Rock’s latest youth movement finds a friend in Emo

Johnny Loftus

Where do all the Britney fans go when the lip gloss wears off? What happens to young consumers – already used to buying CDs and downloading MP3s from the days of their pre-teen popstar love affairs – when they get old enough to realize Pop isn’t cool, but aren’t knowledgeable enough to do anything about it other than changing the channel to M2?

Superchunk is old enough to appreciate the irony of their support slot on the current Get Up Kids club tour. It has to be a little weird, considering Superchunk released its first 7″ when most of GUK were still in short pants. But how do they take it when most of the audience still is? Last Friday evening, Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance looked out across a house packed with peach fuzz and training bras. “No fancy entrances,” she said with a weary, sarcastic sigh. “We’re going to pick up our instruments and play a few songs for you now.” As Superchunk commenced with the rock, there was a palpable sense of confusion from the throng of teenagers, each one dressed in meticulously arranged Abercrombie wear with various nouveau punk rock accoutrements. “Who is this group of old people on stage?” they seemed to be asking. “Why does the rhythm guitar player look like my old T-ball coach?” Despite the solid rock foundation of Superchunk’s anthemic riffs, they received only a smattering of applause after each song. Polite patronizing, as anticipation continued building for headliners The Get Up Kids – Midwestern phenomenon, certified dreamboats, and Vagrant Records’ #1 act with a bullet. “Yes, I’m making fun of you and your cell phone,” guitarist Jim Wilbur said to a pretty young thing in the front row. “How can you even hear over the racket we’re making?” Ballance chimed in that she was probably calling her mother, “just to check in.”

Parents pounding MGDs in the back bar as their teenagers hop around to the music is nothing new for an all ages show. But over the last year, the music industry has realized that its Pop audience is growing up, and searching around for something other than “Active Rock” histrionics to identify with. Enter Emo. The success of Blink-182 proved that “Alternative Rock” isn’t made exclusively by ugly people. Mark, Tom, and Travis’ heartthrob status paved the way for a new crop of sensitive boy bands that rock – Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and now The Get Up Kids. It’s Meat Loaf in G, Freddie Prinze, Jr with a Les Paul, and Morrissey without the celibacy. It’s a corporatized amalgam of indie rock’s more sensitive side, and it’s the perfect product for the post-Britney demographic.

At the show this past Friday, I asked the girl next to me (who was 6 when Superchunk’s seminal “Slack Motherfucker” was released in 1990) what she likes about The Get Up Kids. “I think Matt [Pryor, lead vocalist] is cute,” Susan said. Musically, she’d heard some GUK tracks on a friend’s Vagrant Records sampler. Then I asked her what she thought of Superchunk’s set, which had just ended with a searing version of Sebadoh’s “Brand New Love.” Susan thought for a second, then explained how she’d missed most of their set waiting in line to buy bottled water. For Susan and so many other kids at the show, history doesn’t matter. Superchunk’s permanent seat in the indie rock Hall of Heroes – not to mention their significant influence on the music of groups like The Get Up Kids – isn’t important, because indie rock doesn’t matter much anymore. Or at least it matters in a different way. During its early 90s heyday, the music was unified by its labels, and a few geographic enclaves like Olympia, WA. This international pop underground survived the corporate workover in the wake of Nirvana, but eventually diversified on its own terms. New labels, new bands, and new scenes sprang up. Something called Math Rock was discovered under a rock. And the seeds for another Alternative Nation were sown.

Nowadays, the industry calls Weezer, The Strokes, and The White Stripes “Retro Alternative,” and it’s the hot format of the moment. The prettyboy rock bands like Get Up Kids or Sensefield get thrown into the mix as Adult Album Alternative or wherever their label positions them, via video, tour, and appearance on M2. It’s a more calculated approach to Alternative than the feeding frenzy that followed Nirvana. But it’s also much more important financially, as the industry is trying desperately to keep the spending power of 12-25 year-olds firmly in its corner. With this new gaggle of good-looking, guitar-toting rockers, they seem to have hit on a formula that will last at least until the majority of Friday night’s teenage riot hits freshman year of college, discovers Mary Jane, and invests in a Jon Belushi ‘College’ poster, a giant blow-up of Jim Morrison, and the entire Phish back-catalog.


15 thoughts on “THE SAME OLD CRACKS”

  1. “cultural amnesia”, as dj spooky put it, is one of the tragedies of our times. so easy to forget and/or respect the history of ones music, when media leeches on creativity, and spoon feeds you a “new” sound every 6 months. theres a couple of us who still appreciate the oldsters as well as the young new hooligans though. Just enjoy the music, not the people listening to it.

  2. Right right right. Don’t misunderstand: both Superchunk and The Get Up Kids actual sets Friday night were great. Singing through a sore throat, Mac took one for the team on “For Tension”‘s high notes. They even brought out Rebecca Gates (ex-Spinanes, another great band that 99% of the teenaged crowd likely never heard of) to sing lead on a song. I don’t intend for the article to indict the young crowd for being young, or for not knowing about Superchunk’s career. I simply think it’s interesting that they are so young. Shit, I’d rather have these kids at rock shows than some of the other tripe out there. JTL

  3. It’s all the same regardless of age. The majority of people are there with no idea why, talking on the cell phone, whether to mom or stockbroker…

  4. I love both of those bands. I came to Superchunk only recently, having somehow missed-out on them for all these years, which is exactly what happened with me and the Pixies. I bought my first Pixies CD last year, only after getting heavy into Frank Black’s solo work.Anyway, I liken the “Indie” or “Alternative” badge to the “punk” and “progressive” label 15 and 20 years ago. I remember telling people that the Cure was a Punk band (When Kiss Me..was released)! I remember that in 85 I had friends who referred to themselves as Progressives, when they didn’t have a clue as to what the history of that label actually meant. If I’d said to them that they must really love Television, they’d have answered “Yeah, I like the Cosby show.” Being interested in Erasure, New Order and The Smiths left some looking for terms of classification for themselves, and only the language of the prior decade came close. They weren’t hippies or metal heads. What else do you do. I remember my father saying something to me like “you dress like the European kids did back when I was stationed in Germany during Nam. That’s cool, as long as you’re not a fag.”Today Alternative is a genre. It’s not really an alternative to anything. And Indie is a misnomer, to say the least, when the band in question is signed to Sony or some other gorilla of a media company.I don’t think it’s possible to clarify this with the kids. It wasn’t clear when I was a kid and it isn’t now. Even though kids today are the largest consumer generation in US history, they’re also much more savy than you give them credit for. They know they’re being marketed to. They recognize it more than you think. They also don’t always respond well to perverted looking old men who lurk around teen pop shows and ask weird questions. They might even give you a pat answer just to get rid of you. Being young, it’s not always the history that they lack, but sometimes also the vocuabulary to discuss it.

  5. Scotty actually has a hell of a point… when I was 18ish I would point out the oldies and crack a joke about how they should be at a Journey concert or something. At that age, I made fun of the record store clerks who were over 25; now I envy them every day I drive to my cubicle. Teens know more about music than we think. With the availability of the net, they can find out a bands influences, history, and which album “that new song” was actually covered from.

  6. I also agree with Scotty. We all weren’t born with a copy of Pink Flag and a Thomas Frank book in our hands. I wish I had been exposed to a band like Superchunk when I was younger, even if I hadn’t appreciated it then.

  7. Hey Johnny, I forgot to say “nice article”. I’ve been to so many shows where I felt much the same way. Not counting all the stage diving at Mustard Plug concerts, the last one where I felt really old was actually when I saw the GUK open for Green Day. I ended up going with a couple of 22 year old girls…ah I mean women….I…chics…. For the entire show I was pressed up against a damp mass of teenagers right in the front center of the floor, 20 feet from the stage. The whole time I remembered thinking how great it would be to have one of those luxery box seats that I used to score for free so that I could put my feet up and drink a cold beer. At least the kids still like Green Day, the guys in that band are my age after all.

  8. great article, and great points made by all..particularly by scotty saying how we whippersnappers know we’re being marketed to. it leaves one in this weird situation of “hmm, do i go along with the flock even though i was here before it became cool (or cool again, whatever the case may be), or do i move along to the next thing, or maybe discover more forgotten gems like the pixies and superchunk? or do i just sit here in my room and scoff at dashboard some more and roll with it?” oh, the raging hormones. hrm..i think my original point was going to be that it’s nice to see that there’s a few people out there who haven’t lost touch and made like baby-boomers with their 2003 excursions, even though they’re headed off to their cubicles. thanks for comforting me that we all aren’t going to lose it in our aging process.

  9. “For Susan and so many other kids at the show, history doesn’t matter. Superchunk’s permanent seat in the indie rock Hall of Heroes – not to mention their significant influence on the music of groups like The Get Up Kids – isn’t important, because indie rock doesn’t matter much anymore. “you’re missing the point. indie rock was never supposed to matter to arena rock kids. that’s why it’s indie. it appealed to a smaller group of people. pavement weren’t cute. but they made interesting music.the get up kids (i’m not even sure who they are, truth be told) don’t sound indie to me. it seems that you’re suprised at the reaction to indie rock at a mainstream show. weird.

  10. I think something that’s lost on a lot of us music fanatics is that most people just don’t care about music as much as we do. I’m not saying they’re not fans, they’re just not fanatics, if you take my meaning. Susan there probably knew about as much about the Get Up Kids as she did about Superchunk. She heard a couple of cool tunes on a friend’s comp., needed something to do that night… hey! Let’s go to the big rock show. It could’ve been any band that she was passingly familiar with. Most people barely know the catalogs of their “favorite” bands, let alone the bands that preceded and inspired their “favorites.” Most folks just want to hear a good song and have a good time. We must be mindful of this or risk constant frustration at people’s ignorance, which isn’t ignorance so much as indifference. I think this qualifies as a rant, and I apologize.

  11. I have seen the same kids showing up at Sonic Youth shows recently. None of the opening bands were anyone that 14 year old kids _should_ have heard of either. Still, the median age of the crowd could not have been over 20, I do not know if Sonic Youth gets played on M2, I do not have it. I listen to the 2 radio programs likely to play them in DFW, and airplay of even SY has been meager. I do not know how these kids even have a chance to hear them, much less become fans. Kids around the same age left in droves after Hole finished their set when SY was headlining Lolapalooza. I suppose that my point is, this 14-18 age group seems to be a little smarter than the last, somehow. Go easy on them, unitl they form their own bands. Then I suppose you will know how well they learned the lessons of the past.

  12. Scab,You’re right about today’s 14-18/18-25 age group: They KNOW they’re the most heavily-marketed to demographic, and that they, with enough groupthink, can grab the companies by the balls and squeeze. How does this translate to indie rock? These kids are conscious of how they’re marketed to, and will therefore consciously choose to like Emo or The Get Up Kids or whoever.

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