Many of you know me as RTH’s Minister of Fun and Games — and I do take a small degree of pride in being the primary inventor of most of the shallowest, most trivial time-wasting activities on offer here. But the reason I continue to hang around in the Hall of Rock is because much smarter people than me really put some honest effort into posts that provoke thoughtful, chin-scratching discussion of things that ought to concern us all. I frequently feel bad about my basic laziness in this area.
In an effort to make up for my seriousness deficit — while still preserving my laziness point total — I’m sharing something a Facebook friend posted on their wall today. It concerns his trip last night to see the Dandy Warhols, and it’s as well-written as it is thought-provoking.
I don’t know how old the author, Giles Kotcher, is — but I believe he is in his late 50s or 60s. (This, as you’ll see, is relevant information.) In any case, I invite you to read and comment:
(I was) treated to the Warhol Dandies & 2 younger bands last night & faced my age & the 5 or 6+ decades passed since “rock” originated. The sounds hit me like debris sucked off Japan by the tsunami and floated across the Pacific to crash on Western shores. Time is the ocean & the music dislodged wreckage. “They’re like The Velvet Underground.” No, they’re not. The audience —- including several in their 40’s, 50’s & 60’s [ I was likely the oldest person in the room —- in the world ?] —-had heard the songs before on cd & could rehearse mentally what the numbing volume of live performance made unintelligible. Jerking zombies hungry & starving on imitated, wanna-be charisma, schtick poses & licks.
This scene in miniscule epitomizes what we see & hear everywhere in a very “late” stage of culture: the Age of Sequels. Sequels of movies, Postmodern architecture, alt country, Mad Men, Mid-Century Modern decor: tweaked recreations, simulacra empty of all else but style. We live AFTER a century in which an avant garde of creative artists, pioneers in science & clairvoyant inventors of redefined liberty, equality & justice enjoyed a historical privilege to discover the New.
I’m often embarrassed here to post so many “old” “nostalgic” bits of the cultural past. I do not want to live in a “period piece” version of the 20th C, but the contrast I see and hear between the present and the 20th C Modernism I was educated to admire— or stumbled onto dancing through youth— deafens me on the edges of the Warhol Dandies. Huge goals remain in the fight to find practical comfort in liberty, equality and justice, but—- no longer so floated by the new—-we continue the fight in a largely exhausted American culture, surviving mainly as commodity.
I’ll start the serious contemplation of this post by sharing the thought I added to Giles’ original Facebook thread:
I frequently think modern, Western civilization is stuck in a decades-long orgy of cultural self-love — which, like most forms of self-love, gives us a momentary rush of pleasure, but lacks a lot of important meaning and significance. I mean, momentary pleasure is okay, but, you know, it’s basically boring. Or trivial. Or something. You can’t survive on it, is what I mean.
My immediate thought is this:
My second thought is this:
It’s the Dandy Warhols. Find a bigger barrel with smaller fish, then shoot.
He doesn’t make his point very clearly, but was he seriously expecting the Dandy Warhols to be fresh and groundbreaking instead of regurgitating the sounds from the 20th century that made that band mildly popular in the first place? What are the Dandy Warhols a sequel to? Themselves? Maybe I’m just completely missing his point.
The Warhols get the last laugh anyway: he was at *their* gig.
I don’t think many of us, especially us, expect to survive on this stuff. The song is a decent throwaway. The video is funny enough and self-aware. My main concern is with how poorly this Giles Kotcher guy writes – while thinking he’s a bright bulb, no less. Where is this guy? I’m sure he smells like a musty, brown, roll-neck cardigan. Screw him. HE should do something meaningful, like post on Rock Town Hall.
Hey, bad vibes! What crawled up *your* hiney today? Giles didn’t ask to be a party to our ridiculousness. If you find his writing lacking, blame me for thinking it was clever enough to share here. I’ll counter-punch on his behalf by saying: you’re ducking his point and making yourself feel good by insulting the author rather than dealing with what he wrote.
Another Baby Boomer uses ten thousand words to say, “It was better when I was younger.”
Tell him to go shake his fist at a cloud and tell people to stay out of his yard.
Well, look: Giles gets invited to a Dandy Warhols gig, seemingly by people who think they’re the seond coming of the Velvet Underground. Giles (correctly, I believe) calls bullshit on that nonsense. Then he asks the question: why is this re-tread stuff being hailed by my friends — and seemingly everybody else in this club — as the something important? I take his point to be: what is wrong with consumers of “art” these days that they willingly consume crap, convinced that it’s caviar? The fact that it’s crap isn’t the point; the point is that so many people can’t smell it when it’s shoved under their nose.
Another post-boomer quick-wittedly dismisses the anger of somebody who feels gypped by the generation that inherited, then squandered, his era’s embarrassment of counter-cultural riches. Come on, people, you can do better than THAT.
HVB, is this your grandest jest yet? What rock did this guy crawl out from that kept him from having a clue that the Dandy Warhols were not the most serious band in history? Bring his musty ass to the Hall so we can kick his ass royally! As an old grump I’m offended at his lack of commitment before writing something like that. He should have known a little better what he was getting himself into.
“When I was your age, we did all this without sequencers, digital editing, and autotune. Now get off my lawn, punks – you’re trampling on the pot plants.”
Let’s imaging that I was born around 1935 and I was watching the Stray Cats or Cramps thirty years ago. I could be making the same points about retreading, lack of originality, and co-opting a once-relevant scene.
Yeah, I dunno. As I said, it’s just not clear from his post. Did the people who invited him say the Dandy Warhols are like the Velvet Underground? A review of one of their CDs he read before going to the gig? Some random comment overheard in the club? It also isn’t clear to me that he knows that the singer of the Dandy Warhols is almost exactly my age (44, and our birthdays are three days apart) have been playing together for something like twenty years, and are a nostalgia gig for most people. And my guess is that people *are* going for nostalgic reasons, not because they expect to hear great art. As we well know, we all have bands that we listened to in our youth that we’ve stuck with regardless of what critics or our friends say.
And it’s not an original point in any case: Mencken hit the nail on the head when he observed “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” As a historian, I can say that many people in the 1950s and 1960s of the age Giles is now were looking at his much loved modernism and thinking it was an elaborate con.
And you’d be right! I don’t want to turn this into another “when was the last original musical act you heard” thread, though. Giles’ point is broader, I think. Nobody is tackling it, and it disappoints me. I don’t care about our feelings about the Dandy Warhols, or about the originality of bands popular in the 21st century — at least not now. I care about the mindset of the 21st-century, music-loving youngster. Have we done enough to make it clear to them that the Dandy Warhols (for example, and not specifically, for God’s sake) aren’t to be taken seriously? Or are at least to be viewed through a multi-generational critical lens? That’s what I’m trying to get at. Come on, team! Put on your thinking caps!
But I haven’t been offered any proof (nor do I know of any) that 21st century music loving youngsters take the Dandy Warhols seriously. I mean, if someone wants to construct an argument like this about a band that’s actually popular now and that critics take seriously (and a band that didn’t have its origins in the great and glorious 20th century) then hey, let’s have at it. And even if kids today think the Dandy Warhols speak to them, I’m going to think they’re idiots, but I also know enough not to proclaim the decline of American culture. American culture has been in decline for 200 years, if one listens to the critics. Giles’ argument is a common refrain.
HVB, the Historian makes good points. Since Musty is not here to defend himself (can someone Snopes this FB post HVB received?) can you answer some of the particular challenges people have made to his line of thinking?
OK, HVB, we’ve attacked you. Let’s talk.
I’m sorry I was so grumpy about all this at first, but I too easily agree with some of what he says. Too easily. The fact that seeing the Dandy Warhols inspired him to launch this easy-target rant is part of what set me off. The older I get, however, the more I’m aware that the present older generation feels the younger generation doesn’t value all the things the older generation did “back in the day.” I hear this a lot with sports, a scene I’ve followed intensely since I was 8 years old. As a kid I’d hear former players from the ’50s complain that the modern-day (then early ’70s) players “don’t respect the game like we did.” Listen to former ’70s players now talk about today’s players, and they say the same thing! Guys like Reggie Jackson, who once epitomized the disrespectful player the stars of the ’50s resented, now think they are worthy of dumping on today’s players. There’s some merit to so many of these types of complaints, but bitching about an already past-its-prime trifle of a band and then complaining about the dearth of good Hollywood films, etc gets tired. Especially when I suspect these same Cultural Gourmands have not a 10th the interest in the quality of LIFE.
I could be wrong. Musty may be a tremendous person with an active, rich personal life, one that brings good to his coworkers, his family members, even strangers. I mean he leaps from fucking Mad Men to huge notions of liberty and equality with no indication that he actually is that tuned into his own soul. That’s what really bugs me, this notion that people like ourselves fall prey to that our admiration for deep, moving works of art is all we need to signify that we are open to a deep, moving everyday life. It’s my main complaint with Wes Anderson movies: frame these cutesy, quirky static scenes; string together endless scenes in this fashion; queue cool soundtrack. I’m sure Wes Anderson thinks he’s fighting the fight that Musty wants fought, but I need more. And I need more out of Musty (and you, my friend – I know we both care about what’s at the heart of this guy’s rant).
Again, Musty may be as good a man as I’d like to think I am, as I know you are, but this rant of his reeks of those Cries From Mother’s Basement that any regular in the Halls of Rock knows too well. Get out in the air, Musty. Talk to your nephew or the kid in the copy room and learn that the Dandy Warhols are not, in fact, meant to be taken seriously. Then keep your mind open to what is taken seriously these days. Sure, there’s a ton of crap out there, but live life, give your rants some humor. Take some blame yourself, Musty.
“Huge goals remain in the fight to find practical comfort in liberty, equality and justice…we continue the fight in a largely exhausted American culture, surviving mainly as commodity.” Giles K.
Lighten up Francis. Music has been a commodity long since rock met roll.
But we’ve done better than that, and then another one of them comes along and says, “Yeah, that’s all well and good but when I was a kid…” Ten thousand words later we get the same thing.
They thought Country Joe and the Fish were good. They like Jackson Browne and James Taylor. Where do they get off bitching about anything?
Good points. But people tend to be afraid or resist the idea of a “deep moving everyday life” so they tend to back away from art that questions their belief system (which is what all deep moving works of art do). So what happens is that we are encouraged to seek out less demanding art, whether it be the Dandy Warhols or Wes Anderson films, that render the important question (which I think is being raised in this discussion), how should we feel about how we experience art, ironic and/or meaningless. That’s how a band like the Dandy Warhols, get seen as meaningful, because they’re good at aping the stances of more challenging, provocative art (like VU), without being challenging or provocative themselves.
Speaking of meaningful works of art in today’s movie industry, has anyone here seen Martha Marcy May Marlene? Musty? I saw it last night and loved it. Of course, as the would-be leader of the Peace Warriors movement and a lifelong fan of the TV movie Helter Skelter, I’m a sucker for movies involving cult culture. This film, however, also executed the character study aspects it set up. Maybe it was because the surprisingly talented Olson non-twin looked a little like young Ashley Judd, but I kept thinking the movie was like the evil twin of Ruby in Paradise. The movie worked on so many levels for me without referring to old films, old genres. I’m curious to hear what Musty thought about it.
21st century music-loving youngsters have never HEARD of the Dandy Warhols! Their sole hit came out well over a decade ago. I had no idea they were even still around, and they’re no more culturally relevant than, I dunno, Harvey Danger, or Menswear, or any other late ’90s one-hit-wonder.
(In Bill Shatner voice) So…torn…Hate Dandy Warhols, on one hand…but…on other hand…Giles character apparently an obnoxious pseudo-intellectual twat…what to do…
Twenty years from now on RTH…
“They thought Brian Jonestown Massacre were good. They like Alanis Morrissette and John Mayer. Where do they get off bitching about anything?”
Tomorrow night, I’m going to see Rhett Miller at a little club in my neighborhood. Is he a groundbreaking artist of importance? — well, no. But I like the Old 97s and I really like his solo records, so I’m getting a babysitter and Mrs. funoka and I are headed out for show!
I’ve been tired of this “good old days” argument for 30 years — in music and baseball and in politics too.
It looks like someone’s been reading “Retromania” again, and that was written by an Englishman!
Ok, ok, everything old is new again, and I agree with a lot discussed in “Retromania.” But as I’ve said before and continue to feel, music serves different things for different people and what we want out of music at different times is well…different. I’m sorry Giles did not like The Dandy Warhols. But he could have just left the show and let the people there enjoying it have their fun. And I’m sure there’s some music he likes and would be willing to share with the rest of us (but hopefully with less commentary).
As for the bigger cultural implications, I’m sure we’ll look back in 50 years and find something worthwhile in what’s going on now. There’s a lot in Giles’ post that is worth discussing, but it’s big and badass and I don’t think I have it in me right now to tackle. But we could, as a group, start to pull some of the ideas apart…For example, “Do rapid technical advances give short shrift to culture?” I would want to know what aspects of 20th C modernism he finds so sorely lacking now.