God, I love that band

First, an update: Van Halen tour, possibly not off. The postponement is “not due to any internal strife among band members.” Sure.

Also, Billy Corgan’s manager on the reason why he’s not bringing James and D’Arcy back into the mix: “For the sake of a younger generation that he wants to turn on to the band’s music, he is doing it with a band that will more faithfully recreate the old songs than ever before.” Hear that? Corgan – by proxy – just said that James and D’Arcy has fallen off. Rock Beef 2007!

Anyway, I just finished the 2006 version of DaCapo’s Best Music Writing anthology. Year after year, DaCapo collects some of the most insightful, funny, and thought-provoking pieces written about music – sometimes only tangentially. Most of the pieces are more than just critical analyses of music, in that they try to say something about how music affects a particular worldview. Elizabeth Mendez Berry’s piece on domestic violence in rap and John Jeremiah Sullivan’s surprisingly thoughtful travelogue about the Christian Rock festival called Creation, in particular.

The selection that really hit me was J. Edward Keyes’ reporting on a Bloc Party show in 2005 (unfortunately, it’s not available online). The piece’s focal point is the hype that Bloc Party are set to be “the next Franz Ferdinand” (I always thought they were supposed to be the next Gang of Four, but no matter) before delving into the twin devils of mystique and hype, and the unrealistic notions of both. While Keyes might not come up with any earth-shattering conclusions, the impact comes from the way he presents his findings, letting his reporting speak for itself and avoiding any pop-psych journo speak.

At one point Keyes is speaking with a couple indie music snobs who have this to say on whether Bloc Party will indeed become the next FF:

“As long as they stay under the radar, I’ll keep listening to them,” he says. “But if they become mainstream, I’m probably going to stop.”

I’ve been a full-time music lover since, roughly, junior high, and a part-time music snob since probably college, but this is one of the most asinine statements ever made, right up there with “I’m only staying for one drink.”

People who really love music (and this guy isn’t one of them but more on that in a bit) sometimes say things like this. Not exactly this, but like this. It’s because they worry that success will spoil Rock Hunter, and the things they love about a band will change. Maybe chasing mainstream success will cause an artist to change his or her sound so much that they’ll no longer be the band you love (we’ll call this The Liz Phair Rule). Or they’ll record new material that makes it harder and harder to convince people that they were once relevant (we’ll call this The Rod Stewart Rule).

But nowadays – and I realize what an old man that phrase makes me sound like – there’s an increasingly large segment of the music-consuming population that’s reduced music to a trend, to fashion, which is why it’s more common now to see a band become wildly hyped, then torn down, often before they’ve even released a full-length (Tapes ‘n’ Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Arctic Monkeys to name a few). Other symptoms of this phenomenon include indie rock songs in commercials, girls who wear baby tees emblazoned with the names of bands whose albums they don’t own, and dudes who claim to be huge fans of a band, five minutes before they hit the exits and ten minutes before said band hits the stage.

And that brings us back to the Bloc Party fan.

I don’t worry about my favorite bands becoming mainstream or overly popular. I worry about jagoffs like this guy taking up residence in my favorite rock clubs. For this cat, being a “Bloc Party fan” is about knowing something other people don’t, not about enjoying the music. And that’s why he’s not saying he’s worried that if the band becomes mainstream, they might fall victim to The Liz Phair Rule or The Rod Stewart Rule. It’s not a qualitative decision. He’s saying he only likes the band because of what it says about him.

People who make comments like this always try to make it sound as if they’re very high-minded, as if their criticism stems from the band abandoning its initial ethos. So it’s important to remember that in these instances, it’s more about the person making the comment, than the band about whom they’re commenting.

Because what does it matter if you’re the first to know about something that’s wonderful, if you can’t appreciate the wonderfulness of it?

1 comment for “God, I love that band

  1. March 5, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    For the record, I HAVE been able to stay for just one drink,

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