Robert Lund - Man About Town
Clueless Media anti-hype: "Rock Is Dead"
New York Waste, Oct., 2003
I've been getting a sick feeling all too often lately in reaction to some of the things I've read in the NY Press. For instance, in the 9/17 issue, 34-year-old Jeff Koyen (the fucking Editor-in-Chief!) writes about seeing "once-respected band" Mudhoney in Portland OR, bemoaning the experience. Then regarding a show by Guided by Voices at Irving Plaza, he says, "Granted, lead singer Bob Pollard has long been too old to be playing in a rock 'n' roll band; he'd admit it himself." and on from there. He concludes his piece by stating that "rock 'n' roll has finally been wiped off the face of the Earth, leaving only lame and invalid nostalgists behind." Poor Jeff seems to make inappropriate choices of shows to attend, has some cutoff age in his mind for players in rock bands; and makes his sweeping claim as though there were no reality outside of the one he's unfortunately living. Plenty of [possibly uninformed] people pick up the NY Press to see what's happening in the music scene, and while I doubt anyone would simply accept Jeff's stated demise of rock as fact, repetition of such negativity has some likely effect on the collective unconscious, feeding similar loser mindstates.
Again, in this week's "Best Of" Issue, we find under 'Best Reason to Get Over Rock-Star Worship' the film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (about the band Wilco). The writer begins with: "Put down that guitar, asshole. Most of us know that rock's been dead for a long time now, but this documentary should've proven it to everyone else." No author credit on these bits, but I recognize a theme. Here the death isn't reported, merely referred to as a long-known fact.
I've run into plenty of guys with this sad attitude around bars. They're not having fun like they used to (if ever), and rather than look into themselves for a reason, create (and believe in, and promote) an artistic apocalypse around them to explain it. You've heard someone say "Aw, there's nothing cool going on anymore." With the in-person losers, I just shake my head (as imperceptibly as possible) and try to steer clear of them. But in spite of the relaxed journalistic standards expected in reviewing music, you'd hope that someone at the head of a prominent newspaper might recognize the irresponsibility of making such a sweeping negative claim based on such a limited sample. The fact is that there is a thriving, very-much-alive rock-n-roll scene in NYC (beyond the scope of Koyen), with many exciting quality bands rocking audiences with tunes influenced by the legacy of the past 4-5 decades of rock music. Kinda puts poor, poor, pitiful Jeff's claims in the realm of "It's clear there are no WMDs in this nation, as I have not seen any on my limited travels in the countryside." For shame.
What got me started on this issue was a piece in last week's NY Press (9/17) by the ever-unconsolable J R Taylor. After two columns of cynical remarks prompted by Lech Kowalsky's "Hey Is Dee Dee Home" documentary, he closes his article with:
"I walk over to watch about 15 desperate rock acts performing at a 9/11 fundraiser over at CBGB. Man, what a tragedy."
(nice, just-un-PC-enough word play, "9/11 Tragedy", get it?). Taylor's columns usually have a fairly jaded, cynical streak running through them (like those of many critics). But with his glib use of the "desperate" label, he really surpassed himself. I know some "desperate" bands - but on this of all nights the term had no place. Rock reviewers sometimes really need to pay more a-fuckin-tention to what's actually going on.
The 9/11 Rock-n-Roll Memorial at CBGBs was a benefit for the widows of firefighters slain on 9/11/01. Fifty bands volunteered to play a short set on one of three stages in the CBs complex. The energy at this show was positive, determined, at once celebrating that we're still alive and rockin while remembering those who were lost two years ago. The tragedy of 9/11 was brought home by the memory of firefighter and Bullys member Johnny Heff, especially seeing today's Bullys play. Normally it's hardly worth the effort for a band to play a single 15-minute set (tightly regulated by Iron-Hand Frank). But bands were honored and happy to be a part of the event. And when a band has just 15 minutes on stage, they waste no time getting up to speed, and deliver a concentrated set.
I was DJ'ing in the main CBs room, so I didn't get a chance to check out any acts in the other two. While "50 bands on 3 stages" sounds exciting, many folks who'd paid the full $25 3-room admission found it difficult to catch acts on different stages, due to last-minute schedule rearrangements and the short (5 minutes or less) time between bands. You don't want me to list every band I saw, but the main room lineup included The Cyclones, Pretty Suicide, Wounded, Charm School, The Bullys, Banana Fish Zero, Dirty Lenin, Slunt, and many more. In the end, attendance was a bit lower than expected, and expenses were a bit higher than expected, and a few lessons were learned. But overall, a lot of people had a hell of a good time while reaffirming the continuing life and power of rock-n-roll.
And some rock critic comes by and dismisses the bands as "desperate" - Now THAT'S a tragedy!