So I went out to see this band the other night. I’m gonna be intentionally oblique, because I’m going to say some unpleasant things. And I don’t like doing that. I’ve tried my best to stay away from that type of thinking in this space. I think the things that are bad point themselves out. They don’t need me to do it. Saying nasty things1 is the mark of an amateur, of someone trying to prove they are discerning. Great, kid. You can say something snarky about someone else. Good for you. What do you love, though? Do you have the guts to be forward about that? This is one of the projects of this blog. Trying to be forward about what I love, and share a bit of that with you, dear reader.
That said, I’ve still got that axe to grind…or rather, odd ground to cover. I’m not actually going to say anything unpleasant specifically about a band, so put away the torches, villagers. Those aren’t bolts in my neck; they’re headphones. I’m going to point out a situation that is not flattering and this is my indictment of the situation rather than the band or the people. Enough beating around the bush; here it is.
So I started the night at a free show. A band that was doing that whole 1970s Cheap Trick meets Led Zepplin thing. Talented at it, but it kind of bores me. There’s no vitality there; it’s all retread. They’ve got a lot of friends in town and they gig heavily. I respect that. I like them, actually. Nice bunch of people and they’re good at what they do, even if they find a thousand other flags already planted when they make their peak assent. For all these reasons, there are a lot of people at the show. It’s also a free show and there are kegs.
This doesn’t matter. What does is that I split. I find myself at one of my favorite venues. A surprisingly small crowd is there. It costs double digits to get in. I never pay double digits to see a band I’ve never even heard of. It’s a weekend & I’m stir crazy.
The crowd is older. Not terribly hip, either. I’m trying not to care. The band takes the stage. They’re quite good, but not too terribly unique. Very much like the first band I’d seen tonight. But maybe they rock a little harder. Put a little more into it. Are more intense, less caviler.
This band is not great, but they’re good. Good enough to have more people here than this. So, where are they? This is a band that has gotten to where it is by having friends, not being bad & not fucking up. That said, they’re also confounded by their own mediocrity. Worse yet, the march of time. Those friends who used to pack those rooms to see good things made momentarily great by the blinding bonds of booze-filled camaraderie have all left. They have spouses and children to go home to. Mortgages to pay, yards to weed, hedges to prune and gutters to dredge. There’s work early in the morning. There are the advancing stages of life, that while your mercurial & humble narrator may seem, so far, to have staved off, still impends largely on many in the crowd tonight at the first show and has hit those not at the latter. A before and after of sorts.
This band plays on, loudly, desperately & urgently, as they have for somewhere past a decade and shy of two, but the audience is thinner, much like the hair of a few bandmembers.
There is something lost and lonely here and I cannot pretend that I don’t see it or am unaffected by it. The band carry on, in good humor, despite it all. There is honor in the way these musicians execute their art, even with the hooded, scythe-wielding figure invisibly in the room and people in their late 40s awkwardly moshing to the last song. The band is quite literally playing on, as the ship is going down.
So what is it? Is it age? I don’t think so. Look at Thurston Moore. Look at Fred & Toody. Iggy Pop. Patti Smith. David Bowie. Look at countless others that still have their finger on the pulse of what’s cool. It’s just that it gets harder as you grow older. And the stakes are higher. The nights, lonelier. And at the end of the day, it’s hard not to imagine someone asking, “what’s the point?” and there not being a satisfying answer, even if a quick one materializes.
But much of the music that has changed my life, has done so despite crowds and cool, not because of them. So even if this particular band on this particular night doesn’t reach me, it doesn’t mean that they are “bad” or should quit. Hell, I’d like to think that I’d rather hang it up then ever play to a room of people that I didn’t relate to, like Kurt refusing to play for the guys that beat him up in high school. I am self-righteous enough to insist on something as superficial as how fashionable the crowd is to determine my level of engagement & I’d rather break my guitar than do something to bring a smile to the face of an MRA or someone with a Romney sticker on their car.
But looking around, I don’t think that there’s anyone around here that’s necessarily like that. No one here is clearly a bad person. No one seems uncomfortable being here, but I am. And that’s why I write this. Desperately trying to make sense of what is weirding me out about this whole thing.
The band turns their attention away from their ample body of work, which for better or worse is at least theirs and closes with a 1970s glam rock song cover, that is uninspired and feels like a concession speech to the ghosts of rock past. The band is merely going through motions that the don’t seem at all to care about. The crowd likes it, though. There is an air of the posthumous in the room, and I feel bothered. Distant. Emotionally affected. Wanting hope. Or a stiff drink. I find neither immediately accessible to me.
At least until the next morning when I start thinking about it again. I think about the faces in that thin crowd, caricatures I’ll not draw for fear of reducing people to their inessential qualities. It’s dehumanizing, really, no matter how either appealing or offensive the content may be. But I think about the faces of the people I saw. I think about the voices calling out for songs by name. I think of the line by the merch table and how each and every single person who was at that gig got in that line. I then think about how little superficially I have in common with those people, and their advanced age, their bridge-and-tunnel clothes and the music they listen to. I think about this and then I think about how much I actually *do* have in common. My relationships with the bands that meant everything to me and fell out of the scope of popular fashion. Standing in line, nervously eager and talking to the musicians who just sang my life to me by singing theirs out loud so someone else could hear it. I think about this, and about some of the crowded “hip” shows that I tend to find myself at, not the big ones that get the media or the small ones that only the most “enlightened” (or obsessed, really) go to, but the shows at those places. I’ll not mention the names, but you can guess, Portland. The places where it’s see-and-be-seen. I think about the numbers of people I see at the merch table afterwards (next to no one) and the look on their faces (perfunctory) and I realize the music is ephemeral to these people. That’s fine. Pop music is *supposed* to be ephemeral. But I’m a fucking anorak. A nerd. It’s not ephemeral to me, and it never was. The thoughtless word uttered to the wind; this is the one that haunts in my ears. The song not considered by the author in the long years since creation: this is the field where my victory dance is made, these are the songs that held me as I punched the wall and cried, alone and unloved, even when I was neither, and I know I always was neither. But the secret trick that life plays on you is that it never *is* about what it actually is; it’s always about how it feels. Anything else is sterile and conjectural labwork. And that’s what I’ve always felt. Like an August shoe stepping on a hot cement wad of gum, I couldn’t shake it.
No, Mr. Azarad, it’s not that this band *could* be my life: it’s that it feckin’ well *is* my life.
1: I’m not one of those people who are opposed to what people call “negativity” for it’s own sake. That said, I think there is far too much “negativity” i.e., people saying nasty things to try and make themselves look better by comparison or seem sophisticated. There’s a time and a place for measured and aware criticism, and this thing I’m talking about isn’t that. Call “bullshit” on things whenever you can, but make sure it’s for the right reasons. If its some music or fashion that rubs you the wrong way, take note of that if you like, but feckin’ move on. It’s not a thing to get worked up about. Racism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, classicism, fat-shaming, bullying: *these* are way worthy of taking up rhetorical arms against; a band “sucking” because you don’t like them or a person being “horrible” because they are wearing the wrong beanie? Fuck. That. Noise.
Very clearly, you can see this is something I struggle with, and often revert to superficial judgement against my best intentions, because the things we wear are in fact trying to communicate some things about ourselves to the world whether we chose to make this explicit or not. So guy wearing a “shocker” shirt: fuck you and what you’re trying to say to the world. Person wearing the dorky-looking jeans or odd shirt: good on ya, mate. You just keep doing you, even if it isn’t something that I might care to join in on. Another big reason for the decided anti-negativity stance is that it’s directly what leads to this.(Great song; horrible thing to experience & oh hell have I been there & then some) Finding fault in everything leads to the inability to feel pleasure. Anhedonia is more than just the original working title to “Annie Hall”.