Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Stand Up, Listen, I'll Show You Where We Went Wrong -- What's Wrong with Music Communities

I was going to write about what I personally think of as a 70's hard rock revival that has been happening off-and-on for the last fifteen years or so, and some bands from this area I love, but I'll have to save it. Halfway through my little bouts of research, background and source-gathering, I found something obnoxious while trying to consolidate opinions on what genre other people consider the aforementioned bands. One band in particular--The Parlor Mob--stood out when I saw the (only) genre listed, and I'm going to give you a sample of two of their songs from their first album which led to this ideology, and I want you to at least sample a bit of each before I get this thing rolling:

"Hard Times"

"Can't Keep No Good Boy Down"

 Wikipedia generally serves as a solid repository for collected multi-genre listings, and this time led me to the notion of "hipster metal" which was eye-rolling enough as an alleged genre (did you listen to those two songs?)--but then it just led to the page on "stoner metal," which was a wildly inappropriate label for the band in question (see above). Trying to find out just what the hell "hipster metal" was led me to a bunch of stupid crap back and forth about "hipster metal" and "real metal," which tended to emphasize my desire to stay away from the youthful elements of the metal scene, or whatever led to this. Apparently, this is to describe Mastodon, Boris, The Sword and various others (possibly Converge?).

Anyway, I first found this rebuttal of the entire stupid idea (hooray!) at The Onion's AV Club, followed by a bunch of angry comments, where someone suggested this article refuted it, but it doesn't really, and it mostly makes a bunch of stupid comments like half the people my age and younger who talk about punk: No, punk was not "always" political or averse to solos, and no, metal was not always apocalyptic and serious. Slayer finds serial killers interesting. Death's Chuck Schuldiner liked horror movies. Carcass were joking. John Peel used to play them and laugh hysterically. Grow up, people. This is what's bad for music: endlessly putting things down and trying to refine things until you have nothing left. Stop it, seriously, this isn't helpful, it doesn't prove anything, and just becomes divisive. "Real" and "fake," "pop" and "true," whatever.

One of the reasons I do find myself looking into a band past their music alone is because it gives me an idea of what they see themselves as or want to be. I wrote about the reviews of The Whigs before, and there's one thing I meant to bring up but never got around to mentioning. Through my own Facebook account, I periodically see posts from the Whigs, just YouTube videos of songs they like. Here's a sampling of what they've posted recently: Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, R.E.M., Nirvana, The Clash, The Band, The Ramones, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pavement, My Morning Jacket, Band of Skulls, The Monkees, Greg Kihn. What do you see in common here? Me, not much. Sure, most of them are bands that almost anyone who listens to music and pays attention to artist names has heard of, so what? They didn't pull out the "important" or the "obscure" songs, but neither are the songs selected all singles or incredibly familiar ones. It reeks of the authenticity of a bunch of guys who like music, period. There aren't explanations justifying The Monkees or Greg Kihn, or comments to pump up their egos and praise influential bands. It just seems like they are posting songs they like periodically.

I can't be a musician, I don't have the ear or the passion or the talent or skill to write things. I write about music because it's important to me anyway. Yet, sometimes I can't help but feel some misdirect that passion, or perhaps have mistaken their passion for something else, or have been raised or led to direct it at denigration--I don't know, but I don't see the point of it. That second article eventually comes to a head with this inane gem:

"These people called metalheads were ostracized, called geeks, belittled and spat upon for insisting metal is important. And what is that idea? Metal is the idea of worshipping power and intensity, not the "safe" and twee personalized Jesus that rock music is. Rock music is there to show you irony, to make you feel like crying and laughing at the same time, in short to distract.
Metal is the opposite direction. It's heavy. It's heavy because its sound and apocalyptic imagery show us how small we are as individuals, reduce our ego-drama and point out that we're all just cogs in a big machine. Wars, disease, mayhem and murder feature heavily in metal lyrics, because they're heavy.

Rock, especially indie rock, doesn't like heavy. It likes clever on the surface and comfortingly the same underneath, like how a manufacturer might take the same old bread, add garlic-mango flavoring and call it Polynesian Mating Ritual Bread and sell it for $1 more a loaf."
Pardon my French--even if I used it happily in my last entry, I generally avoid it on this blog--but this is one of the biggest piles of horseshit I've ever read. For reasons I noted above and many more, it feels like the proof behind the idea that critics are frustrated musicians. If you know so little about metal AND rock that you can make the above statements, what business do you have writing such dismissive and caustic statements? The number of tongue-in-cheek or non-"cogs in a big machine" metal bands is beyond reckoning and is as old as the genre itself. Non-"distraction" rock bands have existed since at least Dylan's influence started to show, if not longer.

It reeks of someone who refuses to listen to "indie rock" and then wants to pretend that he doesn't really dismiss the entire genre: it's a lovely, empty-calorie confection! It's like those who perpetrate the insipid idea of "film" and "movie" as separate entities. When I used to review them, I made it a habit to interchange the terms just to make subtly clear that that is nonsense and should be done away with, as it automatically renders divisions of intellectual quality that are too binary to be of any realistic use. Tell me this movie or that song or that band is just interested in being "a party band" or "a fun movie," don't pretend that there's a magic term that sets it into one or the other.

I loathe the term "hipster" at the outset, as its implications for me, at least, are the idea of upturned noses at anything that does not fit an arbitrary definition of "cool" (incidentally, for a bit of irony, read that, then re-read the article deriding hipsters above...seeing a pattern?). For others it seems to be an emphasis on style over substance, marred by a confusion of what that "style" even is, though I find this definition bewildering and strange--isn't that typically the majority of fashion as exhibited by the general populace that hasn't devoted the totality of their life to it?

I was called a hipster once, by someone I'd always thought was kind of a "hipster" but never took issue with over it (except when it came to negativity, but that's something all of us share in some respect, I just try not to fall into it as much as I can). I couldn't figure out why--I've not got a fashion sense even to myself, and my taste in music has no "ironic appreciation" anywhere. I sincerely like Eddie Money, Journey, and cheap horror movies, and won't mask it with "no, no, it's ironic!" I'm down on a pretty small set of music, and most of it (barring perhaps some vestiges from youth, ever-narrowing) has little or nothing at all to do with reputation or public perspective and everything to do with my personal impressions. At the same time, I only don't want to be a hipster because I don't want anyone to think those tastes are "ironic" or that I will dismiss them for not liking the "right" things, because neither is true.

I'm not here to put Mr. Stevens down for not liking indie rock. I'm not here to put him down for liking metal. I'm really not here to put him down at all, I'm here to tell him and everyone else: Stop it. Stop universalizing negative taste and drawing boundaries that tell us what is or is not "acceptable" to enjoy. Stop telling everyone else what is or is not in a genre on a basis of "quality" or "integrity." Metal is not all serious, all apocalyptic, all nihilistic. Yeah, sure, a lot of it is for the reasons he states--heaviness fits with "heavy" dark concepts. But how does that mean it "has" to be?

I've been guilty of variants of this, especially when I was younger. To this day, I will suggest that this or that band is not metal, but it's not about "integrity" or "quality" but about how the band feels and whether it feels the right kind of heavy to fit in with the historical definition--including all variants--of "metal." The more mixed origins of a lot of "nu-metal" (another denigrating term, for those unfamiliar, though one which has lost a lot of its bite) which brings the weight and distortion of metal to more hardcore/punk or alternative rock sentiments justifies at least the separation, if not the denigration. The blurring of lines to a great enough degree is essentially how many genres are formed in the first place. I listen quite happily and openly to many of the bands that I, myself, will argue the "metal-ness" of. Sometimes I do it for the perverse enjoyment of watching others sputter--there was little more satisfying at one point than calling some things "pop" to people who were convinced of the outsider-superiority of their taste.

Really, there's a subverted point in that deviant pleasure: why do you need to cling to another band, artist or genre's perception to justify your own taste? Why do you have to leave my poor father thinking Coheed and Cambria sounds like Pink Floyd (they don't) to pretend that people will stop calling your favourite band "emo" or "stupid" or "crap"?

Metal and progressive rock have the weirdest relationships with the world--to a large segment of the population they are boring, unlistenable and often laughable in their ridiculousness. Yet, another segment of the population clings to these associations as a means of "proving" their taste has "value." Coheed are my favourite band, bar none, given the need to decide. I don't need to pretend they are a "progressive rock" band (read: intelligent, above the comprehension of many people, complicated musically, otherwise appealing to the pretentious) or a "metal" band (read: same as prog rock, but with the added bonuses of being "heavy," "scary," and "too much" for many listeners).

I will turn to other artists and note that they have associations people are unaware of--Robert Palmer is one of my favourite musical artists ever, yet he's readily dismissed on the back of "Addicted to Love" and especially its video. Yet, unknown to most, he worked in world music, electronic music, reggae and other genres left untouched and unfamiliar for many years. The fun of facts like that (or reading the word "polyrhythms" in the liner notes to a reissue of INXS' first two albums) is that those who have high horses about the "quality" of their music are left red-faced if they're honest, as they've written off "stupid pop groups" without realizing that there's a good chance that, under their own stipulations, those "stupid pop groups" are smarter and more musical than some groups they like. The theoretical end goal would be realizing that the entire idea of "stupid pop groups" as a means of immediate dismissal should be forewent, but usually it just means I get to poke a hole in the egos of musical taste-egotists.

Don't take this to mean you can't dislike or find someone boring, but skip the dismissive comments or the dismissal of entire genres as "bad" or "crap." Not your thing? Sure. That happens. But the rest of this, the constant, "Nirvana > Foo Fighters" and other silliness--it needs to end. Modern music is not inherently inferior. Metal is not intrinsically more "serious" and thus "better" than everything else. Not all indie rock is automatically devoid of meaning or substance.

I've de-railed myself entirely, here, but that's sort of inevitable: a lot of this is the very reason I wanted to write this blog. I wanted to get away from the tendency to dismiss this band or that genre because it doesn't fit someone's taste and so arbitrary rules to justify this as "better taste" are invented. My taste isn't better than yours. It's also not worse than yours.

The things I like are good, and that's why I like them. Not because they fit some kind of "rules."

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