Okay, Brendan Kelly (me) and the Wandering Birds (some other dudes who also have great schlongs [but not quite on the level of my awesome schlong]) have our first show ever this Saturday at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago. You can go here to get tickets. Don’t be a pussy.
Before I begin today, I’m gonna try to spell my intentions out here overtly. I am only looking for attention in the same way I do every day, in that I put things out for public consumption, be they small movies, dumb songs or ranty blog post/article type things. I’m not looking to capitalize on any sort of other person’s success or notoriety and I feel strongly that in almost every situation that exists on this earth, my opinion is not newsworthy. I am NOT about to ‘defend’ anyone, and I’m not “speaking out” about anything. I’m just writing my dumb blog the way I do most days, by rambling about some topic that I feel like I have enough things to say about that it’ll be long enough to read over the course of a dump. So don’t attach me to this dumb story. I’m posting in the comments here, folks, just like everyone else. I just happen to have more space than some of you. Jesus.
Yesterday some people got a little bit upset when Coco from the Gaslight Anthem mentioned that he doesn’t think the Replacements and Jawbreaker have particularly strong catalogues. He further infuriated these people by suggesting that the evidence for this is in the numbers (ie, these bands would have sold more records if they were better) and topped it all off by proclaiming that Pearl Jam is awesome and visionary. People were pissed. The whole thing is a pretty classic myopic, punk rock exercise in trolling, revolting, pissing all over things and generally, I have so much to say on this that I don’t think I can even get to it all today.
What I’d like to discuss: 1) Why I think Coco’s assessment of these two bands is inaccurate (a three parter involving some correlations with Naked Raygun, among others) 2) What I think of an ‘irreverent’ subculture that takes its heroes so seriously (not much) 3) why I agree with Coco regarding Pearl Jam, even if I don’t particularly like Pearl Jam 4) some of the things I’m really pleased about regarding his interview 5) How Coco’s perspective, as someone who’s in the eye of a hurricane of success is skewed and probably gonna change dramatically at some point and finally 6) why I think Coco is kind of lying a little bit, but in a way that I fully back and am also guilty of (this ties very strongly into #1…so maybe we can just jump in and begin).
1) Jawbreaker and the Replacements are both important bands to people. This is not up for debate. There’s absolutely no reason that anyone should be forced to listen to either of these bands if they don’t like them, and there are plenty of reasons not to like them, but there’s no denying that when they came out they brought things to the table that were considered pretty mind blowing at the time. The Replacements enjoyed some just under the radar success as a highly destructive, totally awesome group of miscreants that had no choice but to burst into flames, and Jawbreaker imploded under the weight of what seems from the outside like some sort of god-poet complex that started to smell like farts when Dear You didn’t end up next to Ignition and Dookie in everyone’s record collections.
Jawbreaker was a great band BUT, and this is a big but, their music has not aged particularly well. When I think about listening to Jawbreaker now, it’s a little like reading a love note that I wrote to a girl when I was in high school. It’s saccharine and overwrought and generally, it’s a little embarrassing that I used to feel so strongly aligned with the sentiments therein. Countless bands that sheened up Jawbreaker’s sound and heartbroken-punk-poetry vibe (and that description right there is so nauseating that it illustrates this point better than I could hope to by using any sort of longer form prose) kind of ruined the effect of Jawbreaker retroactively, for one thing, and for another thing, music just kind of turned one way and Jawbreaker wound up on the other side. Naked Raygun was another visionary band that ended up on the other fork in the road from where cool music ended up evolving. They’re about 2 beats off from anything that’s truly timeless, though that’s not meant to be a negative. What I mean by that is that there’s no mistaking Dear You or any Jawbreaker record (besides maybe Unfun) for being anything besides 90’s alternative music. It sounds more than just a little like the shitty (and long gone) alternative rock that was the soundtrack to so many crappy movies and parties when I was in highschool and college. Does that make it bad? Absolutely not. It just means that listening to it with any sort of appreciation requires either A) perspective/context or B) a sense of nostalgia. To just come out and get what’s going on in a Jawbreaker record today, without either A or B would be pretty rough (this all applies to Naked Raygun too, though with different reference points, by the way). As a result, it’s easy to be dismissive about Jawbreaker’s catalogue, for a couple of reasons. In retrospect a lot of it’s kind of embarrassing (even if it wasn’t embarrassing at the time at all), and a lot of it doesn’t seem NEARLY as visionary as it did back then. A lot of it is out of tune. A lot of it is really, really cheesy.
And so, to look back, with the vision of hindsight, as someone who’s in a band that’s more successful than Jawbreaker ever was while they were together (I’m talking about Gaslight Anthem, folks), yes, I understand why Brian would say that they only have a few good songs and a lot of bad ones (shit…did I call him Brian? I meant Coco!). Coco has the perspective now to see what he couldn’t see when he was a kid, smoking Chesterfield Kings and attempting to read some shitty book of poems because the songs on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy were pumping so hard in his veins. BUT….(I’m gonna skip around a bit here)
5) Right now Coco is enjoying success that most people never even dream of. He’s hanging out with his heroes and his heroes are genuinely stoked on hanging out with him. He’s got mountains of adoring fans. He’s living the dream and he’s, thus far, made all the right moves. This means he’s getting his dick sucked (figuratively) on a level that I can’t even imagine. Right now, Coco has made nothing but amazing albums that all have no shitty songs on them. You know how I know that? Because that’s what all his fans tell him, that’s what his crew tells him, that’s what his labels and managers and everyone on earth tells him. Sure, people say other stuff too, but I promise you that he’s heard, from enough people on both sides of him, from heroes to random fans, that he’s batting a thousand so many times that on some level, even if he’s humble (which, in fairness, he is) he thinks it’s at least kind of true. And right now it is. But Coco, in 20 years, do you think the Gaslight and Crowes catalogues are gonna hold up to the ravages of time? Better than the Replacements and Jawbreaker? Maybe. But shit, having ten songs by a band on your iPod is a lot of songs. I don’t have ten songs by very many bands at all on my iPod, and I can only think of one or two bands that have ten songs that I listen to with any sort of regularity, not just on my iPod, but period. Will Gaslight be that band for some people? Of course they will be. But they’ll also be the band that some kid (who LOVES Gaslight right now) will cherry pick the hits for nostalgia purposes onto his iPod (or whatever the fuck the music device is then) and subsequently distance himself from, saying “well, they had a few good songs.” That’s how it works, man. That’s music. That’s fandom. That’s being a kid and then being a grown up.
That’s why I love that Coco said that. It’s refreshing to see someone be honest about their consumption and it’s more than refreshing to see someone piss off a bunch of ‘anti-establishment’ dildos by expressing a perfectly reasonable opinion about some facet of their dumb pantheon of greatness. BUT, it’s also bullshit, and more than a little self serving and intellectually dishonest. Hell, I do the same thing. It’s unseemly to be tied to something you’ve outgrown, but you can’t shit on something that someone else loves and not expected to be called on it. That’s called PR, Coco. And though I know that you acknowledged that people were gonna be pissed off at your dismissal of these two ‘classic bands,’ that’s really nothing more than the same trolling that also includes the “wow, the kids are REALLY gonna HATE this new record” horse and cart that everyone who makes records trots out, (which I am also guilty of, by the way).
There’s something tantalizing about daring to suggest that you’re pissing people off on purpose by seeking out the truth, through art or words or opinions. Anger is paralyzing, and by wielding the Truth and thereby angering (and paralyizing) a bunch of bass-akward flat earther shithead fans, you (I) as an artist can feel smugly superior or excitingly naughty (<-that is purposely lame sounding, by the way). Then, when the shit hits the fan, you can say “aw man. See. Fuck Jawbreaker. They get me into nothing but trouble” and dismiss the whole thing as though it wasn’t just a wild hare specifically designed to make people stand up and scream at you.
Which is fine. I love that shit. Also, I haven’t listened to a Jawbreaker song in probably ten years, and I have never been a hardcore Replacements fan (though I am a casual fan, and strangely, I have Replacements songs on my iPod and no Jawbreaker songs). You don’t have to love shit, you don’t have to be tied to your ancient influences, but you also didn’t grow up listening to Pearl Jam, and just because right now you think Eddie Vedder is way cooler than Blake Schwartzenbach (true) and Paul Westerberg (not even close to true) and he likes your band, it’s disingenuous to bait motherfuckers like that. It’s funny, and I love it and back it, but it’s all part of the grander puppet show. It’s got no basis in fact.
Except for 3) that Pearl Jam IS the real band that revolutionized modern rock music. Nirvana gets the credit for what Pearl Jam did, but Pearl Jam is the more visionary, and ultimately the more influential band. When I first heard Nirvana, they sounded to me like a very dirty, dissonant indie rock band, not completely unlike Sonic Youth, Superchunk or any of those types of bands that were already existing in the underground. When I first heard Pearl Jam, I remember distinctly thinking “holy shit! I have NEVER, EVER heard someone sing like that before!” I wasn’t ever a Pearl Jam fan, but that was mostly because I was already into punk rock and Pearl Jam seemed lame to me at the time (secretly, I think I liked Ten more than I let myself admit). Eddie Vedder, however, was worthy of notice because he singlehandedly (single throatedly?) changed the face of rock radio. His weird delivery, something that no one had ever really done before, is now synonymous with heavy rock/rock radio vocals. That vibrato baritone thing that everyone from NIckelback to Rise Against employs these days was literally invented by Eddie Vedder (and don’t give me that ‘Jim Morrison did it first’ bullshit. Firstly, Jim Morrison completely sucks and I won’t have his praises sung here and secondly, Eddie Vedder did something that was new. Just because he wasn’t the first person to have a deep voice doesn’t mean his style wasn’t completely his own) . HE changed rock music. I don’t turn on the radio these days and hear too much overt aping of Nirvana (I’m not denying Nirvana’s impact, so relax) but there are literally thousands of bands that directly and overtly copy Eddie Vedder’s vocal invention (or copy someone who copied it originally). He’s up there with Eddie Van Halen, in terms of innovation, but he will probably never get the credit he deserves because Nirvana, the vastly cooler band with the vastly better looking front man, happened to explode in such a glorious supernova right when shit was starting to get interesting.
That said, I don’t like Pearl Jam at all. But Coco is right about them. They’re important and innovative. Huh…I think I covered all my points. Okay, I’m done rambling. Go get tickets to my show now.