Sunday, May 1, 2011

Not As Good As That One Time OR On The Scent or Music Elitism OR It's Tough to Like Music and Not Get Tough About It

Thursday was an interesting day as far as shows and music making me stop and think about things. In a way, I may have finally picked up on the trail of the origins of music elitism, but I could be way off.

Why do I always feel the need to scoff when someone tells me their favorite Animal Collective album is Merriweather? Or why do I usually think it is necessary to let people know when I have opened for the band that they are talking about? And why can’t I let someone just get by with saying “Be My Baby” is a Shirlies song, without correcting them saying it was originally by The Ronettes and that the band they were thinking of is The Shirelles, and then launching into a bunch of history on Phil Spector and Brian Wilson and “Don’t Worry Baby”, which I find to be fascinating, but most people really could care less about?

Well, most of that I can’t answer, but I do have a few insights into certain parts of this overall whole that is my taste in music and eagerness to share it with other people, which we can properly call elitism.

These thoughts began piling up with an in-store performance by tUnE-yArDs at Everyday Music, which was incredible and a wonderful (and cheaper) alternative to seeing them at Doug Fir that night. And the show in the middle of that record store that afternoon would have been just as awesome if that was the first time I had ever seen tUnE-yArDs, but it wasn’t, and I will never be able to hear that band again without thinking about the time they played at my brother and my (mostly just my brother’s, I can’t take too much credit) venue, the Elephungeon, in tiny Boone, IA, and you could just tell then that this girl looping her voice and ukulele and drums by herself and playing keyboards with her toes deserved to be playing for nearly sold-out audiences at reasonably-sized venues that are not windowless basements in a small town in Iowa where no one really goes to shows because there aren’t any (I think there were only 10-12 people there). But she didn’t care, and she played just as hard then as she did on Thursday and she gave me a hug then and she still probably would have Thursday if I had said something about it.

So how are these two experiences different? Why is there some sense of pride over being at that Boone show that I feel like qualifies me as a real tUnE-yArDs fan over say, someone at Everyday Music yesterday afternoon seeing her for the first time, or all of the people at the Doug Fir show? Really there is no difference between the two. It’s music. You hear it, you like it, you listen to it. It doesn’t matter how or when you heard it, and it doesn’t matter how often or when you last listened to it. Why is that so hard for me to accept?

The Starfucker show that night at the Holocene was another example. Trent and I had the opportunity of opening for this band at a poorly attended Vaudeville Mews show in Des Moines. It was great. All of the 15-20 people who were there loved it and I kind of remember surrounding the band, who set up on the floor—people were dancing on the stage and on that ramp that leads up to behind the stage, and the sound was feeding back quite a bit but it kind of just added to this barrage of hazy dance pop music that was blaring outward from the band who were then 6 members deep, I think, and I had to politely ask my brother for all of the money we made for playing the show just so I could afford to buy their record. It’s the kind of show you remember regardless of what bands played and how big they eventually became.

Since then, Starfucker had a song featured on a Target commercial, and although they were selling out shows in Portland before that Des Moines show ever happened, it wasn’t until their next time through the Midwest that they received the kind of reception they normally do in Portland, and that was to a (sold out?) crowd at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Quite the step up.

So, when I found out that all three of the Starfucker shows this weekend sold out well in advance of the day they occurred, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I did, however, think to myself, “That would be way cool if I could see Starfucker the way I did at that Des Moines show every time that I saw them,” and that was what made me start thinking about how we define so much of the music we listen to with our experiences of it, and how we value those experiences and try and keep that band or that music within the bounds we shape for it based on those experiences, because it is nice to think it could always be or feel or sound as awesome “as it did when…”

The tUnE-yArDs show and the Starfucker show provide perfect examples of both ends of this sensation. The tUnE-yArDs show living up to the expectations I had created in my mind from the first time I saw her, and the Starfucker show selling out and making me wish it could still be as awesome as it was that first time. Therefore, when you are standing in the middle of a crowded room waiting to see a band you have seen before under, what you consider to be, better circumstances, how can you reasonably value this experience higher than the previous one? You probably can’t, and when making a judgment call about how everyone else is valuing the current experience based on their reactions as an audience, it would be hard not to cling to your previous memories and de-value this show as “not as good as that one time.”

It sucks, but that reminiscing that sounds a lot like elitist name-dropping is really just the desire to keep this music in that place we made for it where it can always mean as much to us as possible and fill us up our empty us out the same way it did when we first decided to build this place for it and call it our own.

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