There is a threshold. And you’ve either crossed it, or at some point you’ve spent your prime trying to cross it.
In the band. Or not.
I’ve spent a few years in. When you’re in, you don’t always appreciate how in, being in is. You take it for granted. The tour buses, your attendents waiting on you from venue to venue, pristine hotel sheets, the upward spiral of freebies. The press and bloggers loitering around in their clean cut clothes and college-bred faces. You start to secretly pity those questions filled with over-thought, or you sigh silently with questions under-thought. No matter how mundane the question, you never show it. In fact, deep down, it appeals to a primality of being adored. No matter how despicable their slouch, or fleeting the exchange– you love them. You need them: because they love you.
Or you’re not in the band. The band rolls around, loads in. Plays the show. You worship the band. You worship their set-up. You worship their clever between-song banter. You worship everything the band’s done the last ten, twenty years. But the feeling is ever more acute when you’ve been on the other side– of how they might perceive you, certainly no one wants to be the freak. If you tell them, “Thanks for the good show” you can count on a polite reply, “Thank you very much.” End of conversation. Maybe you throw in bits about their merch, or small talk about the tour. Regardless, you stand there completely self-aware of how insignificant and petty everything uttered by your raspy vocal chords sounds, picturing that they must picture you, like some sweaty-palmed, 300lb pale-faced dork.
The discontinuity’s obvious. How can we negotiate the huge gap between wanting to be understood, especially by our fans, yet hating attention? People spend a whole lotta time imaging themselves famous, but when it actually happens, don’t they just get more bitter?
When I’d book shows as a teenager, I remember trying to befriend rockers by replying on AOL Instant Messenger with cryptic, philosophical thought. Gee whiz, I was a dork. I remember chatting with Adam from Cave In about the meaning of life. Or involving Ted Leo in an activist campaign against a local promoter. I guess that’s just how it is, being nineteen. Then one day, a terrible thing happened: I realized I had a vagina. Suddenly, the intelligent equal, able to hold her own when discussing music, politics and history–all guy things, of course– became superseded by this fact. When I’d go to shows, I started noticing most girls weren’t there for music, but because they could leech onto fame with sex. In return, the guys drooled over the big-boobed babes. I on the other hand, was pissed.
Having to prove you’re not a parasite and earn real respect, is still a severe source of frustration. Lotsa chicks have left a black mark on our image as serious music nerds. And it’s not like many guys give two bits what her opinion on music is anyway, or like to be challenged. I mean, really challenged.
Gone were the days of approaching a band and the sanctity of plain ol’ music talk. It happens everywhere, but never ‘ave I seen it so defined, this rock’n’roll rat race, as in Norway. The surplus of beautiful people and overly codified means of “cool” paves the way for some hipster pecking order. I’ve seen how boys survey a room for the most eligible to take home. Or who’ll just “do”. Boys after all, will be boys. But I’m as guilty myself, once again, having been on that side. When you’re on tour swearing by The Father, Son and Iggy Stooge, it’s all one step closer to glorified hedonism, right?
So there’s the first contradiction. My former Japanese girl punk band attempted to dismantle this paradox– but when girls end up behaving with the same raunchiness as boys, does that makes us better? Because we can say, we’ve been there and had fun? Or doesn’t it just further justify a game that’s deeply erred in the first place. As a girl, it often appears we oughta play back at their own game– but there always lies a self-awareness of being constantly shuffled and reshuffled in order of men’s desirability. Whether we like it or not, how boys do, and what boys say, is repeatedly the axis on which rock’n’roll revolves.
I’ve watched another strange thing happen. Boys age into men– and in my experience, some real desolate angels at that.
There’s a difference between me and some girls in Oslo. First off, I’ve never blagged my way backstage with the intention of seducing a guy in a band. Never, frickin’ ever. Number two. Sure, having been in bands, and an avid music lover, I’ve subsequently dated musicians. But that was after the fact of knowing them. I’ve never EVER chased a guy because of his bleepin’ band. It blows my mind how someone like Kurt Vile in his gangly figure and strange teeth can sit at the bar and look like a bum from Philly, yet put a guitar in his hand and every girl East of Oslo waves their panties for the chance to be the subject of his songs. Wait, let me guess. You’re a photographer.
When my girls and I, Yvonn and Julia, went to Portishead curating ATP some years back, with Sleep, Om, Electric Wizard, Rza, Jesus Lizard, Killing Joke–crazy good lineup etc etc.– our Nordic aura must have made us appear like Charlie’s Angels amongst ugh-ly, gnaw-eyed British indie folk. Matt Pike followed us around like a lost puppy, and the guys in Grails and Om ended up in our berth partying til the wee hours of the night. As stoned drunk we were, we had a moment of sobriety and made the announcement. Party’s over. Everyone leave NOW! The shock. I don’t think many of them expected to be thrown out like school children, I know most woulda taken their pick from the lot. We laughed about it the next day. We simply were not, those kinds of girls. Period.
In fact, I’ve only had a one-night stand with a band-guy once, and have regretted it my entire life.
It happened by accident. My promoter friend put me on the guest list for the Blues Explosion. In Nottingham, I had not much else to do. By the end of the night, meeting through mutual friends, Judah Bauer and I were long engaged in what I thought, pretty intelligent conversation. I was telling him about my thesis, the somewhat lonely existence of writing in middle England surrounded by books. It didn’t even cross my mind this must’ve seemed like some open invitation. In all my naivety, I was only happy to find the connection, after all, he had a girlfriend in NYC. But as it got late, I told him I’d to head– and he insisted he wanted to “see” where I worked.
A few hours later, he certainly saw the little flat, got what he wanted, and left. I remember feeling like a hurricane had just swept through, wanting to cry. I sat down, angry at myself, suddenly aware that I was just another insignificant lay on his circuit of many. I tried to text him to solidify an explanation otherwise but no reply, save for one melancholy and short message, signed, “Blue”. Years later I’d find him playing with Cat Power, and on her Jukebox record, the song he plays on– “Blue”– always takes me back to that moment. He had no clue who I was, my worth, and I felt genuinely used like some stupid pawn.
The next time I recognized that same ramblin’ loneliness was when I met Mark Kozelek in Oslo. There’s a sad lyric in his AC/DC cover album, What’s Next To the Moon that takes me back to him– “I’ve seen more pretty women, then most men have.” That’s one jaded, over-toured man. He wanted company that night. Kept buying me drinks, the poor recovering alcoholic, god bless him. He didn’t even smoke, drunk as I was, following me to the backyards as I puffed away. I think I secretly enjoyed seeing those beads of perspiration form as he assiduously used every trick in the book– wanting to see me play guitar, join him on tour, pay my trip home. It’s not that he wasn’t handsome. Haven’t you seen him in Almost Famous? And his voice, the sweet lulling voice and revered guitar talent, from his days in Red House Painters, to all the Sun Kil Moon albums that’d comforted me in turbulent times. More then I’d ever openly admit. But a few things didn’t settle right. I’d asked, “Do you have a girlfriend back home?” “It’s complicated.” “So, yes.” “We have an agreement.” And I just knew. I just knew, if I played into this hand, I’d quickly become a few letters in his sad recollection of null.
There’s several ways you can kill yr idols, if they haven’t in fact, already killed themselves.
I think there is very little consideration of what goes on like subtle forms of prostitution amongst musicians, and a constant exaltation of the rumblin’-tumblin’ depressed bohemian. One of my heroes as we all know, managed to turn music journalism on it’s head, writing as an artistic act that didn’t pander or exalt, but in an overly subjective manner, as opposed to overly objective– “Lou Reed lives in New York. Lou Reed likes cake. Lou Reed is 70 years old and an ex-junkie.”– he dissected musicians equally on and off the record.
Certain drugged up musicians, unfortunately, treat fans, particularly girls, in the same oversimplified way. Take them for their surface description, a temporary fix. Likewise, fans try to overcome the apparent differentiation experienced when meeting them personally, versus the extreme intimacy when listening to their records. Being moved by the music. Idolatry is like the Platonist image, and lots of people, again girls, for some reason believe taking them to bed will give them some kind of power. I think this is totally deluded.
When the title, “Kill Yr Idols” emerged in 1983, it coincided with a new era of punk, and I think it began with the flattening of the mainstream Eighties rock hierarchy. Of course, as in every esoteric circle hierarchy forms. It’s just human nature. But for Sonic Youth, they disseminated new thinking. Revolutions in the music scene were going underway, Chicago’s industrial sound led by Steve Albini for example, obliterated traditional punk structures or politics. It wasn’t meant to be fashion, the clothes you wear, or even really about breaking guitars. It was a wake-up call in general, for a new way of living.
We never know how to approach a stranger. They could be having a bad day. They could be total cunts. They could be more jaded then you. They could be way more intelligent then you. But when I’m interviewing or meeting new artists, I hope to produce something new in the realm of creative thought. Meaningful encounters. Real connections. Not participate in a waning cycle of glamour and surfaces. There’s way too much regurgitation of bands, and the major labels only solidify this idolatry by putting talent-less acts at the top of charts without much to show for it.
Punk for me has always had the element of sweet rebellion, coupled with intelligent discourse. Even the most unintelligent-sounding discourse littered with expletives and nonsense grammar to me, has an undercurrent of serious thought. Will to fight conventions. To me, nothing says power then being a self-deliberated, self-being. Not what your bandmates tell you to be, or look, not what society tells you to be or look, but what you want to be or look. Easier said, then done, once you past age thirty. Once all your friends are getting hitched and making babies. Once you realize your savings account is squat.
The last contradiction. What’s up with you Oslo girls? If we’re to rebel, maybe we should be selling brains instead of one’s body. Sure there’s the third- and fourth- wave feminists who’d interrupt me here, why can’t we use our bodies if we choose? It’s our right to choose our own form of liberation. But my point is– this feeds into a machine of an already male-centric music scene. And I’m not saying guys or my guy friends in music choose it to be that way, but it simply is. What I’ve learned as a girl on the road is: when you wear fishnets and skimpy clothes to exclaim your liberated self, I promise it’ll be ripped away from you. No matter how you try to spin it, there’s an entrenched history of men appropriating factions of women’s lib in a way that only serves themselves.
In Norway, Black Flag’s call to “Rise Above” appears contradictory to jante-lov, to actually believe you are better and able to rise above the status quo. Yet plenty of bands from Norway make enough nods to these legends. DO people understand what it means? Guys not making any statement but a self-serving narcissistic one, and their attitudes towards women as conservative and repressed as the bourgeoisie forefathers they’re supposedly trying to subvert. And girls, acting like absolute slappers. It’s hard to believe, especially when I see them sporting fashionable Black Flag pins– that they really do.
Cover photo: Ghostkamera