R’n’r Confessional: Letter to an Indie Nation

Rock ‘n’ Roll Confessional, Dec 07
Letter to an Indie Nation

Through convenient revisionist history, Bob Dylan lives in our minds just as he was in 1965: skinny, wild haired, hidden behind dark glasses, and smoking; jittery on methamphetamines and singing about morality; criticizing society while trying his best to find his place in it.  At some level, this is the person that we all want to be.   If nothing else, Bob Dylan in 1965 is the prototypical hipster of 2007.
Warts and all.  Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed documentary of Dylan’s ’65 acoustic tour across the U.K., shows us the other side of the coin.  For ninety minutes, Dylan refuses to cooperate with reporters.  He spends a good ten minutes strumming his guitar and playfully haranguing journalist Terry Ellis (future co-founder of Chrysalis Records) while his friends and hangers-on giggle and play piano.  It’s uncomfortable to watch the 24 year-old genius refuse to explain himself to people, particularly after Pennebaker cuts in footage of Dylan two years prior playing a humble voter registration rally in Mississippi from the bed of a pickup truck.  In ’63, Dylan wasn’t cool, not in the same sense as the hipster Dylan of ‘65.  He was just another guy wearing flannel and strumming an acoustic guitar.  Part of what made Dylan seem so cool in ’65 was that he could write these incredibly passionate songs without coming across as a terribly passionate guy himself.  It’s the same reason that everyone hates Bono so much.  Would Dylan have such a lasting mystique had he, say, participated in the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, in March of that year?
Well, probably, but my point is this: why is it cool not to care?  When did it become a desirable character trait to be an elitist?  We like to criticize how the Paris Hilton culture has somehow made it desirable to be a diva (read: I’m a snotty, spoiled brat); how can we turn around and approve a culture that lives on the thin line between elitism and literal obscurity?  Who really wins here?  Other than, you know, David Fricke and Chuck Klosterman?
My job here at ANTIGRAVITY is very interesting to me.  Generally speaking, I hate the way that the indie world works, the fact that mediocre bands can be picked up by some minor news source and blown way out of proportion.  In their earnestness to find the Next Beatles, the mainstream British press does this all of the time.  But in America, we do it in a perpetual game of one-upmanship that places more value on a group’s ability to further an image than anything else.  I hate the way that music has become fashion, the fact that we (me included, me included, me included) select which bands we like for the same reasons we pick out a pair of shoes.  I think this makes us more evil than the Brits; at least in their vanity they’re trying to get back to the proverbial garden.  We’re just trying to look good.
We critics are all constantly digging, trying to find something obscure yet relatable, and once we’ve told you about it, we make sure to bring it up in conversation.  Look how many band names I’ve unnecessarily dropped over the past few moths.  Then, three months later, you’re left asking yourself why in the hell you ever bought that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!/Sound Team/Beirut/Cold War Kids record.  And I like the Cold War Kids, but that’s just my point.  Everyone crapped on them at a moment’s notice because, hey, they didn’t live up to the hype.  And they don’t deserve that; they’re a decent band.  You can fill in the blanks there with a hundred other groups.  Does anyone truly care about what the Fiery Furnaces are up to?  Does Animal Collective actually have any fans?  We claim to be a counterculture but we’re trendier than slap bracelets, baby.
At the same time, though, I love what I do.  I love to listen to music and to think about music and to tell my friends why they’re wrong when they say that “Like a Rolling Stone” is a better rock ‘n’ roll song than “Born to Run.”  Sitting around and thinking about rock ‘n’ roll is something that I’ve done since I was able to think.  And you know what?  I know that there are people who genuinely love the Fiery Furnaces, and I love those people. They were the people at the Arcade Fire show a few years ago who were jumping up and down in the front row, screaming all the words back at Win Butler.  They were the people who not only showed up when the bassist from the Smiths did a DJ set at Twiropa but actually danced to the crap that he spun.  They gave Neko Case custom-printed t-shirts on Halloween; they giggled relentlessly at Modest Mouse.  True fandom is simultaneously the coolest and the most uncool place to be.
I don’t know, maybe you’re not like this.  Maybe it’s only me who thinks his taste entitles him to – something.  But, somehow, I doubt it.  I know I’ve said it before; hell, I’ve been trying to convince myself of all of this for two or three years now.  But it’s hard.  It’s hard to remember that you don’t have to like anything – not even Bob Dylan.  And really, once you’ve seen King Bob dodge honest questions from normal people for an hour and a half, the whole thing starts to unravel.
So that’s it.  That’s the end of the tape.  I’m through being cool.

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