There was a time I would would have given my left arm to the elbow to be in an indie rock band; now I can hardly listen to the stuff. Everything sounds like a mashup to me: Joy Division crossed with Brian Wilson, late Pavement meets Nick Drake. The inner rock critic refuses to shut up. I thought maybe I could dig Devendra until I got the first three Tyrannosaurus Rex CDs.
The problem is broader than the bands; I’m feeling betrayed by the genre, which stranded me at 35 with no other means of musical support. If I’d put the same amount of time into, say, swing bands, there’d probably be weird conventions I could still go to. Experimental jazz? A long happy life of online discussion groups and eldritch discographies. But with indie, as I nosed into my thirties the context that once made the music so important to me just sort of receded. My love for it grew in the petri dish of suburban ennui, regret for missing the ‘60s, and a postgraduate identity crisis that delivered me to the outskirts of middle age with no meaningful career pattern in sight. That’s alright, I was staying true to the music, or anyway the life the music seemed to promise, faithfully waiting for the NEXT BIG THING. Then, almost imperceptibly, old radio formats created in Nirvana’s wake disappeared (somehow I didn’t bother to find new ones); band names in the weekly listings started to blur together, even the starred ones; the prospect of staying up till 1 a.m. on a weeknight to see almost anyone in a room where conversation’s impossible and the liquor comes in plastic cups came to feel like an archaic form of torture.
I tried to stay excited via Pitchfork, took a couple of magazines, but no use: the core of the thing had died. The music had resolved for me into a way of talking about the music; I didn’t see bands anymore, but the field they occurred in—the network of labels, review outlets, and rhetorical gestures that seemed to conspire to make every next big thing sound interchangeable with the last big thing. I came to feel like Ulrich does in The Man Without Qualities, when he sees the term “genius” applied in a newspaper to a racehorse. In a world where a racehorse of genius is possible, what’s the point of the concept anymore?
This makes it sound like the bands somehow betrayed me (less original), or the business conspired to kill off the magic (too greedy), and while I thought that for a long time, I realize now the change was essentially in me, in the shifting role you ask art to play in your life as you move through it. It’s hard to deny the intensity of the feelings I once had for my favorite bands, but I see now too how much of my passion was really for the context in which their music occurred. I liked the Rocky Horror feeling of being in a small room late at night with a select group of devotees. I liked being able to listen alone, without the hassles of a community or formal academic program. I liked to drink, and I liked the ever-present possibility of an indie savior appearing—because it is a kind of savior industry—that would gather all my reasons for drinking into a form of devotion. I hadn’t sold out; I was witness to this; I was saved.
My dad likes country music. He’s liked it all his life. There’s a way it fits into his particular version of late-middle age that I envy. I don’t think he was ever “into” music the way I was, but he’s left with sounds he can use—BBQs, wedding receptions, sonic wallpaper for any occasion. It makes him feel good, it makes him feel Kansas, in some inchoate way I imagine it validates his view of the world as it was and still ought to be. “My” music hasn’t weathered so well outside the milieu of overinky hand stamps and Talmudic readings of where Stephen Malkmus’s career is headed that I no longer have the time or focus for. It’s not that I’m looking for new sounds so much as a new platform for delivering sound into a life that no longer needs to be so tightly wound around music. Without really noticing, I've slipped out of that key “18 to 35” demographic, don’t care so much anymore if what I’m listening to is new or cool. What I’m after now I guess is a music that will last me to senescence.
4 hours ago