Thursday, June 14, 2007
In praise of the local, pt. 1
Update: I've been really fucking lazy about posting anything. In other news ...
I friend of mine once said that "local bands are 'local' for a reason." Hmmmm ... don't know if I agree with the value judgment behind that (i.e. "they deserve it"). But I mean, it definitely IS true that it takes some special combination of hooks/looks to really get over with the masses of college-indie-type girls in tight jeans and eyeliner, especially in today's crowded music market. I guess I just wonder whether there is even such a thing as a "local" band these days given the mushrooming of music blogs, websites, labels, etc.etc.etc. A band beloved almost solely of their roommates. In some ways, the massive proliferation of music chatter out here in the electronic wild creates even more of a gap between bands that are going to have an audience somewhere, anywhere, and those that will continue to provide the soundtrack to local house parties. I'm not talking about a bunch of skinny dudes in tight tshirts with highly atmospheric (read: pussy-ass) songs and lots of guitar pedals (I'm not, but Pitchfork definitely is, right this very moment). Those guys are pretty hot and they'll be OK, even if they are pussies. I'm talking about your friends' band, the ugly dudes who have been wearing the same jeans for 2 years straight and take a swig of leftover beer in the morning instead of brushing. The ones who get so drunk they can't remember their own songs half the time. The ones that are definitely not going to be getting laid by said college girls after their show.
The subtext of that statement is, of course, that too much "local" is a bad thing. Make something too context-specific and any chance of it being appreciated by people outside your circle is pretty much shot. Like I said, I honestly am not sure if this is entirely possible these days--even if your band has never left your basement, someone, somewhere is playing a cassette you made on a boombox 4 years ago and trying to impress their friends with obscurity and non-existent sound "quality" ("no-fi, man!"). But I think that if you look in the right places the truly local band still exists. And this, my friends, is a good, good thing ... both the fact of such a band's existence, and the fact that no one other than their friends will ever crack the code of their charm.
I started thinking about this last weekend at the last-ever Tree of Snakes show at Bernie's. I've pretty much given up trying to explain the appeal of Tree of Snakes for people that don't already get it. I've often tried to imagine I don't know the (incredibly charismatic) Snakes: would I still like their music? I think so but I can't be sure. In any case, the Snakes would consider this question completely irrelevant and would probably spit beer on you if you raised it in their presence. They exist for the very same reason rock and roll itself exists: to get so wasted you can't think, then use your primitive reptilian brain to yelp tunelessly about girls and money, or lack thereof, until you fall down.
That said I still find myself trying to convince unbelievers that the songs are as solid and timeless as anything in the Ramones catalog and that sadness lurks in the background of "Throw a Rock at Me." I mean: "if you see me walk away/if you see me walk away/throw a rock at me/I deserve it anyway/throw a rock at/throw a rock at me"--nothing if not a paean to self-loathing, no? Albeit one issued from the mouth of a drunken 6-year-old.
Anyway ... Tree of Snakes rendered this entire douchey discussion completely moot last Friday. It was a classic sweaty free-for-all, all smashed bottles, drunken groping (it was like Woodstock '99 in reverse, I had my crotch grabbed by a GIRL), aerosol-can flamethrowers, and of course TOS classics bellowed hoarsely into a mic that was unplugged anyway. They graciously included hits like "I Am a Lion" and "Orange" and more recent favorites like "Alexandria" and "Big Tomato." It didn't matter if anyone else outside of Columbus, or Bernie's, for that matter, got it ... they were playing for us, and no one else.
I still think that someday some nerd is gonna come across "The Ottoman Empire Strikes Back" and will have a fit over these lost pop gems, but if not, that's OK too. I recommend going here and checking out the tuneage for yourself if you don't want to wait for the great Tree of Snakes renaissance.
For another account of that glorious evening go to Kevin Elliot's World of Wumme, where he too sings the praises of the band's anarchic final performance. And also references the Ramones. Shit. Well, it pretty much all comes down to the Ramones, anyway, doesn't it?