Topic F, Part One: Stop rolling your eyes!

Though he was sometimes derided as too gloomy and cynical, Vonnegut's most resonant messages have always been hopeful in the face of almost-certain doom.
The quote above is taken from a nice Onion essay on Kurt Vonnegut, as featured on their A.V. Club site. I think the point they make is more than valid; it's a highly accurate observation and a good (if small) instance of counterpoint to their own, often sneering, content (especially The Hater).

Thus, it was disappointing to see the following comment, posted by "Aeryn", on the site (in an article that bravely pays tribute to Tunnel of Love, no less, wow! but anyway, here it is):

I wouldn't consider placing ANYTHING by Springsteen in something called a Hall of Fame. I thought maybe the most jaded of all internet communities, AV Club, might agree with me. Apparently not. How long until we can forget this cheeseball?
Ah! curse you, hipsters! Granted, "idiotking" gently explains the meaning (or at least the non-meaning) of the word "jaded" in a comment immediately following the one posted by "Aeryn", but still...bleh. I know "Aeryn" isn't the only person who feels this way -- that being jaded is a good thing -- and I know I'm dangling some bait for /a, given his fondness for The Boss, but from what does this fashionably dour mindset stem? I'm too lazy to look it up on the computer.

"Hello, babies..."

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

RIP Kurt Vonnegut.

Topic E, Part 3: For clarity's sake

I know I've confused people in the real world with this, and now I've carried it over to the blogosphere, but to be clear, when I speak of record shopping, I mean shopping for music, period. I still call it record shopping when I only buy CDs, but I do also purchase vinyl from time to time (though not so much since the birth of my daughter last summer, as the turntable's been in storage, and that shows no sign of changing now that she's ultra-mobile). But - and I think Miss Imperial's with me on this - when I worked in music retail, I called it a record store, and when I have money to burn, I go record shopping. After all, CDs are still recordings, right? And when I made reference to going digital, I suppose I meant mp3s, iPods,, eMusic, etc - music collected and/or consumed through a computer.

Sorry for any confusion.

Topic E, Part Two: There will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it.

I think I'll always have a use for it. I just hope there'll always be record stores to go to.

Agreed. There is still something very satisfying about crawling through record stores. It has nothing to do with a highly consumerist, stereotypically feminine, love of shopping -- that is the force that propels me into the nearest H&M whenever I am within two miles of one. Maybe this love of hanging out in and bringing home goods from music shops is a characteristic of being old, of having spent more than half my life (thus far) without the luxury of importing songs right into my home from the magical Internet universe. (The i-verse, ha-HA!)

It's not like I don't download songs and load them onto an MP3 player with a thousand other tracks. Most of my enjoyment of music is accomplished without a trip downtown and without the help of a (more often than not) haughty record store clerk. If I like the music enough, though, chances are I will end up holding the CD from whence it comes in my hands, eventually placing it in my beloved collection with a thousand other albums.

[Aside: "the CD"! I guess I really am all-digital now; I remember when I used to buy vinyl and vinyl alone, though that was when I was very young and under the impression that a vinyl record was better than a cassette tape because the cover art was bigger. I soon came to appreciate the warmth of a good vinyl record, but was ultimately seduced by the relative clarity and longevity of the compact disc...and then came the clear, brilliant, ageless MP3. Sigh. Really, though, the clincher is the lightweight portability of the MP3 and its players, which is what opened me up to cassette tapes in my tweenage (and teenage) years. I also switched to tapes because they regularly contained bonus tracks that wouldn't fit onto 12-inches.]

Yet it's more than just having the physical product at home, and even more than supporting the artists with whatever portion of the sale they receive. There's something about being in a record store, in person, that makes me feel...happy. I can't explain it any better than that, for which I apologize, but I hope you know what I mean. Again, it might be my age, it might be my overwhelming love of music; maybe it's some High Fidelity-esque fantasy; or maybe it really is consumerism, after all, and I should just admit it. Whatever the reason, it ensures that for every click towards The Hype Machine, there will be at least a half-step towards the racks.

Topic E, Part 1: The Lost Art

I like the idea that almost anything I might want to hear is at the tips of my fingers. I like that I can carry a thousand songs in my pocket. I like finding new music while at the office. But I still love the act of record shopping. I went last week, moving my way up Bank Street, from Planet of Sound, to Birdman, to Sounds Unlikely (housed in the old 5 Arlington building, which was weird - much smaller than I remember). It was like revisiting a lost friend. Flipping through the CDs, talking to the clerks. I think I'll always have a use for it. I just hope there'll always be record stores to go to.

(What'd I find? A Studio 1 compilation, some Ken Vandermark, an out-of-print Matthew Shipp Quartet album, and Charles Mingus' Complete Town Hall Concert.)

You guys? Are you all-digital now? Or is there room for dusty shelves, crate digging, and sale bins?

topic d, part 6: science fiction/ double feature

aside from watching the "cooler" strain of radio-friendly pop rock try on and then discard such identities as "alternative", "college rock", and now "indie" (all of which were taken to mean slightly different sounds, granted), i find it even more interesting that "indie" has now become an equally neutured and meaningless term in the movie business.

i mean, not to call out little miss sunshine just because it was successful or anything, but it would seem that the idea of small-scale, independent filmmaking has most certainly been turned into the latest marketing gimmick for big-budget, high-starpower "quirky" character sketches set against often self-aware or indulgently existential plotlines.

and i can't think of any decent band rivalries these days that could be compared to blur/oasis (or even nirvana/pearl jam, much less stones/beatles), mostly because britpop didn't register that strongly for me. also, i'm not listening to the radio much these days, so my reference points are screwed.

for a certain crowd, maybe there's yeah yeah yeahs/liars, but in that case only because both have a loyal fanbase who might've "chosen sides" after the breakup. i dunno - even that seems to be a different sort of animal entirely, now that i think it over. is it because stuff has become ever more fragmented that i can't even think of two BIG bands with similar sounds? it doesn't seem fair to pit fall out boy against the killers.

maybe i need to ask more teenagers who totally sucks and who rules these days...

Topic D, Part 5: Cool Britannia

I’m glad Miss Imperial brought up Britpop’s “indie” angle, because it seems to me that today’s “indie” scene bears many similarities to that pop explosion of a decade ago, in terms of trajectory. I’m grateful, too, for the input of our reader/guest poster, who succinctly and perfectly made the distinction between honest-to-god DIY indie and contemporary “indie rock.” A true independent aesthetic still exists in the practice of thousands of amazing and determined bands, of course, but its heyday as a movement might have died with hardcore and (the original incarnation of) SST Records.

At its height, Britpop was inescapable (in Britain, obviously, but also in certain circles in North America, where even a cursory knowledge of Anglopopculture was an easy way to appear au courant, and required far less personal discipline than certain other options). It began in garages and basements, but evolved to take its place in the boardroom. It was, for a time, the face and sound of young Britain, a movement that told its elders Move aside, we’re making ourselves comfortable, and it soon found itself catered to in print ads, TV commercials, films, etc. And eventually, when its pretensions and aspirations outsized its inherent capacity for self-deprecation, modesty, intimacy and the initial rawness that defined much of its appeal (that is, when the bands decided they were artists), it fizzled.

The ubiquity and fractalization of today’s internet complicates the comparison, of course, but I’m still left to wonder: do we have a Blur vs. Oasis corollary? And what happens next?

Topic D, Part 4: Indie ain't nothing but a circuit.

Quickly now:

I recall the word "indie" being applied, in Britain, to the sound of the music instead of the situation of the band, much like Anonymous' definition below. I'm not sure how long this has been the case in the UK, but certainly during the Brit Pop era, I remember bands such as Blur being referred to as "indie" by the English press, even when their records were released by (and on) major labels.

Also, even though I only spent four years in a band that was on an independent label -- with no financial assistance beyond funding grants, whatever the label could spare, and the money we made from touring and selling t-shirts -- I know how tight things can be and how much further into debt one can slide in order to continue cutting records and playing live, in order to continue making music. When I left, we were at the point where we were selling our songs to anyone who'd have them (though we did decline a deal that involved Pepsi, so I suppose we can high-five ourselves for that, har har); I'm sure a lot of people thought we'd "sold out" much earlier than we had, and in a much bigger/badder way.

Topic D, Part 3: The Guest.

[NOTE: This was originally submitted by an anonymous reader as a comment, but I felt that the writing was quite strong; in fact, I felt it deserved its own post. Enjoy!]

Pardon my intrusion -- stumbled across your blog and felt interested enough to comment. Hope that's kosher?

It's funny to consider people being up in arms about the commercialization of "independent" music at a time when "indie" doesn't refer to freedom from dependence on music corporations so much as it does a sound descendent from bands who, ages before, were disconnected from said corporations. I'm sure you'd all agree that "indie" has no meaning beyond a marketing label at a point when many of the genre's major bands are supported by major companies (Death Cab: Universal, Shins: Sony, etc.). In many ways, that's neither here nor there: these bands are commercial however you slice them, and they're very careful to market themselves as such. DCFC toured with something akin to $15k's worth of lighting equipment alone last fall, two busses, and a touring crew of between ten and fifteen. It's not Led Zeppelin, but it's not really "indie" either. There's no surprise that these bands are turning up in commercials.

What's puzzling, though, is the sense of faint betrayal one hears about these things from some quarters. Not from you folk, who seem to be more thoughtful than histrionic, but from a lot of other channels you'd expect would be more reasonable about it. There's a good deal of sense to Bill Hicks's old routine about "if you do a commercial, you're off the artistic roll call forever," but even if you adhere to that, isn't it odd to claim ownership over a commercial property that has no connection to a community of its own? Much "indie" music plays upon this idea of grassroots connection without having much connection to any community or "neighbourhood" (as the Arcade Fire would have it) at all, and that ersatz intimacy is part of the selling point. It doesn't require listeners participate in helping book shows, arrange tours, put bands up or cook for them, etc., which is what "the music community" often implies in more DIY circles. In those circles a sense of betrayal over commercial "selling out" makes a bit more sense (though how much?). How many of those people who feel stung by hearing their favourite indie band in a commercial are willing to counter the sting by trying to bolster stronger independent arts communities and encourage non-commercial enjoyment of music and art?

"Indie" music is becoming almost universally a commodity alone, so it's no surprising that it's being used to sell other stuff, especially when it seems to do that well.

Great blog, keep it up.

[I'd like to thank Anonymous for joining the discussion. (It was no intrusion at all!) As a group, we're happy to attract readers (and at this point, stumbling across Strictly Culture, perhaps using Blogger's "Next Blog" tool, is really the only way we can expect readers to find us). This post was insightful, not to mention above and beyond a simple comment (and flattering, too!). Thanks again, and we hope to hear from you in the future.]

Topic D, Part 2: Not-so-strictly un-commercial.

Keith Moon, from 'The Who Sell Out' (Australian and UK versions)

I can't offer much of a debate here, /a, as I quite agree with you. It's strange at first, to hear the songs that you think are "your secret" playing in the background of a commercial (or a video game, or a movie, or a TV show), but ultimately I feel it's better that these ad agencies and corporations funnel money into the coffers of smaller, lesser known, bands. I mean, don't The Shins need the cash and exposure more than Jessica Simpson (or didn't they, back in 1989 or whatever)?

That being said, it's certainly important that bands have a say in what products their music is used to promote. When Le Tigre was asked if "Hot Topic" could be used in a Coca-Cola commercial, they declined. Yet the sale of "Deceptacon" to Telus did not go against the band's principles. Furthermore, as Kathleen Hanna explained in an interview with Exclaim!:

Signing to a major didn’t make us rich by any means.[...]Having bills to pay is a fact of our lives
and sometimes we have to do weird shit to keep the band financially afloat.
Once again, your timing in bringing up the current topic is, er, timely. PF is still a little floored each time he hears The Fall's "Blindness" in an SUV ad (so I suppose it's good that their "Touch Sensitive" Corsa ad doesn't air where we live), and thus we are constantly talking about how surprised we are to hear so-and-so's song in a commercial, even though we shouldn't be. The subject came up again last night, as we discussed song placement in soap ads with a friend. When we came home, there was your post, waiting for us like the last word or the minutes of the meeting. As you pointed out, and as it's become clear over recent years, it's our contemporaries who act as music supervisors these days. Some might argue that Death Cab for Cutie wouldn't be as famous if it weren't for people our age (or thereabouts) programming soundtracks for The O.C.. Some, like the friend with whom we met yesterday evening (who, incidentally, loves DCFC), don't really want their favourite bands to be so famous, or at least don't want to hear their favourite songs everywhere they go, if only because they don't want to be desensitized to the power that made these songs their favourites in the first place.

I have to admit, I don't mind anymore. Like you, I am less and less opposed to hearing "my songs" in commercial spaces -- if I was ever really opposed at all -- and I now want more people to be aware of the bands I love and support, as it doesn't do them much good to selfishly hoard them. When I turn my television on, would I rather hear Spoon than "These bites are made for poppin'"? Absolutely.

(Returning to Ben Gibbard for a moment: I'm also amused by the inclusion of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" in a UPS ad. Take that, Other Postal Service!)

I'm no longer concerned about (allegedly) protecting "my bands" by keeping them underground, and I'm no longer concerned about being "in the pocket". At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, I'm now concerned about what goes into these bands' pockets. (Yeah, I know, it's a terrible line.)

I mean, someone is going to get paid for the music in the commercial, whether it's another band or a sound-alike, so if your band isn't opposed to the product, take the money and run with it! (Oh, and if you have the time, why not adapt your lyrics to fit the bill?) If you turn it down, the ad makers could easily use a reasonable facsimile of your music, everyone will think you sold out anyway, and if you're not Tom Waits, you won't win the lawsuits.

[NOTE: Photo courtesy of, from an article on Australian rarities.]