Nostalgia, the underground, and rock and roll



The Mighty Ceasars, originally uploaded by EPS_Twain.

Today my dad sent me a link from Little Stevie’s Underground Garage entitled “A Crisis of Craft” from last year. In the post Steven Van Zandt rails against the music industry and the apparent death of DIY. It’s quite long and doesn’t really have a succinct point. Here’s one paragraph:

Well when the major record companies abandon development yes, DIY is born. Do it yourself. And the auteur theory works well with DIY anyway so why not? Ok there’s one reason why not. Everybody isn’t a star. Isn’t a songwriter. Isn’t a singer. Isn’t a performer. Isn’t a record producer. But who’s there to tell them? To help? To suggest a different direction? To teach?

My response to my dad was snarky: “Interesting… I will blog more coherent thoughts but I think he comes off a bit as an old dude romanticizing a noble past, which he sort of opted out of by being part of the Springsteen machine. He has valid points, but it really seems like sour grapes and ignoring the real underground.”

Dad, here’s the more.

First of all, I have a real hard time taking anybody who played with Bruce Springsteen, makes money spinning for Sirius/XM seriously when he talks about DIY. It’s clear his definition of DIY and my own do not match. I don’t know if it’s generational or what. Van Zandt’s assessment of “the industry” and DIY really reminds me of the classic Jim Derogatis interview with Stephan Jenkins, where Jenkins proclaims “[Third Eye Blind] has been , if not the most D.I.Y next to Fugazi, then NO.2 or 3.” (That makes me roll with laughter. Actually the whole interview does.)

DIY happens independent of the major labels. In fact, I would posit that when you hook up with a major label machine you can’t really cal yourself DIY. You’re art is even more of a product than before, and it’s really all about money. Reading Van Zandt’s blog, it’s apparent that he has a very romanticized view the the good old days. You know, when he was young and the music he liked was cool. We all suffer from it. Hell, why do you think I keep talking about the Hi-Fives? You know what though? They were way more DIY than anything he on Little Stevie’s show and probably more garage. Ever since the White Stripes, people think anything simple is garage but totally missing the point, and ignoring the long history, of DIY garage music.

Which brings me to the picture – Thee Mighty Ceasars (see them live!). They are one of the more popular Billy Childish bands, coming after The Milkshakes, but before Thee Headcoats. Right now he’s in The Spartan Dreggs, and I think they’re really good. Basically, he’s prolific and he’s become well known doing his thing without the aid of a major label. He is definitely one of my favourite musicians and if he puts a record out there’s a 90% chance I’ll buy it and an 80% chance I’ll like it.

Recently John, from the Hi-Fives, pointed to this interview Childish did with VICE a few years back when he was in The Buff Medways. It’s 26 minutes long, but definitely worth checking out. Childish covers everything from the Beatles to the Nazis, but talks about DIY and amateurism. Childish says at one point, “Professional footballers ruin football. Professional musicians ruin music.” I sort of agree with him. Looking back, some of my favourite songs come from people just making music because they want to, they like to, and it’s not really about the money. True, we need money to survive and to make more records, but it’s nothing like the fat you see at major labels.

Van Zandt’s post my dad sent sort of touches upon this, about the craft of rock and roll, but he fails because he tries to intellectualize it and ignores on of the cornerstones of rock – does it have a good beat and can you dance to it? His frame of reference is coloured by his past of sleeping with majors and growing up in a time when you busted your ass to get noticed by an A&R man from one of the major labels. I know people still have that mindset, but it’s not the same. I grew up obsessing over small indie labels, really indie labels, like Lookout (RIP), and local bands, that I couldn’t really see making it beyond out small world. That’s fine. The world doesn’t need another Green Day and it sure as hell doesn’t need another 200 bands trying to be the next Green Day. Actually, more fitting with this post, the world doesn’t need another White Stripes, or a bunch of imitators trying to be the next indie darlings and butchering Sonics’ songs.

Today, you bands need to give it a go. Write songs. Perform. Record your demos. Let people download them, and be prepared to self release. That’s DIY and that’s how you get label support. People are doing it all the time.

There are lots of people “dedicated to the craft” right now, they are just off Van Zandt’s radar. He needs to get more underground.

2 comments

  1. dad

    I had to comment. You missed one of Van Zant’s points, where he talks about how once upon a time , a song had to be something you could dance to and that has left music for the most part. DIY is cool but great music is cooler , regardless if it is self produced or not. All my favorite music (Howlin Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, Kinks, Chuck Berry ect.) had producers, still it’s great music.
    Yeah, Stevie plays with Springsteen now, but remember he was the driving force behind Southside Johnny and they were allot better than the boss back then. Cut the man some slack.

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