Wednesday, June 02, 2010
When I was in junior high and high school I didn't have regular access to cable television. HBO, MTV, sports channels and the rest were thrills that I only got to sample a few times a year, usually on visits to my grandparents' house in Florida. Around age 14 what I saw on MTV began to coincide with my interest in "alternative" music, and I still remember the feeling of seeing R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World (As We Know It)" and also, for some reason, They Might Be Giants' "Ana Ng" among others. Seeing those videos was one of my first indications (along with the documentary Athens GA: Inside/Out) that someone else got it, that I wasn't the only one moved by strange dispatches from the likes of Stipe, Westerberg, and Morrissey. (For the record, I heard the Replacements' last albums first and then discovered the good stuff.)
Today while getting ready for work I saw the exceedingly polite video for "Bloodbuzz Ohio" by The National. 5.30 am on MTV2, but hey it's good they're playing it right? MTV is far from the only resource for hearing newish music these days, but I started thinking about whether the experience of seeing one video or hearing one MP3 could ever resonate for someone as deeply in 2010 as it did for me. The sheer volume of new music isn't a new subject, but it does lead the question of how much of our indie sensibility is determined by a few tastemakers. I had never heard of The National until I saw their picture on the cover of Paste declaring their album Boxer the best of that year. Their relevance had already been determined, and although I like the band it has been so long since I discovered a band or a filmmaker organically that I almost can't remember the feeling. Kaya Oakes's Slanted and Enchanted (subtitle: "The Evolution of Indie Culture") articulates the problem very well. Oakes chronicles various indie scenes as far back as Frank O'Hara and the New York School. She is brutally honest about the fact that there's enormous pressure on indie publishers, labels, and bands to stay afloat and also about how fast the indie world reinvents itself due to corporate cannibalization of whatever is hot. (It's a fast cycle and getting faster, leading in Oakes's view to the rise of the slower and more tactile indie craft movement as an low-key alternative.)
The National are a good band; this post really isn't about them anyway. I just hope that sense of discovery hasn't been lost, that a teenager is discovering Sleigh Bells (or whoever the next hot band are) because of a chance encounter or an older sibling and not just because Pitchfork says so.