For my birthday this past January, a friend bought me a book called Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm. It’s a collection of stories told through interviews with the folks involved in the creation of the Seattle scene all those years ago. The stories come from band members, club owners, press members, booking agents, sound guys, and kids who just hung around the clubs. Mostly anecdotal stuff, stories about rock shows and getting high in the parking lot before hand.
Having entered adolescence in the early 90’s, the music of Seattle and Olympia played a huge role in the development of my musical tastes, so the book felt like a great chance for a stroll down memory lane. But as I got further into it, with its stories of how The U-Men once got shut down for setting fire to a lake in front of their stage at the Bumbershoot Festival or the time Mark Arm, singer of Green River, finished a set swinging from a fluorescent ceiling light over a crowd of sweaty kids, I began to get more and more pissed off.
I’ll explain. Around the same time I got the book, I’d been trolling the blogs for the ubiquitous end-of-year top 10 albums, and time after time the lists I found would have made dry toast seem fucking electrifying. Here’s an example from an actual blog that I won’t name to protect the utterly boring.
- 01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Anima
- 02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers
- 03: John Samson – Provincial
- 04: Mumford and Sons – Babel
- 05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold
- 06: The Walkmen – Heaven
- 07: Beach House – Bloom
- 08: Matt & Kim – Lightning
- 09: fun. – Some Nights
- 10: Jack White – Blunderbuss
Seriously? This is the best 2012 had to offer? Beach House? Mumford and Sons? fun.? Number 5 on the list is a Christmas album for Christ’s sake. And this is from a reputable indie blog. (And yes, I know The Lumineers are a beloved Denver band made good, so don’t write me letters about it). But honestly, when did all the skinny jeaned, fedora clad 20 somethings of the world decide to get together and completely fucking neuter music? It’s like a whole movement of eunuchs out there walking around with synths and tambourines.
I’m so exhausted by this generation of watered-down, vaguely 60’s or vaguely folk, mid-tempo, non-offensive, cutesy indie music. When I was 16 or 22 I wanted to break shit. I was pissed off at an unjust world, at the indignities of high school, at my parents, at that ever-present dude who grabbed my ass at rock shows (I’m still pissed off at that dude, by the way). I don’t get it, these kids grew up in a post 911, Patriot Act world where they will likely never make as much money as their parents or pay off their student debt and yet all they want to do is grow a beard, play the banjo, and hold hands. What the fuck?
This can be blamed, to some degree, on the rise of the music blog. I realize the irony of writing that on a music blog, but it is the reality all the same. The Internet has created a space in which every journalism-major with an ironic t-shirt and a laptop has the power to shape popular culture. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know who Brian Jones is or that he’s never listened to a T-Rex album all the way through. It makes no difference that he can’t identify anything in the Talking Heads’ catalogue besides Burning Down the House. You can’t see this person, you’ve never met him, and you have no idea if he has any credibility whatsoever, and yet, you’re letting him dictate your musical tastes to you. For all you know this kid spent his high school years listening to Linkin Park while trolling the web for date-rape porn. He may have been a Juggalo until he was 18 when he discovered The Postal Service through some girl he had the hots for. You don’t know.
Blogs have created a structure in which the handful of kids writing for the elite establishment like Pitchfork or Stereogum choose whatever unoriginal crap they like that week and all the little blogs fall in line. They are all so busy jumping on each other’s bandwagons, nobody has bothered to notice their wagon train has been driving in a circle for roughly a decade now.
I say fuck the blogs. Stop reading them (except for this one). Lets go back to doing what we used to do. Hanging out at record stores, going to shows, talking to actual people about what they’re listening to. And stop buying singles from bands who put more energy into their hair cuts than they put into their songwriting, for fuck’s sake. (I’m looking at you fun.)
There is a reason why bands like Nirvana took over the world in 1991 and why the new generation hasn’t been able to recreate that energy. Nirvana came out of a small, tight-knit community of people who went to each other’s shows, played in each other’s bands and created a sound though collaboration and an authentic desire to make art that mattered to them. They did this for no one but themselves, with no hope of achieving fame in a city that didn’t even exist as far as the industry was concerned.
In 1992, when Donita Sparks of L7 pulled out her tampon and threw it at the crowd at the Reading Festival, she didn’t do it to create a YouTube sensation or to make a Pitchfork top 10 list. She did it in a moment of genuine defiance and frustration at a crowd flinging mud onstage. She knew what was between her legs and she wasn’t afraid to use it. And by that, I don’t mean a bloody tampon; I mean a serious pair of balls. She had more balls than the members of Fleet Foxes can ever hope to have. And that kids, is what rock and roll is all about.