Heads On Sticks & Ventriloquists

The prodigious writings of a tortured genius.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

My Chemical Apology

I done wrong.

I've generally considered myself an affable and non-hostile person. What bad have I done in life that wasn't harmless tomfoolery, simple prankery, or honest-to-goodness shenanigry? Pretty much nothing. However, since I was about 13, I have been a music elitist. Trust me, my taste in music is better than yours. That's how I think.

It's no coincidence that my inauguration into teen-dom resulted in this behavior. Stereotypically this is when we all begin our flight-from-the-nest training. The reins are loosened, we foster our first adult-like friendships, and mom stops picking out your clothes*. This isn't the real reason I evolved into a music snob. The real reason is that I had begun to become intimate with punk rock. There must be some reason I gravitated towards this genre of music, but would most likely require some sort of Freudian psychoanalysis that I don't feel like diving into right here.

This punk rock lifestyle would eventually help shape my adolescence. For instance, I would grow to listen to more than just punk, seeking out music that was simply out of the mainstream. Furthermore, I would go on to become obsessed with the independent music scene and started writing off people for liking certain musics. For further proof of my evolution, I currently find myself "blogging"; an activity for people that think they are so smart that everyone else needs to see it in action (obviously this blog being no exception... I do think I'm smart, I do want people to think about me positively**).

I concede, there is so much that is good about punk as an idiom and a music. But, for the sake of this introduction (don't worry I'll get to my point), I have to point out the negative. Punk is about narcissism. It's about being superior to the other, kind of like Nietzsche's ubermensch or the fantasy world that Terrell Owens lives in. For the sake of brevity (and to assure that people besides only me read this to completion) I'll refer you to a record review [click here] I wrote for punknews.org that gives more explaination on this played out "complaining about punk" thing.

My point is this. I was totally wrong about everything.

This started to resonate with me about a year ago when emo upstarts My Chemical Romance released the almost undeniably awesome single "Helena". I had arrived at a quandary. Having been in the "scene" for years I had been aware of My Chemical Romance since their first album, "I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love", met simmering insider hype. It was part Screeching Weasel, part Sunny Day Real Estate. In theory I should have liked it. Had anyone asked me at the time if I liked Screeching Weasel and Sunny Day Real Estate, I would have answered "yes"***.

I didn't like their gothic imagery and their seeming pop-ification of decidedly un-pop bands like the Misfits and Fugazi. I didn't realize at the time (arguably at the height of my newfound obsession with amelodic hardcore music) that these pop leanings were MCR's saving grace. This band realized -- long before I ever would -- that pop music is the most important artform.

I've come to accept now that My Chemical Romance is one of the best touring bands in the world. The reason being that they are an absolute anomaly: a goth-oriented punk band with classic rock leanings that revels in absolute bombast. They are this generation's Kiss: a band that should have only satisfied a niche market, until it was revealed that the entire market really just wanted to rock****.

So that brings us to present day, where MCR have released one of the most triumphant songs I have ever heard (this song being "The Black Parade" and its video is just below). This band has and will affect the youth in ways that all the Radioheads in the world could only dream of. Perhaps Radiohead's music is better "art" (this pretty much cannot be refuted) and I would label Radiohead as the single greatest band of my generation, but there's something about the "moment" of My Chemical Romance that Radiohead cannot touch. This band is in the midst of presenting pop music in a theatrical sense that is hard to find elsewhere.

These same sentiments may be directed at new teen-oriented bands like Taking Back Sunday (whose last album I feel was actually quite good) to older music critic fodder like Talking Heads (whose last album I also feel was actually quite good).

Taking Back Sunday is probably never compared to Talking Heads -- and for good reason -- but the concept remains the same. In "the scene" Taking Back Sunday's debut album "Tell All Your Friends"***** is widely considered a pop-emo cornerstone. In the realm of pop music in general, Talking Heads' "Remain In Light" is widely considered to be one of the best albums of the 80s and a defining part of the New Wave. The importance of these albums in their respective scenes is gargantuan. However, after the fact, people began to politicize both acts. Suddenly Talking Heads had their entire career judged against "Remain In Light". Their final three records are considered to be well below par.

The same happened to Taking Back Sunday. Their debut was a slow but steady boil to success. I liked the album, but once it became more and more popular it began to fade away from my stereo. Now people deride the band for (a) singing about bad relationships and (b) being intensely popular.

The problem here is that, in hindsight, I most certainly enjoy the later works of both Taking Back Sunday and Talking Heads more than what they are judged on. Somewhere along the line people were missing the point. Sure, "Remain In Light" is a great album, but I find myself listening to songs like "Totally Nude", "Radio Head", "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)", and "(Nothing But) Flowers" much more. But I would never say that I like late Talking Heads better for fear of being a scene heretic. Furthermore it's heretical to even admit enjoyment of Taking Back Sunday, but you know what -- I like them. I think they get better with each album and I enjoy it.

I really think even I'm starting to miss the point of this apology. For instance, who is it to? The bands? Myself? I guess it doesn't matter. Punk had raised me to be critical of popularity, but it is this popularity that caused punk to entirely devour itself. Punk doesn't know what to make of its own politics. And it is those politics that caused me to -- for years -- miss the point of music.

So, sorry.

*My mom still buys anywhere between 50-75% of my clothes.
And being pretentiously self-reflexive probably isn't helping my cause.
The interesting thing in this case is that I rarely ever listen to Screeching Weasel or Sunny Day Real Estate, and historically I have had little vested interest in either. But at the time it was important to say I liked both bands. Even today I will still say that I enjoy both those bands, but the truth is that I never listen to them.
**** And also to roll.
***** Which, prophetically, is how they became so popular to begin with.


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