A Toe In The Water

Hey Blog.

I think the name blog sucks. I know it's supposed to be a condensed version of "Weblog," but when I hear it, it sounds more like an amalgamation of the words "blah" and "log," the first word connoting the quintessence of whateverness and the second a floating piece of scatology. Or a round piece of wood, but seriously, "blah."

That being said, this is going to be my first hunting trip into the wilderness of my thoughts. For far too long, I have kept them floating in my brain, assuming that they would just be gradually refined by my continuous contact with the world. However, the fault with this approach has been that my thoughts have become muddled. Instead of gaining clarity, I have become intellectually lazy, refraining from codifying my thoughts because I "know" that they will probably change later. Just "knowing" things is the slacker's way of taking the easy way out and I am trying to cast off my slug-on-a-log ways. Plus, I need to work on my writing skills, since they suck.

So, I'm going to write in this thing pretty much like most people would write in a diary. By way of introduction, I graduated from Harvard undergrad and have been "working" since October of 2004. Although I tend to actively disparage my job, it has given me bullet points that I can add to a resume, an amount of money that keeps me sheltered, well-fed, and taxi-driven, as well as a beautiful, loving girlfriend who (in all probability) is really way too good for me.

Today, I'd like to voice my reservations about "indie" rock. First, a qualification. I used to think of myself as an indie rock fan. I listen to a good number of bands that are not distributed by major labels. That doesn't mean that I have a major dislike for the music from the major labels. It's just that I'm going through a phase where most good music that comes my way seems to come from alternate sources. This leads into my general gripe. I really, really don't like the social strings that seem to be attached to indie rock as a genre. From what I can tell, the quintessential indie rocker is a proto-metro-sexual; he cares about his appearance, but simply subscribes to a different style mag than the other metro's. They need their torn jeans and hipster shoes so they can signal to other indie rockers that they're cool too. I guess this could be said about a lot of other groups (e.g. Goths, punk rockers, or really, and any number of fashion-loving girls) but I'm not picking a bone with any of them right now.

The style point is a digression. Here's the pith. I tend to think that what one listens to should be dictated by what one enjoys listening to. For me, music is capable of quickly evoking/accentuating feeling(s) that would be otherwise inaccessible. Just think of the difference between going to a club with good music vs. a club with terrible music vs. a club with no music. A club with good music (and maybe an open bar) can frequently get crowds of lumbering white people to shake their asses in a way that would make you think that they think that they're black. A club playing crap leaves most of these same people standing around, chattering loudly about their life insurance plans while they try and hustle down their third vodka tonic.

For numerous reasons, those examples didn't really illustrate my point. There are a lot of reasons why a club-related experience might be good or bad, e.g. drinks, friends, scantily-clad women, drug-related intoxication. What I really wanted to convey is the following: No one wants to listen to music that bores or irritates them, just like no one wants to smell dead fish as they're tucking themself into their covers. The experience just sucks.

The indie rock genre produces a lot of music that I really like. About a year ago, I picked up the Go! Team's album. It's awesome and I still love it. And I appreciate the fact that this is probably due to the fact that they were not on a major label and were consequently given much more creative latitude to create the kind of music that they did. However, I think indie rockers have a tendency to get confused by this last point. I think they tend to express disdain for more mainstream music simply because they think that the type of music that is produced under major labels can't be good/creative. They essentially tune out everything that they think to be too mainstream simply because they can't believe it's good.

There are a couple of things in this. A) Music doesn't have to be creative to be good. There's a lot of music out there that I would unhesitantly call "... creative." That doesn't mean it's good. In fact, a lot of it sucks the proverbial donkey nut. A lot of my favorite music tends to be standard, listenable music based off of a major chord progression. B) Just because music is popular or mainstream doesn't mean that it's not creative. Witness the Beatles, the largest pop phenom in history. Although they weren't the first of their kind, they were very creative and set the trend for a lot of music today. In this world, only bad people dislike the Beatles. And yet, their popularity still remains.

In fact, I don't think that the indie rocker's beef with mainstream music has anything to do with the actual music itself. In reality, it's all about coolness. And let's face it, when you get down to brass tacks, being cool is really about arbitrarily defining what's not cool, then setting yourself on the other side of the line. In this case, indie rockers/hipsters/cool people music is made cool by the fact that no one else really knows about it. It is generally cooler if people would like it if they heard it, but since the taste of the masses can be a fickle beast, this is a trait that, at best, is merely hit or miss. Since cool people must maintain a veneer of unwavering coolness, this last attribute generally goes out the door. What happens instead is that some set of people that have crowned themselves as "the cool crowd," choose a bunch of music that happens to fit some sort of taste line, and then revoke their endorsement of those songs as soon as too many people start liking it.

Certain high-browed muckity mucks might point out certain consistencies in their song choices. But really, that doesn't mean so much. Given a sliding range of generality, you can find consistency in anything. Iron & Wine and Pink, after all, are both extremely similar in that they both use articulated vocals and guitars to carry their melodies. The self-appointed grand poobahs of awesomeness could also point to the fact that mainstream music sucks, but only by pointing at specific instances of suckitude. While I'm definitely crapping on a generalized version of their viewpoint, I stand by my position, which is as follows:

* I think it is a mistake to listen to music based upon the social status it will lend to you. The subjective quality of a song should be entirely based on the internal emotions it evokes in a person (whether you enjoy it or not). It should not be based on calculations of whether or not it gives you a couple extra ticks on the cool meter.

The idea of "indie cred" that I find so pervasive in all indie rock crit (published and verbal) ultimately seems stupid to me. WTF do I care that Dave Matthews is now looked down upon by a community of musical snobs? I have a lot of good memories linked with his music and I will continue to enjoy those songs simply because of those memories. I probably won't play it at a party or anything, but that doesn't mean I dislike the music. And if anyone wants to try and dis me or say that it's embarassing for me to have his music in my library, my response is that they are simply missing the point of music in general.


In looking at what I have written, I would like to make a few qualifications. First, I have a touch of indie snob in me, so I can easily be called a hypocrite. Second, the definition of "coolness" that I used is a bit out-dated and probably only works for critics and high schoolers. Most of the people that I know now subscribe to an updated version of coolness that preaches tolerance and acceptance. Third, if anyone was actually paying attention to what I was saying, the arguments don't actually lead up to the point. Which is sad and adds further fuel to my belief that I really need to work on my writing skills.


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