I couldn’t find the official video for “Outsiders,” if there is such a thing, but this was my favorite Franz Ferdinand song for years. I’d never seen the video before.
Orange Juice! I never get sick of this song.
I love the craziness of early music videos. With a lot of them, I get the sense that the people involved had some kind of brainstorming session, then decided that, since there are no bad ideas in brainstorming, they would go ahead and put every single one in the video.
This video supports my theory. The band starts off in some kind of rejected set from the original Star Trek. They change their clothes four times, and one of those four times involves scuba gear.
Every time I hear a musician complain about the huge percentage of modern music created using only three chords, they expect it to elicit shock. Only three chords! Our modern music is such a travesty! Gone are the days of true talent! Something something Mozart mumble mumble time signatures.
I would like to submit that this is, actually, fucking amazing.
Or maybe it’s flurbing amazing. Now that I have a toddler with a knack for expanding her vocabulary, “fuck” is “flurb” and “shit” is “snap,” even when it doesn’t make sense, as in “Modern music is a steaming pile of snap.”
Look at how many songs use only three chords, and probably also have snare drum on two and four with eighth-notes on the high hat. Look at how many things musicians can express using even that small number of tools.
Four colors of CMYK ink can generate thousands of colors that create thousands of images. Twenty-six characters create the whole English language of thousands of words and thousands of works. Three chords with a snare on two and four isn’t on that same level, but it still amazes me.
Constraint is an artistic tool, but we’re only supposed to see the results as legitimate in certain cases, by certain artists who have been validated and are intentionally slicing away options in an ascetic prison of their own work. And yes, it’s awesome when rock bands use weird time signatures. And yes, all artists who love their craft should work to improve it.
But maybe “I’m a pissed-off punk, and no one told me how to play this guitar so I’m figuring snap out myself” is only another form of constraint, just without the self-awareness. Maybe you’re only allowed to use constraint as an artistic tool if you say things like “Constraint is an artistic tool.”
I believe everything I wrote above, and yet I would also append “in theory” to much of it. Even after years of chilling the fuck out, I hate the music I hate. Let me get a few things out:
Nirvana grates on me, as does anything much influenced by Nirvana.
I think the Beatles are overrated, and I don’t care if The Jam stole their bass line because “Town Called Malice” is an awesome song, and I think that U2 is a watered-down version of better bands from the same time and place.
I continually forget that people actually listen to Top 40 pop music, and that’s how it became the Top 40 in the first place.
Because you can rely on an event DJ to have no other good music besides David Bowie, the part of my own wedding I anticipated the most was picking the music. I can admit that along with a love of music was a petty desire to exact revenge upon those who had musically wronged me at weddings and other events in the past with all their YMCAs and their cotton-eyed joes and various 1:20 dilutions of misogynistic hip hop with the aforementioned Top 40.
The original title of this post was “Thoughts on music from a recovering pretentious snob,” and I went on so many tangents as I tried to write it that I had to split it into two separate documents, one entirely about hating country music in New England.*
One hit wonders usually aren’t. There’s this attitude that the band made one song and then fell off the face of the earth**, or that they made one song, and it alone rose above the festering trash heap of the rest of their work. What it actually means is that one song fit mainstream taste, not that the rest of the band’s work isn’t solid or true to their artistic vision, and possibly not even that the band sold out.
Everyone knows A-ha’s “Take on Me,” but they have an even more amazing song called “The Sun Always Shines on TV.” Everyone knows Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” and it came from their album After the Snow, a chill post-punk landscape that gives rise to the new wave pop of “I Melt With You.”
I think it’s totally legit for taste in music to be a deal-breaker in a romantic relationship. Not because I’m a recovering judgmental music snob, but because music is about emotional connection.
Like, if I’m being hit in my emotional punching bag with nihilistic shit about dying 1000 times and disconnection and meaninglessness, am I compatible with your emotional hit of fighting the man and protesting corporate bullshit and corrupt politicians? Or of meeting someone in a library but they dump you because they’re having an affair with the grocery store clerk? Or driving a tractor because you’re a guy whose girl left him?
I had a high school boyfriend who, when he dumped me, said that we didn’t communicate well. I didn’t understand that at all; I thought we’d had a ton of great conversations. We both loved epic fantasy novels! We had The Belgariad! He said he meant that, on a soul level, we did not communicate well. And that sounded like such wishy washy bullshit, but whatever, we were broken up and I was seventeen, so I went and wrote some angsty poetry and posted that shit on my Deadjournal.
While I didn’t understand what he meant about soul-level communication until I started dating my current partner, I did understand that he didn’t like The Durutti Column. I played him Otis, and he thought it was ugly and weird–I thought it was beautiful.
And that was the only way I had to understand that we didn’t have soul level communication.
That’s why, in the end, it’s not about someone on the outside dictating how many chords it takes to make a song that Mozart would give a fatherly pat on the shoulder. The question isn’t “How many chords does it take to play a worthy song?” It’s “How many chords does it take to express something true?”
Don’t ask me–I’m a percussionist.
*Coming soon. Y’all?
**If you’re a flat earther, is this a concern you might have? Does it provoke anxiety in the same way boarding an airplane or hearing about someone else’s stomach virus does for me?
Back in 2001, my uncle gave me an early mp3 player that came with his computer. It held four songs, although I eventually upgraded it to ten or twelve. Even now, I would be fine with a device that could only store a handful of songs because I tend to listen to the same song on obsessive, brain-numbing repeat for forty-five minutes at a time.
Today, this is that song.
I’m obsessed with this version of “I Told You So,” and how bleak and inexorable it is.
It’s re-sparked my high school-era obsession with New Order, although without the fixation on minutiae like the fact that the version of “Sub-culture” on Low-life has a hyphen, while the one on Substance doesn’t.
A few years ago, I picked up Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk on the used book shelf at the grocery store. We put it on our cinder block bookshelf next to our Star Wars books and our giant thesaurus, and whatever other books we have on display in our living room that we think make us look cool, but actually do the opposite.
For years, music books were among the few types of nonfiction that could hold my attention through a few hundred pages. One day, I picked up Please Kill Me on a whim and read a few pages. I remained hypnotized in its pages until I finished it.
There’s less about the music itself than I would like, and the focus is on a fairly small number of bands. Plenty of TMI moments as well. However, it stitches together direct quotes so seamlessly that sometimes it doesn’t feel like reading separate voices. And despite the overwhelming number of people whom I’d probably hate if I met them in real life, it really conveys the living community of the New York punk scene, and it makes me want to be there. It reminds me of how important community is.
I wanted to share this quote from Legs McNeil, one of the authors of Please Kill Me (from page 334):
“Overnight, punk had become as stupid as everything else. This wonderful vital force that was articulated by the music was really about corrupting every form—it was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do, but make life up for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage.”
At its best, punk wasn’t about studied coolness or meticulous safety-pinning. It was about doing shit. Kicking down doors. It was refusing to be stopped by roadblocks on the obvious path in front of you, roadblocks that say “you can’t go here,” and taking that DIY spirit and making your own road out of salvaged bricks and broken glass and a found bucket of tar*.
That quote reminds me to make my own damn artwork to hang in my apartment rather than to buy manufactured art from Target or someplace, and to make that artwork out of subjects and materials I like rather than worry about getting things a certain way. It’s better to do something creative and true than it is to make the place you live a poor copy of something in a magazine.
It reminds me of why I’m going to help make a new wooden table top for what used to be a glass deck table but, thanks to an incident** that qualifies as “embarrassing, awful, and stupid,” is currently just an empty frame sitting on a sad deck.
It reminds me to write the things that I write, and that the things I write usually have to start out as a mess.
It reminds me to experiment and do things and learn, because so, so many people do not do things, only consume them. It reminds me that the biggest difference between many of my bad days and my good ones is that I did real things on the good ones. I made life up for myself.
*You can tell I know a lot about making roads.
**We didn’t buy a base for our umbrella because we didn’t like any that the store had. We knew we needed to get one, but the umbrella didn’t blow away, which sort of caused an idea to creep into our heads—an idea that maybe we didn’t need a base after all. Sometimes, we left the umbrella open, though we knew not do this. But again, nothing tragic happened, and another idea crept into our heads—an idea that it’s probably not the end of the world if we leave the umbrella open sometimes. One day, we came home to find that our umbrella had nearly blown off the deck in a big gust of wind, and a pile of tempered glass pebbles sat underneath what used to be our table top. And we knew better.