Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, August 07, 2005


(Edited for specificity. Title added afterwards. [I've often sent emails with the title "a drop of golden sun," because I love getting replies titled as this post is.])

Nice discussion by Jordan yesterday and today (say, that wouldn’t be a bad name for an album) on Indie Rock.

Yesterday’s note begins:

“So, the Battle of Indie Rock comes down to this:

1) Musicianship, and
2) Intensity.

I’m paraphrasing. It actually was stated like so:

‘Mofos can’t sing!’ and ‘Iggy Pop!...’”

I would characterize the contested terrain of Indie musicianship not in terms of poor singing, but in terms of tunelessness and monochromaticism. Tunelessness: Whenever I see Beck on TV, I think, "Cute, charismatic, 'knowing,' cool arrangements, fine band, good dancing, where's the tune?" Monochromaticism: So many times in the last 10 years, I go see a band, first song in I'm digging, 2nd & 3rd are cool, 4th & 5th I'm fading, by song 6, I'm done -- each song is too much like the others! Not true of every band. Mekons struck me exactly this way, and they even had 2 different lead singers!

Monochromaticism could be obviated by killer tunes, but they're hard to come by.

(Sorry to pick on Beck and the Mekons. Beck has had some catchy tunes, and what I've seen on TV maybe has been anomalously un-hooky. Mekons have some nice stuff -- I have no interest in talking anybody out of liking any music.)

Today’s note from Jordan begins, “So, indie, punk as folk.” Yes. Xgau has written about this; I’ve blogged about it too; the “Popularity is uncool” dictum I wrote about as helping kill Kurt Cobain (if you take his word for it, and yes, of course it’s more complex than that -- can’t discount the influence of depression, or of drugs) -- that dictum got birthed, more or less, by that song-thieving gang that worked under the innocuous-sounding pseudonym “Paul Campbell”. The “Paul Campbell” collective, under the “sales” division of its corporation, “The Weavers,” had number one hits. They also got paid a lot of royalties on songs they didn’t write, some of which were written by destitute songwriters who were alive at the time. Ironic, and fitting, that they more or less gave birth to the “Popularity is uncool” banana peel of history. Perfect “populist” snob cover for what they were doing. (I like the Weavers; I love Pete Seeger as a musician and a proser, and for many years he has included things like “Somewhere over the rainbow” in his definition of “folk music,” which opens things up rather hugely and nicely. I also would Not be surprised if “Wimoweh” were the only song they thieved from a living, find-able songwriter, and that they didn’t thieve it purposely, but simply out of habit; in which case, it was a lucky “mistake,” as the song has earned millions of dollars in royalties, of which the original songwriter got maybe a thousand, and only got that because Pete sent it to him when he didn’t even have to. Story linked above. I still hold Pete accountable for inventing anti-pop as marketing. But heck, maybe it goes back to Baudelaire.)

So . . . so . . . ain’t so-so. I note that both Jordan’s indie posts from Yesterday and Today begin with the word “So.” In the lingo of solfege, also known as the lingo of “Do, a deer . . . Re, a drop of golden sun . . . ,” So is the fifth note of the scale, which, when it forms the root of a chord in that key, is called the Dominant. Funny that Jordan should begin two posts on Indie Rock with an allusion to “the Dominant.” (I’m teasing about Jordan making allusions here, but I do have a point.) I recently re-read a piece on Indie Rock that originally appeared in 1994, a report on the Seattle Indie scene that got some big stuff right and a few minor things wrong and evaded or glossed over a whole bunch of other. Written by an Indie-friendly writer, someone who knew and knows a whole bunch of the people as a peer. Really bugged, though, that the writer kept referring to the Indie scene as “the music community.” But it was illuminating. Only Dominant solipsists think their deal is the only deal in town; the only other scene I’ve ever seen refer to itself as “the music community” is the classical scene at its most elitist and ostrich-like. Jazz scenesters talk about “the jazz community,” folkies talk about “the folk community.” Annoying, but telling, that Indie echoes classical in this form of solipsistic cultural Dominance.

(2nd thought: maybe R&B or hip hop people call their scenes “the music community”; maybe C&W people in Nashville do; I don’t know.)
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