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Thursday, July 24, 2008

How I Was Abandoned by Modern Rock

I am a man.  Beyond that, though, I'm a muti-dimensional, complex human being; a person capable of feeling a wide range of emotions.  Why is it then that so much of today's modern rock songs only pander to the roided up, angry, "powerful" man?  Why is it that I can no longer turn on a rock radio station and hear something that caters to me?  Something that speaks to who I am?  I hope to examine this phenomenon and give you insight into how I became the indie rock-loving hipster that I am today with this Random Rant.

The 1990s
Favorite Bands: Live, No Doubt, Foo Fighters, The Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, The Offspring, Oasis

Most of my youth I spent consuming the media that was presented to me.  Movies, music, television - I ate it all up.  This was before the time of the internet, before one could discover new music with a few mouse clicks and a pair of speakers.  Music was what MTV told me it was.  Grunge music was everywhere, sending hair bands and 80s metal bands to the curb.  Like most, the first time I can remember hearing an alternative rock song that I just flipped out for was probably when Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" first showed up on MTV.  As great as they were, though, I was still young and a few years away from being able to appreciate it all.

I hit my prime in the mid-nineties, with the groups listed above.  I remember the first time I heard "Lightning Crashes" by Live, knowing that it was a powerful song without fully able to comprehend what it was all about ("placenta" was a foreign term to a 10-year old).  And great music has always been able to do that, to take you to a place that you can appreciate without having experienced it yourself.  "Tonight, Tonight" or "1979" by the Smashing Pumpkins are equally as touching, and beautiful.  And while these bands also had their moments when they rocked out like nobody's business, they were always at their best when toned it down to subtly express their inner anguish or turmoil.  Oasis is right up there with them, as "Wonderwall" and "Don't Look Back in Anger" remain some of my favorite songs to this day.

The other bands on the list - No Doubt, Stone Temple Pilots, Foo Fighters, etc. - were about having fun.  For as great as it is to have a song move you emotionally, a song that can make you smile, that can make you have a great time just by listening to it is also a wonderful thing.  And for as much as I hate the Offspring these days, as a 14-year old kid, "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" was good enough for me.

Favorite Bands:  Finger Eleven, Incubus, Relient K, The Grass Roots, System of a Down

It's a bit weird, but for the most part, this period of my life was overrun by two bands: Finger Eleven and Incubus.  There wasn't a whole lot else that mattered to me.  Looking at the above list of bands that I enjoyed, I notice that they all have the same thing in common.  They can be fun and a blast to listen to, and can also move you with lyrics that speak to you, or melodies that infect you.  I've always been a cheerleader for Finger Eleven.  Even now, though I don't listen to them, I'm glad to see they're finally achieving some mainstream success after all those years of being pushed aside by their label to make room for Creed and the likes.
But modern rock music started to change during this period.  As new bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand introduced people to an entirely new side of rock music, lesser bands began to garner much of the attention.  One look at the Billboard charts for 2003 can adequately show the change.  Bands like Trapt, Seether, 3 Doors Down, Chevelle, Nickelback, Staind, Saliva, and Cold had some of the top singles of the year.  Bands who worship the power chord, speak only in cracked, loud voices, and make rock music for the sex and the drugs were quickly becoming the norm.  

I felt abandoned by rock music because it was no longer speaking for me.  I didn't drink, spend my weekends on endless sexual conquests, and I required more of my music than a "powerful" voice from some "powerful" dude singing over "powerful" chords.  Testosterone-fueled music overran rock stations and tv channels.  What happened to making music that was original, that was real, that was multi-dimensional?  As I soon found out, it was there all along.  I just wasn't looking for it.

2004 - Present
Favorite Bands:  Of Montreal, Death Cab for Cutie, Band of Horses, Bright Eyes, Cursive, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, The Shins, Muse

In 2004, a friend of mine showed me a CD from a group called The Postal Service.  A few days earlier, I had gone out and seriously considered buying Linkin Park's Meteora.  The first time I listened to this group, consisting of Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, I was in love.  Literally.  This was music that spoke to who I was.  It was pop music, but its lyrics were deep and meaningful, its compositions fun and interesting, and the voice of Gibbard was astonishing.  I made my friend drive me to the local Best Buy so I could buy a copy for myself.  I wore that thing out over the next year or so.

However, the CD had a much larger impact on me.  It made me aware to and entirely different realm of music that they called "indie."  I went on the internet and looked up The Postal Service.  *click* Their singer is Ben Gibbard. *click* He sings in a band called Death Cab for Cutie. *click* A girl named Jenny Lewis did vocals on The Postal Service's album. *click* She sings for a band called Rilo Kiley. *click* says that if I like Rilo Kiley, I'd like a band called The Shins. *click* *click* *click*  

You see, as I was slowly becoming disenchanted with modern rock music, I was amazed by this wealth of different, talented, and interesting bands that were just waiting for me to listen.  Today, my favorite bands still share the same characteristics as they always have.  They are sometimes emotional, sometimes fun, and muti-dimensional.  Just like me. 

At the time of this writing, the Modern Rock Charts on still shows all of my least favorite groups.  But hidden amongst the Staind and 3 Doors Down are bands like Coldplay, Weezer, and, yes, Death Cab for Cutie.  As a society and a culture, we deserve more music like this:  music that speaks for itself rather than trying to prove its toughness, music that isn't afraid to show different facets of the artist's personality.  As humans, we are all different and equipped with the capacity to experience all that the world has to offer.  Shouldn't our music reflect the dynamics of our being?  If you're like I was, and you feel completely disenchanted with the music that the radio and MTV keeps sending at you in waves, look elsewhere.  There's a whole mess of music waiting to be discovered.

And that's about as cheesy of an ending as you're gonna get!


kmoe said...

I was touched by your musical journey.

What an incredible story.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have one question. Why Finger Eleven? Incubus makes sense. But finger eleven!? What do you think of their stuff now?

Cale said...

Their newest album I'm not at all familiar with. I think they have a song called "Paralyzed" or something and it just sounds like "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand. Beyond that, I'm clueless.

But the biggest reason I was into Finger Eleven at the time was mainly because Scott Anderson has always been a decent lyricist, and his melodies were always worth singing along to. "Awake and Dreaming," "Bones + Joints," and "Quicksand" are all great songs for their time, which was pre-2000.

I eventually stopped listening to them because I thought that their third self-titled album was a bit weak, though "Thousand Mile Wish" was beautiful, lyrically. By the time their newest one came out, I was too entrenched with indie rock to care. Every now and then I'll flip on the radio and hear one of their new songs and I'll smile. Not because I like it, but because I'm glad they're finally achieving some success in America.