlike the bass-in-your-face of the Beck album, Danger Mouse and Mercer just put the listener to sleep. Sure, any track released from this LP will be a hit on adult contemporary alternative radio and it will undoubtedly win a Grammy12, but it’s a bit of a snooze.
I sort of imagine that Danger Mouse heard the soundtrack to Judgment Night13 and thought that was the future of music. Ever since, he has found ways to mix rap with rock into this new hybrid bound to make loads of cheddar. The trouble is that it’s been overdone. He does have a unique ear for pop music, but Beck was doing this a long time ago before he lost his way14. That and Mercer’s work didn’t need a dance beat to be good. I’m OK with the collaboration, but it doesn’t blow my mind the way it would have for many had it been featured ad nausea on MTV in 1999.
In conclusion, indie rockers are just the new rockers. They release greatest hits collections and stray from their bands to make a unique sound with the hot producer. It all works with the same success rate as it always has15. It’s OK, but it doesn’t compare to the work they’ve done in the past.
1Or misses. I mean, really, did Pavement ever have a hit? Nope. Their songs all sounded like hits that would never appeal to the masses. So, maybe they are the greatest “hits” with the quotation marks that you can undoubtedly see. I’ll stop now.
2If you haven’t figured this out, just wait.
3Songs I had forgotten even existed as I am way more obsessed with Pavement’s five proper albums than I am any of their singles, EP’s, or compilation contributions.
4Because, let’s face it, the reason Pavement releases enhanced versions of their albums and now a greatest hits collection is that their fanbase are now in their mid-thirties with good jobs thanks to their college degrees and lots of discretionary funds.
5See The Doors, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Abba, etc.
6Which was mostly ridiculing each release until the next one came out. “Wowee Zowee is a piece of shit compared to Crooked Rain.” [flash forward two years] “Gawd! Paevement has sold-out with Brighten the Corners. I wish they’d do another album like Wowee Zowee. That was their best record so far.” And so on.
7As an avid mix tape maker in the nineties, I really appreciate the time and care that was obviously take in putting this album together. However, at the conclusion of every song, I’m already humming/singing the opening to the next track on the original album sequence.
8I also bought a VW primarily because of that ad.
9I prefer “misses” as I once used in a title for a mix I made for a girlfriend.
10I realize that this is ludicrous as The Shins have been around as long as Pavement were together. The difference is that Pavement broke up and furthered their legend by doing nothing. Mercer should have considered this route one of the two times he fired band mates.
11I refuse to use the term “chillwave” for two reasons: 1) I don’t really know what chill-wave is. 2) I don’t think this constitutes as chillwave, brah.
12This gives you some indication of how I feel about the Grammies.
13Precursor to rap-rock craze.
14See Midnight Vultures
15It’s C work. It passes. No one will quit listening to them. It won’t increase their audience size or demographic. It does nothing to advance their personal brand.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I am perpetually living in the nineties. I obsess over bands who did all their best work over ten years ago; my politic is mired in the discovery of some post-something-or-other during my college days1; and I sometimes think that I’m still 22. Maybe this is what every one goes through. We all sort of stick to that time period when life was fresh and exciting, when we experienced the most as adults2.
So, when it was rumored then announced that Pavement was getting back together, I have to admit that the 22-year-old in me got a little excited3. The band that defined a decade of independent music and much of my coming-of-age years was getting back together for what seems like the unlikeliest of reunion tours4. It was as unlikely as a Pixies reunion or Slint getting back together5. They started out scheduling and promptly selling out a few dates in NYC’s Central Park a year in advance and have slowly added Australia, New Zealand, Europe, nearly every American rock festival, and a handful of US cities. To boot, they’ve even released a best-of LP as an intro to younger audiences6. It’s been a full-on media onslaught ever since.
I first saw Pavement in the summer of ’95. In fact, I saw them twice that year. They were a favorite of mine since late ’93 or early ’94, but I was hooked after seeing them live7. Over the next few years, I would see them play maybe five or six times8. The last time was their final North American date at Cincinnati’s Bogart’s. They didn’t travel through Ohio9 often, so I had to jump on every chance I got.
Honestly, I was a bit slow to the Pavement bandwagon10. I wore out a dubbed cassette copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but I didn’t fully appreciate what I was hearing. Grunge bands dominated my CD collection more than anything else in those days11. It wasn’t until Wowee Zowee and the soon-to-follow shows in Cleveland and at Lollapalooza12 that I finally got what Pavement was all about.
Anyway, they’re still my favorite band. Their albums are littered among my lists of all-time favorites and I still listen to them regularly. I really haven’t moved far beyond the original lo-fi slackers of indie rock13 or their brethren. At least every other album I receive in the mail is by a band from that era or heavily influenced by SM and the boys. I like to think I’ve grown, but my taste in music suggests otherwise.
One of my opportunities to see the reunited Pavement is at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and the bands that have me most interested are bands from…you guessed it…the nineties. Modest Mouse, who I first saw in the fall of ’9614, open the fest on Friday night before an also-reunited Jon Spencer Blues Explosion15 takes over Saturday. Pavement headlines the Sunday lineup. Sure, there are other bands16 playing the weekend-long fest in Chicago, but I am most excited about the three bands with ties to last century.
What is wrong with me? It’s not like all my living happened between 1990 and 1999. I grew up in the ’80’s. I don’t want to look like the eighties or dwell on music from that decade17, but it is a big part of me. The aughts are even more wrought with life-altering experiences. The last decade has seen me switch jobs and careers, get married, move nine-hours from my home, and become a parent18. It’s as if the Y2K bug went off in my head, making everything since seem like a hallucination.
Maybe we just stick with what we know best. It gets harder and harder to expand our knowledge base or interests as we grow older. Some of us slow more than others, but we all quit trying to some extent as our responsibilities mount and youthful exuberance fades.
Then again, I think we gravitate to what comforts us the most. It may also be what we know best, but we return for that solace and control of a well-worn pair of jeans, ratty old couch, or warped and scratched LP quicker than learning something new. Is there anything wrong with that?
The trouble happens when we try to force the “good ole days” on everyone else. We reminisce ad nauseum about how things were better back then, completely discounting the experiences of those who are not of our generation19 but, more importantly, our own experiences before and since. Pavement and other nineties’ indie bands meant a lot to me, but that doesn’t mean a Titus Andronicus20 shouldn’t be meaningful to you or me.
Our heads begin to swell at some point with knowledge and experience, good and bad. We no longer have any room for new information, so it pours out in an effort to keep anything new from entering our consciousness.
So, I will probably continue to live in the nineties. LeBron is no Jordan. Riot Grrrls are the new face of feminism. We’d right this country’s course if Bill were in charge again. Pavement is still the best band in the world…
Don’t give up on me, though. I still have room for something new. Hell, I am in for a whole lotta new as my daughter ages. That and I still follow music, read, and generally pay attention. I may be perpetually living in the nineties, but I do have the capacity to learn and grow.
1…and cooch-flavored cigars. Sorry. Apparently my humor is also stuck in the nineties. Who could resist a Clinton/Lewingsky reference? Not this guy.
2Perceived or otherwise.
3Let’s face it. The 18-35 year old in me was excited. Still is.
4This was meant to come off as sarcastic, cynical even. The trend seems to be start a band, record one or more memorable albums, release them on an indie, create some buzz, break up, reunite once all the “money” is spent, and make some major bank.
5First, see above. Second, these two represent the two extremes of the reunited indie band. The Pixies pieced together several classic records and toured the shit out of their livers and waistlines. Then, they reunited…twice. Slint, on the other hand, really only recorded one great album. Sure, it was Spiderland, but it was only one album and a smattering of shows. They were able to garner a lot of fame and cash from that one release. Of course, it was Spiderland.
6And, in all honesty, for pathetic losers like me who will buy said greatest hits collection even though I own a copy of every track on that comp.
7Despite the stories of terrible live shows which often featured sub-par drumming and SM chastising other band members for not playing their parts correctly, a Pavement set was a memorable rock show.
8I’m never quite sure of the number. I do know that I didn’t see them ten or more times and it was certainly no less than five. Similarly, I saw Guided By Voices well over ten, twelve times, but I’m not sure how many. It’s also like that for Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. I told you that I was stuck in the nineties.
9This explains the number of GBV shows in my pocket.
10So slow that I remember turning down a chance to see them in an art gallery in the spring of ’94. I either didn’t have any money (maybe a $4 cover) or was with a girl or a combination of the two.
11Remember, it was the nineties. Grunge cannot be held against me. That and the number of flannel shirts I wore.
12This was the Lollapalooza that they were blamed for destroying. However, I seem to remember a pregnant Sinead O’Connor playing either just before or right after Pavement. Just sayin’.
13Sorry. Somewhere it is written that the words “slacker” and “lo-fi” must accompany everything said on the Internet and/or glossy magazines concerning Pavement. I believe Spin proclaimed this in 1994.
14Completely by accident. A local band I liked was opening for this “mouse band” at Bernie’s. At a friend’s urging, I hung around to stand behind a pole, completely unaware of what was about to be unleashed. I know that it is hard for folks to imagine a time when Modest Mouse was edgy and punk, but I assure you, dearest reader, it happened.
15The Hipsters have no idea what’s about to happen to them. Jon Spencer will make them submit to his every whim. Judah Bauer will strike fear into every dude with a mustache and Russel Simmons will induce migraines with every blow to his kit. You’ve been warned, Chicago…in a footnote of a blog no one reads, but you’ve been warned.
16I’m most excited/interested to hear/see Broken Social Scene, Bear in Heaven, Titus Andronicus, Panda Bear, CAVE, Sleigh Bells, Here We Go Magic, Cass McCombs, Girls, Lightning Bolt, and St. Vincent.
17I’m not counting anything from the hardcore scene or Manchester, England. Those are things I discovered much later and still enjoy. My musical tastes were limited to whatever Casey Kasem brought me on Sunday mornings.
18All long stories which will more than likely not be discussed on this blog.
19That’s X for those of you who are keeping score. Technically, I’m on the tail-end of GenX, like my parents are barely Boomers.
20I am loving their new record. A review will follow shortly. Hopefully.
A meme is developing1…
There’s been some good talk around these parts lately. That hipster who hadn’t heard of Pavement struck a collective nerve. It seems young folks are as unaware of the context surrounding their blog bands as olds are ignorant to the latest bands and musical trends. These are important issues that must be explored. First up: Zach Braff and why he hates America.
Consider this (the scene essentially ends around a minute and a half, so don’t watch it past that point unless you think Zach Braff is hot)…
A cute girl2 offers you her headphones. You listen for all of ten seconds and your life is changed forever. Or something like that.
Many point to this scene as the end of indie rock as we once knew it. A band that was personal and private was finally exposed to the masses and it all blew up. Suddenly every jackass with a wifi connection was reading Pitchfork and downloading the latest Mp3’s from Napster3. No longer were bands discovered in clubs, on college radio, in record stores, or wherever. Once Braff4 broke The Shins, folks couldn’t get enough of the band…or at least enough of that one song playing on Natalie Portman’s iPod in that one movie with the guy from Scrubs.
Braffites loved the Shins for all the wrong reasons. They didn’t care that James Mercer and co. sounded like the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, or Guided By Voices5. The irony of their place in Sub Pop’s lineup among the legends of grunge was lost on them. The context of the original video for the song had no meaning to the frat boys and jock straps with man-crushes on Zach Braff. (Look below.)
In the video, there are scenes reminiscent of album covers by The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and The Minutemen, among others. Do you think any of the bros who watched that scene gave a shit about any of those bands? Hell, they didn’t know who those bands were. They just knew that chicks like Natalie Portman liked that kind of music and it could help to show their sensitive sides6.
Suddenly, indie became a mainstream genre, a genre with which one could label tracks on iTunes. There were as many backwards hats at shows as there were black-rimmed glasses. The bands and music that was once a secret was now there for everyone. It wasn’t about finding that rare Girls vs. Boys/Guided By Voices7 split 7″ anymore. It’s about creating your own personal brand…
What was once private and truly appreciated by just a few has now been prostituted out by the likes of Braff and his bros to the masses with no deeper meaning than “it sound cool.” This is what I like to refer to as being “Braffed.” Braffed is when a bunch of d-bags get the inside scoop on a band or movement in the underground and claim it as their own for no other reason than they think it will make them look cool. They have no context for the music. They don’t know the history. It’s just something they can post on their MyFace page as if it were a badge of honor. F that.
The real problem a Braffed band or album causes is the musical ignorance in our children8. Music becomes “just music” and “a little bit of everything” becomes a musical genre. The message of a song is lost as the Braffication pairs the music with images of Volkswagen and iPods. Braffing scares me like no other scourge ever has9.
How do you feel about Braffing? Does it worry you that something you once cherished as your own would soon be loved by all the meatheads on Jersey Shore10? What’s something you once thought was only special to you but is now soiled by a major Braffing?
Please tell your Braffing stories. The only way we will put an end to Zach Braff and his evil plan to destroy America is to share our experiences. Feel free to post the gory details in the comments or post them on your own blog11. We must stop the Braffing before it’s too late.
1Actually, it’s been a meme long before anyone even knew what a “meme” was, but we’re exploring here.
2This is completely subjective, but Natalie Portman is not unattractive. In fact, she looks pretty good next to Devendra Banhart.
3Yes, I realize that there are better examples here and that using “Napster” dates me.
4This was long after McDonald’s and Scrubs broke them by also using “New Slang (when you notice the stripes)”.
5Let’s be honest. These new “fans” were unaware that the Beach Boys ever did anything important beyond singing about girls and beaches and they’ve never heard of the other two.
6When they weren’t practicing date rape.
7That’s twice with the Guided By Voices in one post. I must have them on the mind.
8I am going off the deep end here.
9Aside from AIDS, terrorism, global climate change, the Tea-Bagger movement, etc.
10Or at the very least be used inappropriately as Snooki get hit in the face for the fourth time this season.
11That and it will extend the meme.
This is why I feel I have to fight so hard to be credible, because most of the people my age–quite frankly–listen to music with no reference points (also note: I had a moment of swelling pride today when a 40-something guy on one of the online forums I frequent told me my musical depth gives him hope)
Two things: 1) The fact that as a youngster, Carrie has to fight for credibility due to her generation’s inability to move beyond P4k and iTunes. 2) Carrie is not like her peers in that she has impressive “musical depth.”
First of all, Carrie doesn’t have to prove anything. A quick glance of her blog, Colossal Youth, and you’ll quickly realize that she has plenty of credibility. This is also proven by my second thing above. I’m glad that is out of the way.
What I wanted to get at is the fact that it’s way easier to have musical reference points when you’ve been at it as long as I have2. Of course I know Pavement, Brainiac3, Guided By Voices, and Archers of Loaf3. I lived those years. There was no work involved. I went to the club once or twice a week and saw some shows. The local record emporium kept me updated. There was very little work to it.
I don’t blame the young for not always knowing music’s history. It takes work4. I don’t know that I always put in the work to know newer bands these days. It’s OK.
On the other hand, I did do a lot of the work necessary to gain that point of reference. I loaded up on quintessential albums in the used section at Used Kids5. I’ve read the books and magazine articles. I put in my time to learn about the trajectory of music. It’s not easy, but it’s totally worth it.
There’s no excuse with Google and Wikipedia and whatever not to know about music’s past. It’s easier than it used to be. Someone name-drops Lydia Lunch. You run over to Wikipedia and search it out to find that she was a pioneer of No Wave and has deep connections with Sonic Youth. It’s really not that hard.
Of course, we older folk can’t expect younger generations to know about our music if we don’t teach them. Take this evening. I had a conversation with a friend about the indie scene in Ohio back in the nineties6. It got some wheels in my head spinning. I put on some Guided By Voices while I fed and bathed my daughter. I sang and danced to the music and taught her a new word: Ohio. Her indie rock education began a long time ago, but this was the beginning of another conversation over Ohio’s contribution to music.
This does not leave out the young people. They have to hold old cranks like myself by the hand and tell us about new bands so that we don’t fall behind7. Of course, an exchange between young and old is always necessary to advance thought, even in music.
Anyways, Carrie’s comment made me think and think some more is what I’ll do.
There are more angles to look at this topic. Take beer, for instance. Kids know how to get shit-faced and have a good time no matter how terrible the beer tastes. Older beer drinkers know what tastes good and how to get the same effect out of three beers as opposed to twelve.
I have always felt that I’ve had a lot to learn from those younger than I, but they can learn from me as well. So, that’s where this blog fits in. I don’t have many readers at the moment, but I know someone will glean something worthwhile from my words at some point.
What do you think? What can we learn from each other? What have you learned from folks younger/older than yourself?
1In her comment footnotes no less!
2I was one of those kids affected by Nirvana. I smelled of the teen spirit. I grew up in grunge and the early days when hardcore transformed into lo-fi which later became the all-encompassing indie.
3If these boys are too obscure for you, look ’em up. Buy something today. I’ll wait.
4Although I always prided myself at understanding from where a band came or their influences, I can’t say I always put in the necessary work to truly get a band.
5If you’ve never been, it’s really worth the trip to Columbus, OH.
6Yes, we had a scene. Guided By Voices, The Breeders, Afghan Whigs, Brainiac, Gaunt, New Bomb Turks, etc.
7Or we could just read some blogs.
Rock shows. I used to see a lot of rock shows back in the day. I don’t see nearly as many these days. I certainly don’t see all the ones I should, but sometimes…sometimes I make my way out of the house for a rock show or two.
I used to also go to those shows to chase girls or possibly impress them1. Once, a girl (actually, very much a woman) licked my ear clean. (Well, a dude nearly did the same at another show2.) It was all girls, beer, and rock ‘n roll back in those days.
All three of those things have completely different meanings to me now. My partner is not a girl; she’s a woman, a womyn even. The only girl in my life is only 17 months old. The beer is certainly different these days as I have traded in swill for bourbon barrel-aged, dry-hopped, Brettanomyces, etc. as my bread-in-a-bottle. Some of that has to do with an increase in income, but it mostly has to do with the development of a finer palate.
The rock ‘n roll is the one thing that hasn’t changed. I still long for new records and to see a rock show that excites me. That may explain why I hit the Blue Note3 early for this one.
Upon entering, I could tell by the empty lobby that I had made a classic, newbie mistake of going to a show too early. The openers wouldn’t go on for 45 minutes. Since I am not too young and naive to make this mistake, the only reason for my unnecessary punctuality had to be my ever-advancing age4.
At one point, I was accosted by hipsters who somehow thought I was younger than I am. They wanted to talk about bands I had no time to hear. These hipsters couldn’t understand things like being a parent, an inability to stay out after 1 am, being married to a woman who didn’t like rock shows, Girls were a rock band, and Pavement5. So, I quickly slithered away, hoping that I didn’t have to explain myself to another dude in a scarf and 12 years my junior.
Bands started playing. Memphis’ Magic Kids opened. Throughout the set, I wondered why there were so many retro 50’s/60’s acts these days. Sure, they were peppy, even poppy, but it sort of turned old and a little played rather quickly. It was like I had heard this before…I know. My parents used to program the family car/van radio to all the oldies stations in Columbus and Dayton. I know every oldies song ever. That’s what these Magic Kids sounded like except without the legendary hit-makers in their midst. At least they were happy, very happy.
The originally scheduled openers Smith Western showed up way past their curfews6 to play your favorite teen grunge band hits. They were actually a breath of fresh air as they borrowed more from 20 years ago than 50. The venue swallowed them a bit, but I have to tip my hat to any band who shows up late after many hours on the road and plays without an ounce of fatigue. This band has promise.
At some point during SW’s set, I finally found a table of friends and acquaintances to keep me company and not make me feel so old7.
Girls came on and ripped through their set rather effortlessly. They played fresh and poppy at the start. The middle had the expected lull, but they finished strong. I was most appreciative of the two-song encore. It was way past my bedtime at this point.
Girls were good but not unexpected. Although it was a rock show I sought and received, it also contained the prerequisite forgettable openers, too green to be memorable. Those things were the same.
Maybe one of these days some band will help me remember what was like to be excited at a rock show again. That would be new and the same, but it would be welcome either way.
1It was mostly to see the rock show and ogle at young girls who were way out of my league. Ah, youth.
2OK, so the lick from the woman was unwanted. She asked for my last cigarette, which I produced as I had another pack in the car. She was a middle-aged groupie/photographer at a Guided By Voices show in Dayton, OH. The dude who licked my face was Eric Davidson of New Bomb Turks who were opening for…yes, you guessed it…Guided By Voices. However, this time it was the year prior at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus where Dime-Bag Darrell was shot.
3The Blue Note is the big rock show venue here in Columbia, MO, my current home.
4Which continues to advance in years come Thursday.
5A 23-year-old guy thought that Pavement was a super group of some sort. Well, if mean that they were super awesome and could conjure Satan in a young virgin’s womb by simply playing a single note, he would have been wrong. They aren’t a super group by any definition. They’re my favorite band and you may have heard something about a reunion tour this summer.
6Rumor had it they were all seven and that they had to wait for their mom to get back from the grocery to take them to the gig.
7They were all people who work with my wife and a spouse. They all get out more than I, so I’m not sure who made whom feel young.