Wednesday, October 25

deep down, everybody just wants to be indie as fuck

So I'm driving home from Boulder at midnight, looking for something to hate on AM radio. As usual, it's not hard to find. This time it's the local news station guy with a late-night talk radio show. You know the one. There are probably half a dozen of his clones in any sizable market.

So local news station guy is in the let's-go-to-the-phones phase of a rap music is not real music segment. (Again, you know the one, because I swear this is one of the Six Proven Fearless Cultural Critic Moves they teach these guys every year at some special secret convention.) And so they go to the phones, to an individual we'll call Jim in Greeley. Jim doesn't like rap music. In fact, Jim wants us to know that the production of rap music is in no way a creative act. For Jim, it is clear, the people who make rap music are like Sauron: unable to create new life, they are capable only of perverting true art into a twisted mockery of its former self.

Jim in Greeley is culturally retarded, and I've heard most of his blithering before. I grew up in Nebraska, after all. What comes next, however, surprises me: Jim starts referencing, as the salvation of music, a bunch of bands that, until recently, would have been classed as indie rock in the you probably haven't heard of this sense. Is this a put-on? Not as far as I can tell. He also mentions Jet, and gets most of the other names at least partially wrong.

Now, I love me some indie rock, but Jim's faith in the ability of that Death Cab band and their cohorts to lead us out of the dark ages of hip-hop is somewhere between a touch dim and utterly cretinous. If music is actually a bloody war for mindshare between numbingly broad meta-genres, then bands made up of white guys playing instruments are doomed.

(To his sort-of credit, after perfunctorily agreeing with Jim's rap-is-worthless bit, local news station guy goes off for a while about how we're not living in the dark ages, we're just living in a time when people can express their musical preferences more fully: There's a bigger, more diverse market, and lots of new distribution technology. Ok, so news station guy is smarter than the audience he's baiting. No one is surprised. I switch the radio off.)

Today, I'm still not quite sure what to make of Jim in Greeley. I doubt there's anything that profound going on with the indie rock thing (other than the observations you could make about the mainstreaming of anything), but it has gotten me thinking about the mindset. In the real world, and despite the worst that the overlords of broadcasting and retail can do, music is not a Hobbesian war of all against all. Nor will blood start leaking out your ears if you manage to encompass an appreciation of both OutKast and Aerosmith, or Sage Francis and Doc Watson, or 50 Cent and the Indigo Girls — whatever. So what is going on with the substantial population of predominantly white males in the mid-20s to 30s age range who are actually angered by the idea that rhyming over samples/beats might be a creative act?

Is it just aesthetic tribalism? Or a proxy for simple racism which is squelched in most areas of expression? This seems like the easiest guess, in a way, but it's almost too facile to be the whole picture. So hip-hop is dominated by black and brown people, sure, but so is (was?) roots reggae. You don't hear these guys railing about how Bob Marley represents a yawning cultural void, or at least I don't think you do.

Probably I'm just complicating things, when what's actually going on is that people are just mired in their established preferences and interpreting them as moral imperatives.