by Matt Ealer
Last weekend, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl either. But it was neither political nor an aesthetic preference for the alternate programming made available by the NFL’s hydra-like presence and counter-presence in our broader culture. I had just come off the crippling debilitation of an internet-fast brought on by some malware thing, and I really just plum forgot! Reveling in the ability to stream things off the Internet, trolling YouTube, burning Camels with Teddy Pendergrass, I was bathing in the life that had felt so neglected lo those many (couple of) days.
And on the “related videos” beside a video from some stoopid group of local punks was an MTV performance of “New York City Cops” by the band the Strokes and I watched it and I thought, hey. And: this isn’t so bad? Why did I always hate these guys again? And then I went and listened to the whole first album all the way through and I continued to think that!
Which is a funny thing, but not an altogether uncommon one. I can remember very specifically as a teen, surprising my cousin at a summer day camp by picking him up in my mother’s stead, blasting Led Zeppelin while he expressed his relief. “You saved me, Matt. You saved me from Frank Sinatra.” And we had a hearty laugh because, oh, who would listen to such dreck? Frank Sinatra didn’t even write his own tunes! Surely my mother is insane. Of course now, I take Francis Albert as some sort of totem spirit animal and think that, while they sure wrote some great songs, Zeppelin was always kind of silly. And they taught a couple of generations of Real Rock Radio DJs to use the saying “GET THE LED OUT” ad nauseum.
And I know someone who-while readily admitting that she would probably like the thing-has put conscious effort into avoiding ever knowingly consuming the music on The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs just because she does not want to be associated with the type of people that are associated with liking 69 Love Songs. (Full disclosure: I still haven’t seen Avatar for quite the same reason! (SORRY ALL OF YOU?))
I thought about Julian Casablancas and his friends more later and I think my resistance was all some younger-me “authenticity” issues. Like, they felt very calculated when they came out, with the hair and the clothes and the equipment they used to make the guitar tones and the drum patterns and the vocal distortion and EVERY-damn-thing, it was all so meticulously put together that younger-me scanned it as “fake.” But really? They were, yes, being super-meticulous about all those trappings while also being meticulous about writing good, scuzzy pop songs.
Which is all very funny because I think that where a lot of my hate came from was a budding form of anti-rockism-I hated so much the idea that MTV and Rolling Stone were selling to me, that they were “BRINGING ROCK BACK” and that “I HAVE SEEN ROCK AND ROLL’S FUTURE” and so on and so forth. And then they put Slash in that one video and I was all, “Oh please, gag me with a spoon.”
But then again, not even all that is true. Because really, when I first saw the “Last Night” video, I didn’t quite have a “this x is our y” moment, but when those mussed tresses came up in stark relief against those 70s game show brights, I definitely did start thinking along those very lines. I actually liked-earnestly responded well to-all those carefully primped and polished signifiers. But somewhere along the line, a Buddyhead take-down glaring back at me from the other side of one glowing Parade magazine-style profile from the Respected Rock Press too many, I switched 180 degrees. (Oh believe me, I realize the contradiction in claiming a nascent anti-rockism in a kid reading Buddyhead and pre-poptimist Pitchfork and FakeJazz, but hey! I was younger-me! I was impressionable.)
I drop those names because I think that this is all related to this thing on which I am talking at you right now, this Internet. Because, even apart from the issue of illegal downloading, there is a ridiculous amount of noise to sift through, in terms of identity-consumption, now. Even if you still go to movies and shows and buy records, the amount of voices pointing you in virtually limitless directions is so vast as to be deafening. For all the talk of how homogeneous the blogs are and how Pazz & Jop was; even people who are plugged into this stuff can let so much of what they were “supposed to” listen to fall through the cracks.
So. What to do? Well, as this is the internet, you complain. My views on the band Vampire Weekend have followed the following trajectory: pleasant acceptance, violent and self-righteous disdain, cynical musing, and, now, pleasant but somehow also cynical acquiescence. And I don’t even listen to Vampire Weekend. (Though I did use two precious eMusic future-credits on a Vampire Weekend single one month, and got yelled at by a cross-the-hall neighbor for playing it too loud in my second floor walk-up in Glover Park. (WHITEST SENTENCE EVER WRITTEN?)) Because, as Mike Barthel so succinctly pointed out, they have become (have had to become?) masters at gaming this situation. (For much, much more on this particular internet fracas, Nitsuh Abebe’s coverage has been peerless.) Or maybe they’re not doing anything, and we’re the ones doing all the gaming.
The Internet, and the cultural glut brought on by technology totally apart from the Internet, has brought us to a situation-since we could never possibly in a normal human lifetime consume all the things we might find enjoyable-we grab things in snippets and soundbites and half-formed conceptions based on half-read blog posts and yet, it all gets heightened. You like Vampire Weekend? You are a privileged white person who goes on cultural rape cruises! You don’t like Taylor Swift? You are a bad feminist! You do like Taylor Swift? You are a bad feminist!
Ten years later, you may quietly admit to yourself that “Mansard Roof” was a pleasant song or you tear up at the “Love Story” video and think about what might have been.
And you know? There’s nothing really wrong with any of this! If I had a time machine-a time machine that wasn’t very good and could only be used to benefit myself in the most useless and navel-gazing of ways-would I go back and buy Is This It the day it came out on 180 grams of virgin vinyl? No. I would not. I actually wouldn’t trade in being a snotty kid with the world all lined up in neat little boxes for the world. Because then I wouldn’t have the fun of knocking them all down today.
I am listening to Room on Fire for the first time as I type this. And I’m rather enjoying it! I mean, the band’s image is still a little Gawker Stalker for my taste, and I won’t be papering my room in Albert Hammond Jr. clippings any time soon. But this sure has a good beat, and, if I were to stand up into a position where I can’t type, which I will not do, I certainly could dance to it.