Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Focusing on the really unimportant

With all the horrid things in the news today, from children in Iraqi prisons to BushCo's willingness to delay capturing a mass murderer until it's politically more expedient, I've decided to blog about indie rock. Hey, there's really not a whole lot I can say on the other issues that others don't say better.
Anyway, I just finished reading Boob Jubilee, which is a collection of writings from The Baffler. Decent book, a little uneven.
One essay called "Rockerdammerung" by seemingly chronic cynic Mike O'Flaherty stuck out. It's a sort of history of indie rock and punk's push-pull relationship with corporate America. It's interesting in light of the current indie/punk attitude that's most common, which is a simple fuck-all attitude that demands that if a band gets signed to a major label, they're sell-outs, end of story. I've witnessed people get completely bent out of shape when a favorite artist signs to a major label. I've heard (and made) some extremely elaborate justifications for liking older bands that were pretty much always on a major label. (Easiest one: they didn't do indie back then.)
It's true--indie didn't really evolve out of snotty rebellion so much as out of necessity. When you couldn't get signed, you "signed" yourself. O'Flaherty really gets to the heart of how necessity evolved into rebellion and how rebellion flattened out into a sort of meaningless anti-corporate pose.
Not to say that there's anything wrong with being anti-corporate, not at all. But you have to understand that these things are complicated, that the line between indie and major isn't as firm as we'd like it to be, and that really there's nothing necessarily wrong with an artist wanting to get more exposure.
Anyway, the most interesting thing that O'Flaherty touches on is the evolution of the ironic pose in indie rock. Irony was initially both a way to provoke thought and to shelter people from having to think too hard about politics and meaning. And it made the mid-90's corporate clusterfuck around what was previously called "indie" but now was wedged into the meaningless term "alternative" possible. Irony made it okay to sign to a major label, as long as you did it with an ironic pose. And it made it utterly confusing, because the music got played on the big radio to audiences who were completely clueless about the irony involved, and even those mainstream audiences that "got it", really only got that it was a big pose, because it was unlikely that they were familiar enough with the music that was being reworked and mocked. Mostly the clothes were a joke, after awhile.
Well, it all imploded, as we all remember. Irony's so-called death really happened long before 9/11 or any of the other markers the media loves to trot out. O'Flaherty is pretty funny--he all but says it died when Urge Overkill got signed to a major. He also pretty much claims that indie/punk was just ruined by the corporate clusterfuck, even though he doesn't outright claim that Punk is Dead or anything stupid like that.

I was pretty struck by the whole discussion of irony. People my age overall and particularly those of us who are enmeshed in the indie/punk music scene, fandom, whatever the fuck you want to call it, really do fall on irony as our default mode. It is a protective stance, and it is a way to like something kind of corny without out-and-out liking it. That is part of my personality, but it gets on my nerves sometimes. So I really have been making a huge effort for a number of years to admit that I like something just because I do, and refuse to take a pseudo-ironic pose as protection.
And I see that working its way through the attitudes of alot of people. Irony burned itself out when you could buy it from Warner Bros. Oh, people still do the retro thing, the vintage clothes, and whatnot. But we do it sincerely. After all, what's not to like about circle skirts and disco balls? They were fun then, they're fun now. The enthusiasm for mocking retreads of hated musical forms like bombastic 70's rock and crappy disco and whatnot has pretty much died down.
But does that mean that indie/punk is kaput? I don't think so. After all, there was no real ironic stance in it to begin with, just pure rebellion. And while the vast majority of indie/punk is still recycling older music forms, they are doing it with genuine enthusiasm for those forms and have been doing so for years. That's why garage rock and electroclash have grown so quickly. And in the local scene here, you get to hear hardcore, rockabilly, and even avant-garde punk all over place to oft-times packed houses.
There's no reason that reaching back to take inspiration from older music can't be both unironic and rebellious. Joey Ramone didn't sing like he was in a girl group because he was mocking girl groups. He really liked them. In fact, musicians and scenesters hopefully have learned their lesson about over-doing the irony thing--it gives corporate rock an opportunity to get in the door because you're too busy posing to be hostile and suspicious of corporate rock.
And we should be suspicious. Corporate rock is pushing crap like The Darkness, which is mostly selling to braindead glam metal fans who wonder where Poison went, but is getting begrudgingly accepted by the hipper who shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, I think it's all a big joke." Yeah, so what? Sucks is sucks. What is going to keep rock music alive is a real appreciation of good music instead of constantly trying to be ironic and funny and hip. Luckily, most music fans I know would just as soon dig their heel into crap like The Darkness rather than listen to them. And that's the attitude that's going to bring the scene back to life.


Blogger Earnest said...

The rejection of irony as a kickstand for people afraid to be themselves is part of the Passionate Realist movement Ross, Amy and I comprised.


Blogger Amanda said...

Dear god, we've discovered the Zeitgeist!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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I cant believe the quantity an quality of humerous bush joke it contains
Heres one of the jokes i found on it:
Bob brought some friends home to his apartment one night after they had been out painting the town. One friend noticed a big brass gong in Bobs bedroom and asked about it."Thats not a gong" Bob replied "thats a talking clock. Watch this!"
Bob struck the gong and sure enough a voice on the other side of the wall screamed "Hey your jerk its 3 o'clock in the morning!"


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