My name is Principal Strickland. Marty is shredding "Johnny B. Goode" with Marvin Berry and the Starlighters. I have a pained, confused look on my face and my hands are protectively covering my ears. "I guess you guys aren't quite ready for that," Marty says. "But your kids are gonna love it."
I feel that way when I listen to the radio. Or when I pick up a music magazine. Or when I look at the show listings for the clubs I used to frequent. Who in the hell are these bands? Who signed them? Who actually likes them? Does anybody actually buy the records of these super-hyped, esoteric "next big things?" Or is their obscure fame simply a product of the music biz hype machine constantly selling the cognoscenti the concept of the esoteric "next big thing?" In other words, if nobody knows a real, human Arctic Monkeys fan, then is the band still as good as Rolling Stone says?
This is not a tirade about the music industry or the music press, about their penchant for signing and promoting bands that appeal to the lowest, simplest common denominator or about how the industry takes exciting young bands and whitewashes them into a commercial, publicly acceptable commodity, then judges their success by how neatly they fit into a "drive-time" play list. Believe me, I have endless opinions about that. No, this is about how completely clueless I am when it comes to new music.
A little background: I probably saw 300-400 shows between the ages of 17 and 28. I went everywhere, all the time. Black Cat on Tuesday, 9:30 Club on Thursday, Hammerjack's or the 8x10 in B-more on Friday, Velvet Lounge on Saturday. I saw pretty much every band I've ever wanted to see except The Clash, Husker Du and Minor Threat (although I've seen The Mescaleros, Sugar and Fugazi). I saw shitty bands in arenas and amazing bands playing for 30 people; over-hyped, under-hyped, no-hyped bands; bands I'd never heard of then nor has anyone since; bands that hadn't made it yet, bands that were past their time and everything in between. I've been in more pits than a grave digger. My best friend in college, Robin, worked at the old Waxie Maxie Records in
Flash forward to last week- I was in a Barnes & Noble, perusing the periodicals, and picked up a copy of Alternative Press for the first time in years. I used to read that rag with some frequency, and I remember it (could this possibly be true?) being filled with articles about bands I liked, regularly highlighting new bands I actually wanted to check out. The issue I looked at last week featured the annual "100 Bands You Need To Know" article. Each profile gave some background on the "need to know" band, and also listed three bands "Who They Sound Like." That's where I knew I was more out of touch with reality than I ever dreamed: not only had I never heard of, I think, 90-95 of the "Need to Know Bands," but I also hadn't heard of probably 290-295 of the "Sounds Like" bands. Not only am I clueless about this generation of music, but apparently I missed the last generation as well. I figured I'd see "sounds like Nirvana" or "sounds like Social Distortion" or God forbid, "sounds like The Smiths meets Candlebox fronted by Edie Brickell." Something, anything I'd recognize. Instead, everything "sounds like Morbid Angel meets Dog Fashion Disco meets Sigur Ros."
Basically, the whole article was as incomprehensible to me as Curt Schilling talking about Everquest. And I wondered...does anyone know who these bands are? Then I saw a kid a few feet away from me looking at a video game magazine. He had checkered Vans, tight black jeans, a black hoodie sporting a safety-pinned Good Charlotte back patch, a bunch of piercings and streaky, asymmetrical hair that reminded me of Lux Interior, but was probably modeled after some guy in Avenged Sevenfold. He was probably 16 or 17 years old. That's who knows the 100 bands you need to know; it's that kid, and all the kids like him. The ones my wife yells at for having no "pit etiquette." You know, the kid I used to be. And even though I think Good Charlotte, and probably the rest of the bands he likes, suck, well, for a minute I was still a little jealous.
I also get the weekly email blasts from most of the live music venues in DC and Baltimore. I should just unsubscribe because it's like getting a reminder every week that says, "You are old. You are no fun anymore. You are a square and this whole list might as well be in ancient Greek. Even if you see the name of a band you recognize, don't buy tickets and show up because all the kids will laugh at you. They'll say, 'look at that old guy with the Bad Religion t-shirt...God, how old is that shirt? Is it from the '90's?'"
Needless to say, finding the name of a band I recognize who actually still plays live gets increasingly harder each week. Sometimes what happens is this: I see that a band I like is coming to town, but not in a forum in which I can enjoy them. "Oh, sweet- Flogging Molly and the Street Dogs are coming March 10! Oh shit, it's at something called 'The Mid-Atlantic Shamrock Fest,' an all day parking lot festival. No thanks. Can't leave the kids that long. Don't want to deal with a crowd that big." The other problem is that most of the geezer punk bands we like rarely play clubs anymore. They all go on the Warped Tour (don't even get me started...). I guess it's easier playing 30 minutes a day for hundreds of thousands of kids over the summer than it is playing for 500 every night for an hour. Not to mention the fact that each Warped Tour features about 40-50 bands, and we might be familiar with three or four. It's like a national holiday in our house when somebody we like is actually playing the or the Black Cat. It seems like that only happens about four times a year now.
Then again, maybe it's all for the best. Come to think of it, maybe it's meant to be. Maybe pop culture, in this case the music business, is designed for people without kids, without major time constraints, without busy lives. Maybe it's designed to be outgrown. If I knew as much about music today as I did in college then I might be pretty pissed if I missed a sold-out Arcade Fire gig. If I had half a clue what the hell was going on, I'd probably spend a lot of time pissed off that I couldn’t go see Band XYZ. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Tricky thing, that music business.
They say there's nothing sadder in life than a parent outliving a child. A few degrees less sad than that, I think, is a fan outliving their favorite band. Finding out that a band you grew up listening to is no longer together, one who was there in your formative years and well into your formed years, well, that has a really brutal way of making you feel older than you really are. Every time a Bosstones or a Face to Face breaks up, every time a Joey Ramone or a Joe Strummer dies, my youth puts another foot in the grave. Soon, there will be no concerts left to see, no CDs left to buy (if CDs even still exist), unless Bad Religion and Pennywise turn out to be my generation's version of the Stones and The Who. I really hope they don't, though, because there's also something very sad about that. Some people never learn how to grow old gracefully, with dignity. Those are the guys in the Red Room at the Black Cat wearing the Minutemen "Double Nickels '84 Tour" shirts who still think it's 1984, who still think they're 21 and angry. It's a hard lesson to learn, but eventually, begrudgingly, you replace "C-ya in the pit!" with your new motto, "C-ya at the playgroup!" When my kids are 15, I can't imagine the music they're going to love, but I'm pretty sure I won't be quite ready for it.