Hey, Kids? Fuck You!

Reading Mike Breen’s melancholy story about seeing Perry Farrell’s new band, Satellite Party, I was struck by this bit:

There’s now a perception that the early ’90s “AltRock Revolution” was all dark and gloomy and doomy. But I remember a sense of hope. It was exciting to watch groups that I had seen play to 20 people at a tiny, dark, dank club months earlier suddenly get played on mainstream radio and dissected in the mainstream press. It was a weird feeling, but It felt like “something” was happening. But nothing ever really did. Pearl Jam gave up on their Ticketmaster fight. Kurt blew his head off. Cheesy Pop made a comeback. Mall stores started catering to the “Grunge” crowd. Peace never came, so the cynics just said, “See told you so” and put their headphones back on. The dream was over. Still is. Maybe that’s why hardly anyone was at the show.

But we still need dreamers who don’t think about the end and the bottom line. We need more Perry Farrells. We need more young Perry Farrells. To evolve, we need people who think beyond themselves.

This is, I think, ultimately the problem I have with most rock ‘n’ roll right now. It’s not evolving. The Strokes sounded like a slicker version of the New York Dolls; Interpol sounds like Joy Division; Modest Mouse sounds like the Pixies on Ritalin. (Are you really gonna argue this with me? Really?) And the kids love it. They love pop. They love disposable music. The sheer level of neoteny in rock and roll has reached a fever pitch: bands have a half life of no more than ten minutes before the kids wanna hear something new, new, new. How many new bands have the shelf life of, Christ, even a Pearl Jam these days? Of all of the new indie bands you’re listening to, which ones do you think will put out a fourth album? A fifth? A fifteenth?

I want to make this clear: I’m not waxing nostalgic for the old days. I don’t think that expecting new musicians to push the envelope of what’s been done before is some sort of old timer’s position. Quite the opposite. I’m tired of nostalgia.

Everybody draws on influences, sure; but there is a big difference between being influenced by an artist and doing a bad impersonation of them. A good artist — in any medium — synthesizes their influences, syncretizes them and adds something new and valuable to the mix.

It’s not that this can’t be done. Radiohead did it a decade ago. Bjork’s been doing it for almost twenty years now (more, if you add in her career with the Sugarcubes). The Decemberists are still trying to do it, and so is the Arcade Fire (though I’m not a huge fan of either band, and I’m not sure how well they succeed). I’m most impressed these days with artists who are working in the electronic and “backpack” hip-hop areas: the Klaxons, MIA, Hot Chip, The Roots, Aesop Rock, RJD2, Prefuse ’73…these are artists who are taking a whole lot of different ideas and extending them.

I think where I differ from most music-lovers is in my belief that music serves a purpose being making your booty shake. Popular music, to me, is one of the driving forces of culture. I won’t go so far as to suggest that pop musicians have a responsibility to move culture (or really, to do anything other than make music)…but I will suggest that the amount that an artist attempts to move culture — how seriously they take their position as cultural manufacturers — is directly related to their value as an artist.

That doesn’t mean they have to take themselves seriously — it’s perfectly possible to take your work seriously without taking yourself seriously — nor does it mean that they have to produce heavy, ponderous, meaning-filled works to be of value. (Did the world really need an Operation: Mindcrime 2? Come to think of it, did we need the first one?) Great work can be joyous, both to make and to listen to: “Sweet Jane” comes to mind here, and so does “Mr. Tambourine Man”. (I also think of Soul Coughing songs like “True Dreams Of Wichita” and “Circles”, but then, I’m convinced that Soul Coughing is one of the greatest unrecognized bands of the past two decades.) And it’s possible to make deep songs that fill people with joy. “Fake Plastic Trees”. “Bittersweet Symphony”. Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah”. “Such Great Heights”. These are just a few examples.

But right now, rock is in one of those irritating and embarrassing phases where a band’s image and attitude is worth more to the audience than their actual ability to actually write and/or play. We want arrogant rock stars who spend a lot of money to look casual, who fuck movie stars, who have publicists for their publicists and are more concerned with their marketing plan than with making great music.

Is that what we really want? Do we really want rock stars as models? One of the great things about the aforementioned “AltRock Revolution” was that a lot of the people involved were plain-looking at best (Frank Black, neé Black Francis or Elvis Costello, Michael Stipe) and completely physically bizarre (Farrell, Shane McGowan) at worst. (I’ve seen Perry Ferrell up close, and he’s not exactly a Ford model.) But that wasn’t what was important. What was important was their drive and willingness to create something new.

This is cyclical, and it’s a shame we’re at a low point. But I don’t have much patience with the kids these days, either. They’re either too stupid to realize that they’re being duped into liking pretty, vapid crap by the massive machine of the entertainment industry’s marketing component…or they just don’t care, and just wanna dance. Which makes them vapid themselves.

Ah, well. How much lasting work came out of the disco era? Only the reaction to it. (Unless you’re one of these tired souls who really believes that “Play That Funky Music” is some sort of great art, in which case, you can choke on my dick.) It’s a pity that nobody’s reacting to the dullness of indie rock.

Note: If you’re one of these hideous people who thinks that asking for substance and nuance and meaning from music is some form of passive racism (aka “rockism”), you may also feel free to choke on my dick.

William Gibson Is Freaking Me Out

Seriously. I just finished Spook Country and it’s brilliant, of course…but it’s also really creeping me out, because little bits of it are weirdly mirroring my life over the last year or so.

Random example: whilst in Berlin in December for the CCC, I had this moment where I was sitting in the window of my hotel room, looking down at the nighttime streets, my little German cellphone glowing in the dark, and I realized I was, in that moment, utterly a Gibson character. I was reading Norman Cohn’s In Pursuit Of The Millennium, that night, an obscure 1961 treatise on medieval apocalyptic sects. It’s not a well-known book, and it was fairly hard for me to track down, though I think it’s in print again now. It’s part of my whole thoughtcluster on religion and gnosticism and postmodernism, which would take too long to explain here.

In Spook Country, one of the main characters — a drug-addicted translator who’s been kidnapped and press-ganged into working for a shadowy spy who may nor may not be part of the US government —  keeps having strange dreams and hallucinations, most of which center around the book he’s reading…an unnamed book, published in 1961, about obscure medieval apocalyptic sects, one chapter of which — dedicated to the Brethren of the Free Spirit — is entitled ‘An elite of amoral supermen’.

Guess what the chapter about the Brethen of the Free Spirit in Cohn’s book is called?

A couple of other little things — the notion of using augmented reality coupled with GPS to create art projects, something I discussed with Adam Greenfield way back in the day, and some of the business about ex-intelligence folks — were also really specifically weird.

All coincidence here, of course, and I don’t think otherwise for a moment. But it’s coincidence that’s just obscure enough to be deeply creepy, for a moment or two.

I’ll tell Gibson about it when I talk to him next week. I meant to ask him about this stuff anyway. There’s an entire subculture of people — myself being one of them, Adam being another, Gibson’s friend Bruce Sterling, maybe even you, my dear reader — who are, for all intents and purposes, Gibson characters — global travelers, immersed in the tropes of technology and bleeding-edge culture, deeply postmodern in our lives and in many ways unrecognizable to earlier generations of people. And most of us became that way because in some way or another, consciously or not, we wanted to be Gibson characters — the console jockeys and corporate mercs and razorgirls of Neuromancer and “Johnny Mnemonic”.

Except now, Gibson’s not writing about console jockeys and razorgirls anymore. He’s not even writing about the future anymore. His stories take place in the present, and his protagonists are media consultants and virtual artists and post-rock musicians, and he bases them, so far as I can tell, on real people who are the way they are because of his work.

Which is perhaps the most postmodern thing I can think of.

(Seriously, though, the thing with the Cohn book is just weird, though I suppose it mainly just suggests that Gibson and I are thinking about a lot of the same things.)

The Black Parade (Twitter stylee)

Okay. So this guy Nick Starr posts a series of suicidal posts to Twitter, culminating in this one:

alright this is it. Parked my car. I wish everyone who ever was nice to me well. See you in the next life

This leads a a few people to wonder if he’s actually alive or not, or if Twitter has hosted its first suicide note. A few days later, his friend posts that he’s alive and kicking:

Drew and I just got off the phone with Nick Starr. He is ok and is getting help. He thanks everyone for all their positive well wishes and asks that you will respect his privacy right now as he works through a difficult time.

I’m sorry. His what?

Personally, I’ve dealt with deep and chronic depression my entire life. I’ve done some deeply stupid and embarrassing things because of it. But even at my absolute worst, I’ve never even felt the urge to post my pathetic, failed suicide attempts on fucking Twitter. Christ, at my most miserable, I’ve never posted a “Goodbye, cruel world” blog post — because a) deep down I know better than to off my stupid self, and even if I didn’t, b) I have a little more respect and concern for the people who do care about me than to inform them of my leap into the infinite via a fucking content management system. Suicide notes are bad enough. A suicide post — Christ, what a twat.

And then, when he decides he doesn’t want to get his Hart Crane on after all, this prick asks everyone to respect his privacy? He wants the whole world to read the tragic decay of his crumbling psyche via the deep and meaningful medium of Twitter — which is like crack for the sort of terminally self-obsessed and narcissistic assholes who really think anybody outside their sex partners and their mommies give a shit about their moment-to-moment movements — and then, when he realizes he actually wants to live…now he wants to go through his dark night of the soul with a little privacy and dignity?

Fuck off, boyo. You acted like a prick. It’s okay — it happens, God knows I’ve done it more times than I can count — and I do honestly empathize with anyone going through this particular hell. I have been there, so many times.

But have the goddamn sack to pull out your little futurephone and post a little sumthin’-sumthin’. Maybe “Hey, I’m alright, I was having a fucked up time, I’m sorry I worried everybody. Drinks are on me next time.” Take some responsibility for your actions. I’ve had to make that phone call more than once. “Hey, dude, sorry I turned into Ian Curtis last night. Thanks for talking me down.” It happens if you’re a depressive person. And the people who care about you will understand, provided you show even the slightest concern for their feelings. Don’t leave ’em hanging. (No pun intended.)

(Of course, it might just be that nobody really gives a fuck about this guy. After all, he was pretty much Twittering his whole suicide twitch for at least a couple of hours beforehand. He even mentions a place to do it from. You’d think somebody might have shown up at the bridge with a six pack and a shoulder to cry on. Maybe that’s what actually happened, I dunno.)

More and more, all of these social apps just make me sick to my stomach. There’s too much forced intimacy, and way too much information going around about things that ought to remain private and secret. I don’t want to know these things about the people around me.

And you have my promise, world — no matter how absolutely shitty and hideous the world gets, I will never off myself and inform you of it via the Internet. Scout’s honor.