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Monday, November 8, 2010

What does it all mean?

My current musical crisis…is that there are a lot of bands that sound good to me….like Tyvek or Weekend or whatever…the first Crystal Stilts LP for example… Sic Alps...but it's not enough, something is missing like The Comet Gain song says.

The recent revelation that Moe Tucker is a spokesperson for the Tea Party means the VU style floor tom/bass drum pounding beat is no longer the sound of the revolution to my ears. I'm playing drums and I'm hearing Fox TV bullshit suddenly. It's disorienting.

Ever since that whole preppy/African trend happened in indie rock, the question is no longer "is this band radical or complacent" in my mind, but "could this band actually be made up of right wing, racist republicans"? And with "gentrification punk" and the boutique-y/cupcake climate spreading like condos, is it really enough to make a cool sounding record? Was it ever?

I remember thinking about this the first time when Pavement were popular in the early 90's. It's not that their music was bad (some of it was good I thought) it was that they didn't seem to stand for anything. Then I saw Clinic in the late 90's and I really thought it was over. This band sounded cool, sonically referenced Wire and other great post-punk guitar bands I love, but they seemed to mean nothing, they didn't matter. Or at least not to me.

So now when I hear a record I like, I don't know, I just don't really care as much as I used to. I want to know what the lyrics are, who the people in the band are…what does any of it mean to them? So they like Joy Division, the first Jesus and Mary Chain LP…so do I. But do we have anything else in common? I find myself asking people "do you think this band votes, are they liberal or conservative?" and then I'm like, what the fuck...it's the mainstreaming of indie rock...I mean whatever happened to real political discourse...I miss the anarchists and socialists of my youth. And it feels like cultural appropriation...or like something has been taken away in the buying and selling of independent music...the context changed.

So this suspicion cumulated into a general distrust of today's independent/underground music scene. And I'm back to listening to punk/hardcore again. There's a cool local punk scene and lately it's been awesome to see a lot of girls/women getting involved and starting bands (have you heard The Hysterics demo??? Hell Woman? Blood Bones? Weird TV?!!! Son Skull???), but punk has to matter too. At least the people in the bands have to believe in what they are doing. Does being in a band mean anything to these kids or are they just killing time until they decide to get back to their "real lives" or whatever? I don't want to be some old geezer who is like "when I saw Black Flag or The Wipers" bla bla bla like a nostalgic Bruce Springsteen song about nostalgia, but seriously, where is the sense of purpose? What does it mean to be in a band right now? And if your band is an exception to this climate, by all means send me your demo! My ears are dying for it. In the meantime I will be over here listening to Mecca Normal and Comet Gain and trying to write songs worth sharing with you.

But of course even when things get bleak there are musical moments to get us through…in the past few weeks I saw Weird TV play a great show at a house party, walked a few blocks and saw Joey Casio perform his poetic revelry to punk perfection. Last weekend I saw a pretty cool sounding band called Dragging an Ox Through Water (pdx). Helll (Tokyo) also played, a drone/noise band in the vein of Deerhoof/The Punks, though not rocking at all, they were contemplative and sounded interesting. Then Tara Jane Oneil played a mind blowing set, an improvish/loop station-y droning soundscape of abstract shit, interrupted by a stunning cover of The Rainbow Connection (Kermit!!!!!??!!!). She ended the show with a cool rendition of her song Dig In, where she threw bells and shakers out into the audience and we were all stomping in time with the amazing Danny Susaki on drums. Seeing these shows was great fun and reminded me that what I like about living here is that there is a community of people who play music and support each other and it doesn't have to be "genre specific" or closed-minded at all. You can go see different kinds of shows and get something out of it. Part of what is rad is that it's not consumer based, everyone participates.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Wild Flag on Wednesday and The Need/The Gossip at The Capitol Theater on Saturday. I know that music matters to these folks and I'm sure that music will mean something to me for those few fleeting moments and this is still what I hold on to and live for when I'm trying to come up with new sounds.

What means the most to you? It means so much to me!


u.v.ray. said...

Homogeneity has permeated the whole of society.

There is no riot anymore. The forces of mediocrity have won. We lost.

As Gil Scott Heron predicted: the revolution won't be televised.

I blame the playstation. A whole generation has been drip-fed a diet of distraction.

I call it: intravenous nonchalance.

Debb G. said...

Not my band, but...I grew up with the drummer of Big Hurry, a Pittsburgh rock band. She's a cool girl. The band is 2 girls, 2 guys. The lead singer works for a local non-profit, one of the guys is a writer and publisher who works with a lot of local writers. The drummer, the girl I knew growing up, teaches drums..

Anyone from Pittsburgh will recognize the Pittsburgh references in this video (which incidentally, was produced by the drummer's brother, who does this sort of thing professionally)

YouTube vid of Big Hurry -Silver Screens

You might enjoy reading this interview:

Interview with Big Hurry

Nicolette Good said...

holy cow, what a great post. i can't say i have any answers, but i do share the same questions. i read music journalists saying that the current generation (my generation) hasn't created a new genre in the way past generations did. but i do feel the context in which we're making music is totally different. it's disorienting and discouraging at times, but maybe i'll look back in 40 years and have some of it figured out.

Unknown said...

Hi. Someone I don't know on Twitter linked to this post, which I found really interesting. I don't know who you are either but I wanted to respond to it. If you're interested at all in responding my email address is unremarkablepeopleny@gmail.com. Anyways, lot of interesting stuff here.

You seem to have a hard time accepting that Moe Tucker could have political views that are completely divergent from yours. I wonder why this is. Was the experience of listening to Velvet Underground so fundamentally political that knowing Tucker (who was, after all, the drummer . . . ) is a Tea Party member invalidates that experience for you? I ask that not with derision but out of curiosity. I listened to Velvet Underground a lot in high school, not much since. I read Tucker's recent comments ("My philosophy was and is all politicians are liars, bums and cheats."). I'd have to say that, to me, that doesn't sound far off from the aesthetic of Velvet Underground.

I think there's another fundamental question to think about here--why do we want our heroes to validate, rather than challenge, our previously held opinions? We worship these people (whoever it is--Lou Reed, Dylan, Rollins, doesn't matter) who are considered iconoclasts, and yet when we find out that they don't feel the same as us anymore (as you did with Tucker), we feel betrayed. Wasn't what we respected the most about them their ability to buck tradition and expectations, to go against the grain?

"could this band actually be made up of right wing, racist republicans"

Out of curiosity, is this genuinely something you think about? And if it's true, if they are Republicans--this is the most interesting aspect of it to me--does this invalidate an otherwise positive experience? If so, this means that music itself is NOT the most important criterion in evaluating a piece of music. Which is really interesting, if you think about it.

Second question--if you are unable to determine the answer to this question, does the listening experience feel incomplete?

I actually know the guys who made up "Upper West Side Soweto" from college. To think of them as Republicans is funny. Far from it. But that's besides the point.

Are you familiar with the psychological concept of projection? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projection_(psychology)_) You say you want to (even need to) know that the music MEANS something to these new bands. You don't feel that anymore. Have you considered that it might not mean as much to YOU as it did then? I don't know you, by any means, but I'm just saying, it's something to consider.

Cathy said...

I have lived in San Antonio, TX, Olympia, WA, Portland, OR, Athens, GA, Brooklyn, NY, San Diego, CA, and now L.A. and it wasn't until living in Georgia at age 23 that I had the rude awakening of WOW, JUST BECAUSE WE LIKE THE SAME STUFF DOESN'T MEAN WE HAVE THE SAME POLITICS.

I mean, I guess it was naive for me to assume just because someone and I liked or played the same music, meant we were voting the same way on election day, but WOW I've never experienced it so much as I did while living there.

I decided then that I couldn't be friends with someone who's political views differed so much from mine. I just couldn't be friends with someone who was voting for Bush. I remember calling it my NO TOLERANCE phase.

So I guess I feel like I can't support the art of someone I wouldn't be friends with. Hence my feelings on Roman Polanski and so many more.

Thanks for writing this, Tobi!


Mark said...

I think this articulates some of my problems with a portion of the current punk scene pretty well. Imo, punk is most interesting as a mixture of aesthetic/philosophy/social-scene, which can go in a lot of different directions and have disagreements, but it's not just a style of music. It feels weird when I talk to people, especially coming out of the post-punk scene (which I do like) for whom it's just about putting together different kinds of sounds in an interesting way. I guess that's fine too, but it doesn't speak to me.

Tobi Vail said...

...a few thoughts...

I don't think I really got to the bottom of things with this post, but I was listening to the Weekend LP yesterday and a bunch of questions came to mind so I jotted them down here...

really for me, it's not so much about ideology or needing all bands to be blatantly political...I think the examples I chose to focus on might be misleading in that way...

it's that I used to feel a part of a counter-culture...that being in a band was a way to rebel (and ok for me personally the best moments of rebellion are when it turns to resistance) and today's climate does not feel that way to me...but I am speaking in general terms...and I would rather be specific, which is why I noted some of the exceptions

the crux of what I am getting at is here:

-what does it mean to be in a band today (not in a generational way necessarily, I am asking the question because I am writing songs right now)


--how does context play a part in how we actually hear and relate to music?

I still feel connected and invigorated by music that I experience in my community where I live, these experiences exist largely outside of a capitalist framework///

often when I hear a new record that sounds good to me, it is not enough...because there is no connection, there is no context...and, to me, it feels like something is missing...

as for moe tucker, her drumming comes out in my own drumming, and lately I have been hearing my own drumming differently...it actually sounds different now that I know her politics...

I am someone who listens to The Frogs and Screwdriver and I'm not homophobic or a racist skinhead...I listen to The Rolling Stones and James Brown and I'm a feminist...so it's misleading to for me to act as if I need to share the same politics as the people who make the music I like--that was not the point I was trying to make...

but yeah, to me, something is missing...what that thing is, is hard to say...I am trying to figure it out

my solution is to write songs and to try and make music that means something...to me...to my friends and possibly that will be enough...

this is also connected to my desire to end capitalism and my belief that being in a band can change the world...but I do like music that exists for other purposes as well.


Unremarkable's comments make so many assumptions/presumptions about what "everyone" does/thinks/needs/wants from their "heroes" (sorry for all the quotations) that I am wondering if he himself is familiar with the concept of "projection" (again, apologies)

Tobi Vail said...

I suppose I should clarify that I only am talking about the first Skrewdriver LP/// which I know is a bone of contention amongst leftist punks and has all this symbolism attached...whether or not it's ok to like it or own the record or whatever...I have it on tape...this sounds like I am making excuses...but the song anti-social is often going through my head...the Frogs it's only right and natural songs are also often going through my head...anyhow...sorry if this sounds flippant or annoying...I was just trying to make a point, not trying to be obnoxious and brag about being "offensive" or something

Joaquin said...

I'm in a band called Class Conflict one of our lyrics says "Army of the poor, grab your guns, which side are you on? play your guitar, beat your drum". Music is inseparable from the socio-economic culture that created it...some states it more clearly than others...the yuppy-west side preppie African scene has pluralized itself into a meaninglessness that I would associate most closely with overeating. Their intellectual analysis has grown turgid with a rich diet of colonial spoils...Check it out though, like, culture exists in the world not in just in textual reference points. but here is a good reference:

Unknown said...

I LOVE that first screwdriver 7 inch.

It's more the idea that a record that I love could also be fuel for hate in some one else's brain/heart that always bothered me.

This is a really wonderful post and inspired much thought, I viewed it on break at 430 am on my 12 shift as a nurse in a hospital.

I'm a a cog in the medical industrial machine but that does not invalidate the human care I give to my patients. The new school band my have passion that's undetectable.

My conclusion after rolling this around in my head is the farther you get from the source the less intense the transmission will be; in other words if you saw many great shows in Olympia in the 80's and early 90's, how can you not have a little part of you being a nostalgic old geezer recalling how sweet it was.

You can run but you can't hide from nostalgia.

I will continue tp rock VU and screwdriver just as I always have but when I hear a new band that attempt to recreate that sound (again) I will be weary and miss the time of the first wave of recreation.

Tobi Vail said...

Thanks for all the comments

What I am wondering is what does it mean to be in a band right now...I've said that three times now...but that is the driving question here.

The part about context is also a question...there are still great shows here all the time and I still go see them, I don't think things are shittier now in Olympia...I have been going to shows here for 27 years! There were low periods in the 80's and 90's for sure....most of 1985 and 1986 were dead here...and personally I disliked the mid-90's music scene and thought things really picked up at the end of the decade...the early 00's were also super great...we recently had a few years of male dominated hardcore bands...sex vid era...and that band was good, but it coincided with a lack of girls in punk bands...now that is turning around...which to me is a good sign!

agirlwhowearspants said...

Self satisfaction. I don't think bands or artists really think about making an impact anymore through music. Or using it as a vehicle to further their own beliefs. When something is created without context, it is hard to find meaning in it because there was none at its inception.

Unlike previous generations of bands who really lived their music where an idea or emotion further drove their music vehicle I think my generation of bands has more of a business sense to it than artistic.

What does it mean to be in a band today? It's this never ending sense that this old proponent of the industry is dying. With the fractured musical landscape, people forget about the music and are concerned more with connecting with their fans through social media because they have been misled to believe that offering an emotional connection through Twitter or Facebook is more significant than a connection through their music. Because in this new industry, technology has caused bands to take on roles they never had to before and it affects their music because their music becomes a product and not art.

Today being in a band means nothing other than a status update on Twitter and a Facebook page.

Anonymous said...

Um... I don't know what punk scene you're looking at, but there's amazing, meaningful stuff going on right now. You're from Olympia, Washington? Check out RVIVR. You're not going to find many more poignant social statements than from that band that's in your own backyard. While you're on it check out any of the bands that came out of the revolt against the Long Island suburbia like Latterman, Bridge and Tunnel, Iron Chic, Shorebirds, etc. There are a bunch of really great bands out there who do a lot to make the world a better place. Maybe they're not all anarchists, but hey they still want to fix things. Don't look with such a critical eye on things and maybe you'll see the great stuff that's going on.

Tobi Vail said...

I think developing and maintaining a critical eye is essential to joy and resistance...cool that you dig RVIVR...they are nice folks and I like their energy more than their sound...I saw them play a great set in Columbus, OH in May, actually missed the end of it, but the part I saw was killer

Funny how people think that you don't like anything when you voice a critique, it's like they become deaf to everything positive I'm saying and only hear the negative

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am trying to move things forward, not let things become stuck, stagnant ...I think the goal of punk is to question the status quo and change society...are bands doing that today?

what does it mean to be in a band?

Mark said...

I think this post got linked from a bunch of places, so some of the readers might not have read anything else from Jigsaw to have any context. It seems like it'd be hard to see it as mainly negative if someone was a regular reader? I know I notice a lot more "here's something great" articles than critical ones when new posts come across my blog reader. It's a fanzine after all...

A related question I've been thinking about: what does it mean to be a fan? The all-in kind of fandom that's closer to hero-worship or scenesterism makes me a little uncomfortable. Seems there has to be some critical element in addition to the fan element? Otherwise it's some kind of adoration society, where everyone just sits around talking about how great the stuff they like is. I think I find it more interesting to talk to fans with mixed positive/negative opinions also. The person who wants to talk all the time about how Joy Division are the best band ever just doesn't seem that thought-provoking to me.

I've had some arguments about that from the TV/film fan communities. It seems in punk, the fan-but-critical is an important thing. A lot of musicians actively promote it: there's this ethos of, it's great you like my music and lyrics, but please don't just take what I say as some kind of gospel, maybe I'm wrong too (I like Crass's emphasis of that). But the social norms are a bit different in other fan communities, e.g. at Star Trek conventions. I don't fully understand them, so don't know if they're worse per se, but I'm uncomfortable with that approach to being a fan, at least. Maybe it's something totally different and not easy to compare, dunno.

Anonymous said...

to me i think being in a band means having a platform to express ourselves, growing together as a group with creative process, empowering ourselves/carving out a space, having fun while still saying fuck you to the shit that we hate. i think punks know that the "music" industry is more irrelevant than ever, so i don't think it's a whole lot different now than it was 30 years ago in the sense that you can still operate under your own rules and actively resist the co-option, homogenization and profit-motivated modus operandi of the music industry and other structures. it's easy to get bummed out that i wasn't around in the late 70s and early 80s, but fundamental human nature probably hasn't changed much in the last few centuries, and people are still expressing themselves in the ways that they know how--personally, i'm so inspired and energized by the olympia punk scene right now and i think this expression is certainly taking place. in an age where so much has already been said--punk has 30+ years of anti-establishment lyrics behind it--i think a lot of punks are taking new routes of communication, some of which are harder to figure out than others, sometimes buried in a few too many layers of "art" for its own good. but i think it's there, especially here in oly. there's a LOT of soul in this community.