Saturday, April 20, 2013

UPDATED: An Open Letter of Apology for My Blog and to Those Who Have Been Hurt by It

A few days ago, a music blogger by the name of Kitty Vincent posted, on a music blog, a scathing blog post detailing how music blogs are ruining music.

Kitty made some very insightful points, especially regarding how the Seattle music scene of the early 1990s was so great, because it was, 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. [emphasis mine] She contrasts this with the charge that today's young musicians are, so busy jumping on each other’s bandwagons, [that] nobody has bothered to notice their wagon train has been driving in a circle for roughly a decade now. [Again, emphasis mine]

Yes, that's right, kids, imitation is a positive and wonderful thing when it means there will be more cookie cutter bands, if the sound they produce is one that you find pleasing to the ear. However, imitation is a horrible, horrible thing that is responsible for killing music when it involves music you dislike.

Oh, no . . . wait . . . sorry! It's music blogs that are killing music, by supporting bands that sound alike. This is, of course, nothing like the early 1990s, when fanzines and magazines all over the US and Europe were dripping in jizz and excitement at all the SubPop (and other) bands that sounded remarkably similar. See, that was different, because, um, well, it wasn't blogs! It was print media, which is inherently above reproach, I guess? Even though the kids who did zines before the dawn of the 'net are the same sort of kids who now do music blogs.

Hey, whatever, man! Here's Kitty's post:

Hey Kids, Grow a Pair: How Music Blogs Neutered Indie Rock

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.

Naturally, a lot of commenters criticized the post, me included. However, plenty thought what Kitty wrote was just the best thing ever! Here some of my favorite supportive responses (some are complete, others are merely excerpts):

  • Derek Traxler

    What is sad is that what you say is true. I have been deprived of anything new without searching really fucking hard.
    [I honestly am not sure what this person is trying to say, but, hey cussing!]

  • Grunge boy

    Neutered is a good word for today’s indie rock. It is a mirror image of the people who go to the shows. Girls dress like boys, boys dress like girls. Everyone is a gender neutral looking crowd. Nothing deep and angry. Highly intellectual. Nothing from the visceral gut. No slam dancing, just lame ass 3rd grade style dancing. No real deep passionite meaning in the music, at least from what I can see.
    [Yes, indie rock is bad because people don't properly conform to gender stereotypes. Plus, why is no one slam dancing to Mumford & Sons?]

  • convolutedmind

    I really enjoyed your post. I grew up in a era of where you had to actually seek out music. Where you went to live shows to find out who you liked. Where you spent your hard earned check on a band that you never heard before only to find out they sucked. But every now and again you would find a gem and be hooked on them for the rest of your life. We would make mix tapes for our friends to introduce them to cool music. We cared about what we listened to and we were pissed off at the world and didn’t just roll over and take it.
    [Just ignore that music blogging is merely a new take on making mix tapes.]

  • 1991rtk

    I was born in the 90s, and missed most of the 90s Alternative phenomenon. When I was more conscious of music, I had Linkin Park, Three Days Grace, My Chemical Romance, Rise Against, among others. Guess what? As I looked deeper, I found that the 90s were better than that stuff, because it felt real and not formulaic or made to ‘fit in’. I don’t mind early 2000s stuff, but look at what has happened to Muse, Linkin Park, among others: THEY ADAPTED AND BECAME TRENDY. They pulled away from their own ways to become part of a system which is not as profitable as it once was, they sold out. Music out today is both good and bad. A lot of it still feels like it is being made for the sake of money or the ‘casual’ music listener. Devoid of meaning and motivation, a lot of today’s music has become music for the sake of ‘something listening to’. There’s no more conviction…and therefore the content and quality takes a major hit.
    [Um, Linkin Park hit the ground trendy. Or was I mistaken when I thought most of the opening acts when I went to OzzFest in 2000 or 2001 all sounded the same? Other similar bands on the bill that day, that I remember: Crazytown, Papa Roach, Disturbed]

  • griggsy

    The thing about these so called music blogs is that they’re run by attention seeking dweebs who not only lack a passion for music, but are not even curious. They’re usually doing it for the free crap.
    [My empty bank account and house chock full of records, tapes, and CDs belies the claim that music bloggers lack passion for music. As for free crap, I ignore offers from bands to get free music in exchange for a blog post. Or I write them snarky responses, if it's obvious they've not really looked at my blog. Claiming they like the bands I interview is always a good clue in that regard. I've not interviewed a band since 1989 or '90, and never for this blog.]

  • Jim

    This is dead on. All the whining comments need to go jump. You’re obviously all very happy with the homogenized drone that is indie rock so ignore this post and go enjoy it. I’m turning 40 this year and every new record I hear bores me to death. I’m supposed to be scared of new music by this point. The author is exactly right. Indie rock has lost its teeth b/c it’s being made for faceless morons on the internet, not for actual people situated in a specific time and place dealing with specific circumstances. Anyone who feels like they need to pipe up and disagree with this article or take a jab at the author is an isolated, complacent, wussbag.
    [I'm turning 50 this year, and I constantly hear new music that excites me.]

  • independentmusicpromotions

    Some of the hecklers in the comments are doing so out of mere defensiveness. The fact is, this is a brilliant post. Why? Because, much like the music of the early 90′s Kitty is describing, the blogger CARES. They have passion. That’s clear whether you respect the opinion or not.
    [Yeah, I'm defensive. I also CARE about music. I also have no respect for an opinion that is merely gussied up ad hominem.]

  • AD (@ADsXe)

    youre fucking awesome.

    when i was teenager in a band on the warped tour confused about life who didnt know what tomorrow would bring i wanted to play music loud and ( to quote rollins) fuck on the floor and break shit…. now im a grown up with a bit more of an idea of what makes my world go around, a mortgage and a job ive been at for 7 years and … i want to play music loud fuck on the floor and break shit.

    while i love what it’s done for communication ( and porn ) , i hate what the internet has done to music. When I had a band.. all we had to do was come to a town, play an awesome show, and if we were on our game, when we came back again.. there would be more people there next time. no mailing list, no online panhandling for facebook likes and kickstarter dollars or youtube views, just a burning desire to start some shit , enough gas money to get to the next city, and the determination, sweat, and live show to make it happen.

    you rule. i wish everyone was like you
    [Ah, yes, the good ol' days, when one could be in a band on the corporate-sponsored, heavily-promoted-via-social-media Warped Tour. Back before the internet and corporate money ruined everything. Obliviousness, thy name is ADsXe.]

Sorry for ranting at length about this. I get defensive when something I enjoy doing (when I can) to share music I love is attacked by someone with a chip on (in this case) her shoulder as somehow being responsible for the death of independent music.

UPDATE: Ms. Vincent's band Le Divorce has a Facebook page. Under their interests, they list not making a myspace page. I guess the absurdity of slamming a social media site from within another social media site escaped them.

If you'd like to hear the music of Le Divorce, head to their music page on Facebook. In my opinion, they're not terrible, but they're also rather shamelessly imitative of '90s alt-rock of the sort that used to clog the airwaves 15 to 20 years ago. If you pine for the days of Better than Ezra or Marcy Playground, you'll probably love them. If you're expecting something with the visceral punch that Ms. Vincent claims is lacking in today's indie rock, you can be the judge for yourself whether or not she has the balls to back up her convictions with her guitar, or just with her spittle-flecked keyboard.