I’m No Rock and Roll Fun

I did a bad thing on Wednesday night. I was in a bar, some random joint in a part of Chicago that I’m not too familiar with. I was there at the behest of a few recent acquaintances; we had gone out to drink and bullshit. What we didn’t know was this bar was going to have live music that night. We found out when the band began to set up.


So we listened to the Sherrie Adams Band play a few songs and they were actually good. They even did a Liz Phair cover. But still, I got up and left, dragging my cohorts with me, stopping only long enough to engage in a bit of banter with Adams herself after she yelled at us for heading towards the door. My group went down the street to an overpriced Irish bar with rude staff instead, all because I wanted to be able to talk to these people I was with.

Friday night, while waiting for Sleater-Kinney to perform at Chicago’s Metro, looking around at the sold out all-ages crowd—kids half my age up to that twenty-nothing I wish I could still pass for—I realized my error. These indie kids would have been excited to be sitting in a random bar and have the likes of Sherrie Adams take the stage. Not one of them would have walked out.

This is at the root of why I am unworthy of Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss. Not because Sleater-Kinney is some sort of new thing, a new sound. No, this band dates back to a time when I would have fit in in the crowd at their shows. But I no longer live for the music with the idealism and passion I once did. I turn thirty in less than two months and I can’t relate to the indie kids anymore, not on their level. Perhaps too much good music has already changed me, but sadly enough, I can’t be a Sleater-Kinney fan.

Sleater-Kinney is deserving of an engaged audience, an audience that wants to be moved and inspired by their music. Yes, I can like them a lot and I do. Their show at the Metro was impressive, but I felt like I was missing something. Sleater-Kinney is a high-energy band, with power chords in abundance, more powerful vocals, intelligent lyrics, and catchy hooks. But so are a lot of other bands—it’s not just those qualities that make a band great. Sleater-Kinney is a rarity because they’re more than all those things. They have a following, and with this group of fans the band has another level of discourse and meaning. This is a powerful ability, to affect people this deeply, to be so life-changing-ly important. I saw that Friday and I was impressed.

I hope you indie kids who were at the shows Thursday and Friday realize how lucky you are.

43 thoughts on “I’m No Rock and Roll Fun”

  1. Sounds like the argument at the heart of this is that as people age, they have a greater number of things in their past, their history, that have an effect on their sensibilities than the indie kids who have yet to accumulate so many experiences–and, perhaps, so much baggage. Consequently, the fundamental is actually that those bands that can move someone who is even nearing the advanced age of 30–that can have the “change your life” effect–are those that really matter on an individual level. Let’s face it: There is plenty of “good” music out there. There are plenty of bands that are getting it done. And I suspect that there are plenty of us who could hear that music, listen to those bands, and walk away fundamentally unchanged.

    This is not a disadvantage that comes with time. This is simply a development of the ability to filter what really matters to us on an individual level.

    Or so I would like to think.

  2. I don’t know about any of that but I still get “that feeling” when I see a band that matters. I still have that enthusiasm for certain bands. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen Wilco and I still get a goofy feeling leading up to the shows. Maybe I’m just immature, but I hope it doesn’t ever go away.

  3. I had a similar experience with Sleater Kinney two years ago in Detroit. The show had the energy, scope and impact of something that I had been waiting for all of my life. Unfortunately, at 29 years of age, it felt like I was watching it all from afar, that it wasn’t my ‘time’ anymore.

  4. Phil: The point is that you get “that feeling” for “certain bands,” not all bands, not even all good bands. Chances are, that won’t go away. Not to roll out John Locke here, but this metaphor might work: if we listen as blank slates, at some point, said slates get pretty much filled up. Some of the marks are indelible (e.g., Wilco for you); some will be erased (bands that you’ve heard, perhaps liked, and then forgot about). This is not to say that as one ages one can’t get new entries on the slate, but that it is a hell of a lot harder for that to happen, that the new entries are competiting with the tried-and-true.

    Damn. I’ll bet S-K never thought they’d generate an Enlightenment-based argument.

  5. Gee, I didn’t get truly blown away by a band UNTIL I was 29. I think it depends on where you are in life and what’s speaking to you.

  6. Oh I don’t mean to imply that our Sabu is a grizzled old grouch and that I am maintaining the youthful exuberance. I just meant to say that I still get the feeling fairly often. Bands still leave a mark. I know Jeff is the same. We can go on and on about some wack Detroit band nobody (not even the NME!) has heard of because they kick it harder than the White Stripes. I just wouldn’t want anyone coming to GLONO and thinking we’re a bunch of cynical, uptight oldsters writing about bands we don’t get. (And to stop that argument before it starts–I know Sab “gets” SK). It’s all about how rock and roll can change your life, right?

  7. Can’t rock and roll always be meaningful as a symbolic representation of the activity on the boundary between what you are and what you are becoming?

    The first track on Sleater-Kinney’s new CD is the sound of growth. Not the new thought content that is assimilation, but the actual sound of the assimilation itself. The sound of motion; the sound of a cracking, molting mental schemata. The sound of reaching, straining.

    What applies to this one track applies to rock and roll: Inasmuch as one regards rock and roll as a soundtrack to the basic movement forward from one moment into the next, a soundtrack to the motion of change, it will never lose relevance. Rock and roll is life itself.

    And then you die!!!!

  8. There’s some Quasi lyrics that go:

    ‘You’re the new newest thing

    I’ve seen it all before

    I’ve seen it many times and I’ll see it many more’

    I hear Janet did a drum solo at the show.

  9. It’s from a Lou Reed song, “Some Kinda Love.”

    I like your description of the new S-K song (which I haven’t heard yet) but I don’t know if we can say rock is _always_ at the boundary of who you are and who you are becoming. I think sometimes it has that transcendant, transformative effect, and sometimes it just confirms you in who you are at the moment — alive, loving music, the noise and energy and spirit of it. Not change. Rock isn’t always THAT brilliant. Sometimes it just combines elements – personality, melody, daring, loudness, intelligence — in a way that reminds you of why you love it and why it’s good to be alive. I’ve repeated myself, but I’m listening to Lou sing “Put jelly on your shoulder baby, and lie down on the carpet” so I can’t think straight.

  10. Bring the word-storm Kristy!

    Transformation!

    Transcendence!

    Daring!

    Loudness!

    Intelligence!

    Those Quasi lyrics are awesome. They sound like a celebration of newness. see it many more, indeed.

    Of course, all this stuff we’re saying about music could just as easily apply to a conversation, so I can’t say I blame Sab for tossing out one style of motion in favor of another. Especially when conversation is soooo much more democratic than rock and roll.

  11. Does anyone remember a particularly heated debate on this site a few months back about Andrew WK–as to whether or not there was any artistic validity to his music? I’ve heard “art” defined in similar terms as that Lou Reed lyric–the space between thought and expression–and in that sense I think that singleminded hit of Andrew WK’s about “partying hard” would qualify as something truly artistic (I personally can’t even remember how that song went anymore). After all, haven’t we all been caught up in the heat of the party–the bacchanalian revelry–and SWORN that that was all that matters in life, if only for the moment?

    I’m no fan of Andrew WK, and maybe I shouldn’t argue his artistic merits, but for those of you who trashed him months back, does this debate that’s emerging here buy a rock performer like that any sort of new respect?

  12. Um, no. I didn’t mean that you’d get caught up in the bacchanalian moment unless the music was really good. I meant sometimes, given certain circumstances and maybe the superb, unreal, crystalline excellence of the music, it changes your life, but sometimes it more just confirms it.

    I haven’t heard Andrew WK, but if his hit is “single-minded” and about partying hard, I’d bet it’s not going to do either. It’s exactly the avoidance of that kind of cliche that makes discerning rock fans happy.

    Quasi redeemed rock and roll for me a while ago. They’re fantastic. I guess it was a life-changing experience, in that I decided I’d keep going to see live rock. But I didn’t decide to quit my job and buy a Harley. It just made me really happy.

    I’m reading about conversion experiences in early American religious life and it reminds me so much of a rock fan’s experience. The first time you heard someone great, the time you realized they were talking to you or about you, that someone else feels or notices the things you do. And you’re won over and you always talk about that first time.

  13. I tuned in Ozzy on a metal station out here in rural Michigan and it converted my ass last night, I can tell you that.

    But what about what Sab is describing in his article? What happens when you are losing faith? Should you fight it? Is it natural?

  14. Yes, I think Jeff should be forced to listen to nothing but early 90s riot grrrl till he feels fanatical about S-K again!

    No, it’s just a slump. Slumps in music fan-dom are common. I don’t really buy the blank slate idea, though it’s interesting, but it doesn’t ring true — it’s like saying you’ll never read an interesting book again because you’ve absorbed all the books you can, for a lifetime.

    Then too, it might be an S-K phenomonen. Steve mentioned it, above. I have to admit I like their early stuff the best — something about the raw rebellion and the short, tough songs. They’re still tough and they’re still good writers, but maybe it was their early rage that gave them their most potent chemistry.

  15. Kristy: No, as I said above: there are new additions to the slate, but it is a hell of a lot more difficult for the new whatever–music, book, ice cream flavor–to have the same sort of effect that the things that have long been internalized have. While the last thing that any of us want to do is speak for Jeff, it seems to me that his point was not so much S-K specific as it is that there is a recognition that at some point what once may have caused excitement or enthusiasm wanes–not because the thing is any less vital or because the person experiencing it is tiring, but simply because there is an attitudinal shift such that there is no congruence between what was and what is.

    Or, said another way, sometimes neither the Almond Joy nor the Mounds gets it done.

  16. This is the most interesting conversation I’ve seen in a long time. Stephen, I think you summed Jeff’s point up nicely. I wish Jeff would give us a few more details of said attitudinal shift. What makes him think he cannot relate to indie kids? What does he thrive on conversationally that indie kids cannot provide? What idealism and passion has he lost?

  17. I think one of the signs that I noticed that rock and roll is for the most part, not always, but most of the time, a youth culture experience, is when many of my peers stopped going to shows, and were replaced with younger, fresher faces. I still enjoy seeing a good live band, but I don’t know if I will ever be moved as I once was. Perhaps youthful exuberance is replaced by a slice of wisdom. ONe of the nice things about Quasi and SK and some of the bands with older members is that I feel I’m growing older with these people, that they’re my peers. I can relate to Sam Coomes lyrics more so than the next Sam Coomes.

    I do agree with Kristy that we do go through slumps and then stumble across something that fills the void nicely.

  18. All I know is the Hives/Mooney Suzuki show last spring knocked me out. I seriously talked about it for days. It was an event that I will always bring up when the conversations turns to rock and roll still being valid and real. I will also continue to bring up my beloved Sinatras as usual.

  19. I’ve got to respond to what Kristy said earlier about “discerning rock fans” being able to avoid cliche in rock, and thereby, I’m postulating, appreciate novel musical expression.

    I, myself, am what many who frequent this site might consider a rock middleweight (or maybe even a rock lightweight). My musical tastes came of age in the early ’90s when I was in high school, back when Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and STP were the bomb. My musical tastes have since grown to the extent that I love Neil Young (and not even just his country-comfort stuff), Bob Dylan, and late-60s/early ’70s Rolling Stones; I gag at top-40 radio; and I’ve long since packed my “Vs.”, “In Utero,” and Weezer’s blue album CDs in the “Do Not Open ‘Til I Can Share These With My Grandkids” box. The Band was my big discovery this year, after seeing The Last Waltz in the theatre, which MOVED me like I’ve never been moved before by a rock performance.

    My musical tastes have not grown to the extent that I’ve never even heard a single song by Sleater-Kinney, the Dead Kennedys, Sam Coomes, Quasi, the Stooges, the Replacements, or even the White Stripes, like I know many of you have. So given my background, judge me a rock middleweight or a rock lightweight.

    However, it’s not like I wouldn’t be open to these hip bands–it’s just that I don’t have ACCESS to them at this point in my life. I only have a finite amount of spending money, which I’ll use to buy more Bob Dylan or Neil Young albums before I risk buying a Hives CD that I might or might not like. I don’t go to the Metro in Chicago to hear hip bands because I don’t have the time and because my friends aren’t interested. Quite simply, and without begging for pity from any of you, my musical tastes are limited to what I have access to. Within my realm of access, Neil Young and the Stones get me off, they MOVE me, just as much as Wilco moves some of you.

    However, there are some who have even less access to music than I do. I have friends whose ONLY exposure to music is top-40 radio. Maybe they’re just lazy, and probably they don’t place as much personal importance in music than you do, but for them Matchbox 20, 3rd Eye Blind, Vertical Horizon, and even ‘NSynch do the trick. That’s what MOVES them. For them, John Mayer might have the same deep, philosophical affect that Leonard Cohen might have for some of you. I know a girl who testifies that a Creed concert this summer changed her life. Cliche? Of course so. I’m not THAT much of a rock lightweight not to realize that. But that’s what they have access to, and it MOVES them.

    So is this discussion only for discerning rock fans, or for anyone who loves rock in some way, regardless the music’s artistic merit?

  20. Mark, your questions and concerns are totally valid. And congratulations on discovering Neil and Bob; they will be your friends for the rest of your life. If you still would like to hear some of the bands mentioned in this discussion, I recommend you check out the free, downloadable GLONO mix disc on this page: http://www.gloriousnoise.com/?pg=radio.php There’s a link to stream it too if you’ve got a fast connection…

  21. I worried that “discerning rock fans” comment came off as snobby. After I wrote it, I heard the Kiss lyric, “I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day!” in my head and I recalled being able to enjoy it as much as Pavement’s “Starlings in the slipstream,” depending on my mood. This discussion is definitely for anyone who is moved by rock and roll — “artistic merit” is a big can o’ worms, but Stephen Malkmus of Pavement himself snapped impatiently once, “I don’t know about good or bad. Does it rock? That’s all that matters.”

    I love being at my grocery store and shopping to the hits they play on this ‘lite’ radio station. I’m invariably transported by some classic like “Love to Love you Baby” or “You Were Always On My Mind.” I’m really knocked out by how good some of that pop was. So though I don’t personally like Creed RIGHT NOW, who knows? It was very uncool to say you liked Donna Summer, at the time.

    Stephen, I still don’t agree about the blank slate thing, though I see the distinction you’re making. True, there’s something about certain music that’s created by young people and often heard by young people, and it strikes a chord — like what I was saying about S-K — that makes it seem eternally “for the young.” And that would support your idea that early musical/artistic experiences are the most significant, or have the deepest impact. But Greil Marcus was one of the first critics to champion S-K, and he’s a grizzled oldster. I think with art, you’re always going to respond to things that speak to new experiences. In a way, it’s harder to really love something when you’re young, because you don’t have such a range of feeling. So while I loved Dylan in the 70s, it wasn’t till the Replacements seemed to Speak Right To Me (my conversion experience) that I flipped, lost my mind, could think of nothing else, etc. That’s ’cause when I loved Dylan I didn’t know anything about life. The indie kids are probably full of feeling — maybe they know more than I did at their age — but they’ll keep adding to their emotional palates so that new music will be able to electrify them, like Derek and the Hives/Mooney Suzuki.

    Mark, I totally sympathize about not being able to go out and buy the new or more offbeat music. I wouldn’t buy the Hives right now, either. The White Stripes, I happened to strike it lucky (I got Sympathy for the Record Industry, which is great). It’s a big gamble. I hope you can download the Glono music mix. Internet music listening seems like a perfect solution for those with a good computer and some techno-smarts and without tons of disposable income.

  22. So here it is, the secret to this whole discussion, the insight into the deepest, darkest recesses of my psyche:

    I’m scared to turn 30 because I’m afraid I’ll miss being 21 even more than I do now. This is one of the reasons I just quit my job and decided to go to grad school, to try and start a new slate, because as Mac said, my old one is pretty full. The problem for me with Sleater-Kinney is that I already did them once. It wasn’t that same band, but similar enough in spirit (and even tone) that I can’t have that experience that all the indie kids are having again. Theirs is a communal experience and I don’t fit in there. What I need to find to be blown away these days is a different thing than I used to.

    Of course, to the Malkmus point, S-K does rock–just like a pair of yo yos smacking you in the temples. (How do you like that analogy, Johnny?)

  23. sab, I turned 30 last year, and I had some anxiety leading up to it, much of what you described above…I mean, if you can’t trust anyone over 30, than how can you trust yourself? My 30th birthday was actually quite a relief. It’s not all that bad.

    Kristy, that was a very good point about Greil Marcus.

    I think it’s harder to stay in touch…I just discovered the new pornographers record that came out TWO years ago! There was a time when I would’ve known about it immediately. I’m glad I was able to hear it at all. What else have I missed?

  24. Ah Steve, don’t we all miss shit all the time? Is it better, though, to catch a record a couple years late, after the hype-storm is over and the album has to stand on its own merits?

    As for getting older and its relation to music, Jake’s lyric reference reminded me of a time that D. Phillips talked about a Neil Young lyric that spoke to him-

    ain’t it funny how you feel

    when you’re finding out it’s real?

    this lyric is killer. it speaks to me too as I get older and discover new, uncomfortable, realities. One of the more uncomfortable realities is an increasing acute grasp of my own inexorable march forward toward death and all the incongruent lifestyle choices and missed opportunties that are highlighted when I think of my limited time.

    Maybe as we get older we begin to get the sense that we have bigger existential fish to fry, and rocking out to some ragin’ S-K seems a bit… unfulfilling? Incongruous with your personal instincts to explore your unique lifestyle and express your individual personality?

  25. funny thing:sleater kinney is one of the bands that nailed the coffin of idealism for me,Sleater Kinney refusing to let a band play because there were no queers or girls in the band

  26. I apologize, I was way too vague in my question. What I meant, which I realize is posing you a loaded question for which I wouldn’t expect anyone to give an easy answer, is that if your turning 30 might be the end of an era in your musical tastes, what sort of music do you think might for you fill the void of groups like Sleater-Kinney (assuming there’s a void to fill)? Or maybe your change in life situation means that there’s no void to fill at all, that whatever youthful, visceral, rebellious side of you that I assume Sleater-Kinney appealed to, is vanished? Forgive me if this has already been answered in the discussion.

  27. It’s not that this is the end of an era–I still love this kind of music. It’s just that for me to have the kind of “big” experience at a show, it’s going to have to be something new.

    Maybe smooth jazz…

    :)

    But you’re right when you say there’s no void to fill–because the void is filled. That’s kind of the point. I need a different void entirely.

  28. Good conversation. Hope no one minds if I jump in here.

    I’m 32 myself, and a big music fan, so I can understand Jeff’s point about not being able to relate with the indie kids anymore. (Well, any kids really, but that’s another discussion for another time.)

    As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed my enjoyment of music transforming from an instinctual, almost physical experience, to a more relational and, in turn, emotional one.

    Being a headbanger in the 80’s, (Judas Priest, AC-DC, WASP, et all), I spent the bulk of my time pumping my fist and letting the agression and anger of the music course through me. Headbanging wasn’t just a visceral movement to the beat, but for me it felt almost like a hair-whipping affirmation of what those bands stood for. Every bang of my head was like a violent nod of agreement: “YES! YES! YES!”

    That was what got me off then.

    Not only can my neck not handle that kind of strain any more, but I don’t have much hair left to whip anyway. Even if I did, the things in music that move me now are different. A perfect hook, a metaphorical lyric that sharply crystallizes a life experience, and heart-rending melodies are the things I seek out.

    At the risk of sounding corny, I find my favorite music moves my soul now, rather than my head and fist.

    That isn’t to say these things are more valid than what I liked when I was younger, (Okay, WASP sucks.),they’re simply the way I’ve noticed my musical tastes change. I still know plenty of 30+ people who listen to strictly hardcore metal/punk and I love em’ for it.

    Hell, I’ll still throw on a Helmet’s ‘In the Meantime’ after having a particularly bad day at work. It’s either that or start kicking the people I work with in the head.

    They frown on that.

    K

    p.s. – I need someone in Portland, OR. to see live music with. My friends are all lame, so I always end up going to all my concerts alone. (I know this isn’t a dating service, and that’s not my intent.) I’ve recently attended the following shows (and more) alone — Wilco, The Dirtbombs, Cat Power Mooney Suzuki, French Kicks, etc.

  29. I agree with your assessment entirely. And I dig Portland a lot. Good luck finding cool people to hang with–it shouldn’t be that hard in Portland, right?

  30. You wouldn’t think so, would you?

    Another thing about live shows–is it me, or does it seem like half the people at live shows are just there to “make the scene”?

    I know, it’s not exactly a profound notion, but these ‘scenesters’ are keeping me from getting a good slouching spot. :)

    K

  31. My $.02 – I’m 46, I remember hearing the Beatles back when they were new, and Sunday (10/27) I’m off to see the International Noise Conspiracy… Yeah, I’m a bit tougher to impress than I used to be (forget licks & chops – I want to hear good original soungwriting and new ideas) and I do go to bed at least some nights, but I still like to go out and hear a good band from time to time, at least as long as I remember to bring my ear plugs! No, I don’t “fit in” but It’s been forever and a day since I did (if ever) and I could care less – I’m not there for the scene, I just want to see the band. (and even though it’s been almost 4 years since I was last in a band, yeah, I’m still trying to get something going, I think I can still “change someone’s life”)

  32. I’m one of the twenty-nothing year olds one might find at a sleater kinney show. I went to the october show in Towson , MD …I discovered sleater kinney when i was 15 and when i would go see them at that time, yes it was more of a “life changing ” event because well…they saved my little lesbian life at that very intense, scary, adolescence time, and for that…every time i see them…with all totally hip indie, scenester kids aside…i still can stand back, take a deep breath , and enjoy every waking second of the show..because…it’s more than a show. it’s a huge chunk of my soul feeling a certain release. Any time i see any women perform, i think i feel that. even when i turn 30. that’s just something that can never fade.

  33. I discovered the Throwing Muses in 1995. I was 29 years old. Previously I had been into mostly pop, being an Adult Contemporary and CHR (top 40) DJ through most of the 80s. The ‘Muses changed my life.

    Sleater-Kinney came two years later. Funny thing was, I didn’t really get them. Not at first. Took a while for the music behind the noise to come through. But it did. I like this band as much as I’ve liked any band, at any age. They have the fire and talent to make rock and roll feel for me what I imagine it must have felt like for the folks around at the time of rock’s birth and golden age. Honest, fun, uncompromising – a joyous noise.

    I’m currently 37.

    Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong to the party anymore, that a man way too close to 40 shouldn’t be listening to such music. Then I get in the car and pick an S-K track, and I don’t care what anybody thinks. Even my own silly self.

    I recently read horror novelist Stephen King, in a column he now writes for Entertaiment Weekly, give a list of his musical favorites. Remember, he’s at least 60 years old. Rock, no, Rawk n’ Roll,topped this list. He still gets it, and rock still moves him. There’s hope for me yet.

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