Thursday, August 20, 2009

Keys to Indie Rock Geekery

If Lucia is going to partake in the same indie rock geekery (or snobbery) that dominates her father's life, she will need to follow some basic principles. Here is a list of keys to that geekery. If Lucia follows this advice, she too will know the joy that is indie rock.

1. Pavement, Bob Dylan, The Clash, or Sonic Youth are all acceptable bands on which to base your music collection. Really, these are the only ones. To stray too far beyond this list will adversely affect any music collection. You can like all kinds of bands, but your collection should be based on or somehow linked to these four acts. Other acceptable and like-minded acts are The Rolling Stones, Guided By Voices, The Replacements, and Pixies.

2. Vinyl is better, but be sure to have it all in digital format as well. Sadly, there will likely be very little vinyl available for Lucia as she gets older. Luckily, she has her old man's collection to raid. Vinyl has a softer sound that leaves room for all the bits and pieces (not to mention crackles and pops) not found on digital recordings. Of course, we are nomadic creatures and turntables don't travel well. So, there is certainly room for an iPod loaded with 10K+ songs.

3. A mixed tape/CD/playlist is your calling card. Well, cassette tapes aren't really utilized anymore. Hell, almost no one burns CD's anymore. The playlist one makes tells the recipient everything about you. So, choose wisely, sequence carefully, and always find a way to include a Beat Happening track.

4. Never go to a show wearing that band's t-shirt. This is more of a faux pas, but it's an important principle to remember. If you are at a Spoon show, everybody else there is a Spoon fan to some degree. A Spoon t-shirt at such an event would be redundant. Instead, wear a Radio Birdman or vintage Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt to show the route you took to Spoon or to show that you like even cooler bands.

5. Record labels do matter. I don't care what anyone else says or that major labels have squandered their social capital. It does matter that Arcade Fire is on Merge and that Okkervil River are on Jagjaguar. A label tells you about a band's ethics and commitment to independence. A label's roster can lead you to other bands of similar quality.

6. A band's best work is behind them at about album four or five. I am not going to tell you that a band's best record is their first. One does not have to look past bands like Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and The Flaming Lips to know that that is not true. Also, I won't tell you that a band's second album (the sophomore slump) is their worst. Weezer, The Shins, and Yo La Tengo disprove that theory. However, you should be aware that by the time a band records albums four and five, much of their edge is lost. Sure, some bands produce great work beyond the fifth album, but more of their releases after #5 or terrible than good. Take Wilco for example. Album four was Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. Classic. After that was A Ghost Is Born. I feel a downward trend about to happen. What happens next? A live album is followed by a record for Volkswagen and so on. It's the same story for most bands. Pavement's fifth album was also their last. They knew when to quit.

7. If you hate the album in the first two songs, the rest won't change your mind. Albums should be great by track four to have a shot at being a part of your rotation. Musicians should try to impress in the front end of an album. If the first two tracks are unbearable, the rest, no matter how good, won't make you forget that first impressions. Conversely, an album cannot be great if it isn't a third or fourth of the way through. I often judge an album in those first four tracks and I'm rarely wrong about what's left.

8. Make lots of top-5 and top-10 lists. Growing up, many people your dad's age and older learned to love music through radio countdowns and eventually end-of-year lists in magazines. This is how we indie geeks communicate our tastes. A top-5 list can show complexity and depth as well as superior listening ability. For example, my top-5 shows of all time are - in order from fifth to first - Arcade Fire in KC circa 2007, Archers of Loaf/Helium/Earwig at Stache's in 1995, Modest Mouse/764-HERO at Sudsy Malone's in 1997, Pavement/Dirty Three/Come at the Agora Ballroom in 1995, and The Flaming Lips (f/"Motor Away" as performed by Bob Pollard) in 1995.

9. Claim a favorite band by 20. This is similar to the idea that you should pick your favorite football team by age 8. There's no bandwagon jumping and you'll earn the respect of others as you stick with your team/band through thick and thin. Plus, once a band breaks up, you can reminisce how great they once were.

10. Whenever you find a band that you really love, accept that there was a band before them that did it better. You will inevitably run into that guy at a party who has to tell you how much better The Fall were than Pavement could have ever dreamed. That's OK, because Can and The Velvet Underground came before The Fall. The important thing here is that you acknowledge the obvious influences but add that your band took the form to new heights. "Pavement certainly sounded like The Fall, but they did it without any reputable drummers and added things like Moogs and Nasty's screams for a more dramatic sound."

Those are my ten. What are some things that you feel is important for indie (or any kind of) music geekery?


Telebastard said...

I agree with everything except the first point. I'm sure you are being a little hyperbolic saying those are the only bands to base your music collection on, but those are definitely some good ones regardless.

Do you ever worry that she's going to turn 13 and start liking music you absolutely despise? My dad was one of the most prolific influences on my musical taste, and every year that I get older, I wish he was around to share it with me. He did sound for lots of bands in the 70's-80's, and so I got dragged around to a lot of concerts and got a big head start wrapping cables and loading up gear. The thing is, when I was an adolescent (as per biologically defined criteria), I rebelled against my upbringing of steady Beatles, Kinks, Pink Floyd, Iggy Pop, etc. I was -big surprise- an angsty middle schooler and I fell victim to the awful dickhead music that angsty middle schoolers always do. I remember when my dad found a certain dubbed tape copy of an album that I'm too embarrassed to name and when he listened to it, I know it broke his heart. He died during this phase in my life, and so he never got to appreciate how much that I appreciated his gentle influence. 12 years later, I wish the old man was around so that he could see that not only do I really have a lot more in common with him than either of us thought, but I'm also a musician playing music he could probably appreciate. I hope this never ever happens to you or Lucia. Keep your cardiovascular system in check and you two will be sharing a beer and gushing about great music together 20 some-odd years down the line. But also realize that a time will come when you will look at her and say "Holy shit, my kid doesn't understand how awful the music she is suddenly into is". Also know that it will pass, and you can both have a good laugh about it years later. I sure wish that I could say the same for me.


An unrelated note: Dude, please try to make arrangements to come see the Yards & Gods bonanza at Eastside Tavern on the 3rd of October. We'd love to see you there, and it should be a fairly complete lineup unless someone from some band gets stuck by lightening. I'LL SUCK YO DICK

comoprozac said...

Thank you, Telebastard. I have considered that Lucia will like the most horrendous music, but isn't that part of rock 'n roll? Aren't we supposed to rebel? All I can do is pump good tunes into her brain as long as she will allow me. Then she'll go off to middle school and break my heart as well. My hope is that she will start to expose me to great music about the same time I grow too old to find it for myself.

I'm sure that in the end, your dad knew that you were rebelling as is our god-given right. I'm also sure that he knew you would snap out of it.

As for the showcase, I'll start working on R to let me slip out of the house. No dick-sucking necessary.

Jerry and Dena said...

I thank all 3 of my kids for introducing me to some great music from middle school on. My favorites have been burned onto many mixed cds, which I would rather listen to than the radio anytime!

Kate said...

I just hope Lucia can find a band as equally as brilliant as the Jonas Bros. to obsess over when she's 12. I'll admit, though, it's going to be interesting to see what she clings to when she really starts having musical tastes and interests...and I can't imagine her growing up in this family and not having those interests.

That being said...I think it was Rule 6 where you said Pavement knew when to quit? Wrong...they should have quit after album 4. Yes there are good songs on Album 5 (Carrot Rope, Anne Don't Cry) but I can't tell you when the last time was that I listened to that album as a whole or haven't skipped over those songs on my Ipod...and I LOVE Pavement so it pains me to admit I kind of loathe one of their albums.

Telebastard said...

OOo Kate we will all have to learn to agree to disagree. It's not the best album in the fleet, but Terror Twilight has a lot to like (more than just a couple of songs anyway).