Jesus fuck. “One above and two below.” Good lord.
There’s a lot we could say about this, even without getting into biography. Autobiography, though, is a different story. For instance, I could talk about Matthew’s distinction between 90s indie as emotionally reserved and cerebral and 00s indie as emotionally open and visceral. For me, this sorta explains why I didn’t listen to a lot of indie in the 90s. I was into “alt” acts, sure, but they were all major-label, and the acts I was into most were things like Tori Amos and Blur. Tori, after all, is the woman who once covered “Raining Blood” under the assumption that it was about a vagina raining blood on Afghanistan, so this is not really subtle, emotionally reserved stuff, you know? Whereas Britpop, for me as an American teenager, was appealing because it didn’t need to worry about American authenticity, and so could play with theatricality and archness in a way I found appealing. It was cerebral but not reserved, putting its social commentary out there blatantly and then kind of swanning around it. Tori would have taken the opposite approach, hiding the social commentary with her body as she tried to gnaw it to death. But indie wanted to turn its back on the social commentary and pretend it wasn’t there. That never really interested me, and still doesn’t, I guess, since I’m still not the biggest Pavement fan, either.
But if I learned anything from 00s indie, it’s that I liked when those impulses I was drawn to were leavened by a more cerebral mood in the culture surrounding them. The more sincere style of 00s indie was created in the context of a decade filled with fear and anxiety, and while I understand that, it’s not what I come to music for. When Tori - or Polly Jean Harvey, for that matter - put her emotions on the line, it was as a way of controlling them, and expressing mastery over the situation. 00s indie carried a tone much more of submission, or resignation, and since I come to music for triumph and energy, it never really hit me much. I engaged with indie much more in the 00s, but ultimately, it’s hard to tell if that’s because my tastes changed or because the music biz changed, and a lot of the acts I love might have been major-label alt bands in the 90s. I love the weird Brooklyn moment in the first half of the decade that produced electroclash and garage rock, and a lot of the more interesting bands that came out of it, but the tendencies since then have largely fallen flat for me.
What’s interesting about Hole is that they cycle between those two modes I liked in the 90s, going viceral for Live Through This but arch for Celebrity Skin. Courtney even embodies both impulses in this one performance, insistently screaming her anguish for “Violet” - whereas 00s indie’s tendency would be to mutter it, I feel like - and then turning arch with “He Hit Me.” It’s the kind of performance that leaves an audience speechless, and though that was a regular occurrence at Tori concerts, I don’t see a lot of that being pursued now. Which is fine! I’m always a bit out of step, and there’s more than enough stuff indie-wise around to keep me happy.
Anyway, all that said: please watch this video.
This is fantastic! This is what I’d have to show to anyone who says that anything on Live Through This doesn’t hold up. (I have that fight every now and then.)
With Matthew’s post in mind (which I enjoyed and tend to agree with), I do want to add something that I was thinking about as someone who was more into the 00s kind of indie during my emotional development. We’re talking about the emo movement of the early 00s here, obviously, and I want to focus on two bands: Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional. Conor Oberst, for me, represents the high-brow end of that genre, where Chris Carraba is most certainly the low-brow. I was a big fan of both of those bands at one point - first it was Dashboard Confessional and The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, then I moved on to Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.
Both of those records seem kind of lame now - particularly Dashboard’s (and I know a lot of people thought they were lame then). And while I’d completely write off Dashboard Confessional now as whiny pseudo-punk music with an acoustic guitar, it’s hard for me to dismiss Bright Eyes. That record blew me away when I first heard it; I hadn’t heard anything as epic and big and with the emotional outburst that Oberst put forth in his lyrics and vocals. And while there are a lot of other dudes who have written music about their feelings before him (see: Elliott Smith, Big Star, Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr., etc.), his music was the first I approached and, honestly, showed me that it was OK to be a guy and have feelings.
That’s really it, isn’t it? Isn’t it more about this idea that dudes can’t cry? They have to rock and be loud and be sexy and arrogant. It’s OK for chicks (and look! Courtney Love is trying to be a dude up there!) to be emotional and poetic, but it’s too faggy for a guy to do it. That’s really the undertone I get from every argument dismissing any emotional (/emo) music written by a man that is more vocal-based and contains a bigger, fuller sound (rather than Elliott Smith’s sparse acoustic sound; his is almost a little different because his shit was about being on drugs, really).
Also: at the end of the day, all of this is just opinion and people need to chill the fuck out, because it all comes across as a silly us vs. them argument that will obviously never end because it’s based on personal taste. Look, I like Bright Eyes and I like Pavement, and I like them pretty equally and don’t think I’d think it’s appropriate to put them head-to-head. If I’m in a shitty mood, I’m more likely to listen to “Road to Joy.” If I’m in better spirits, as I was when I was driving around the Outer Banks with the windows down and the volume way up, I’ll listen to “Gold Soundz” (and, yeah, I can sing along to “Gold Soundz”). If my mood is somewhere in the middle, I’ll listen to “Violet.”
I think the whole “boys don’t cry” thing is absolutely a huge reason why so much of early 00’s indie and emo was dismissed by people, but I also think a big part of it was a perceived immaturity, both of performer and audience, by critics and non-fans. Now there’s certainly something to be said for immature being a codeword for “unmanly” and “get over it and stop whining”, but even as a fan of both the Bright Eyes and Dashboard records you named, I have to admit that it is music made for the young, about things that happen to you when you’re young (even if it’s amazingly written, as is the case with Lifted). I feel like Ryan Adams is a male singer/songwriter who was writing music that was just as emotionally intense and filled with FEELINGS as Oberst but got a lot more initial critical respect (that he then pissed away, but still). Part of that could be because he followed the typical male rockstar actions in the press, and because he was coming from that alt-country genre, but I think some of it was due to him making music 35 year old rock critics and the NPR crowd could relate to. And when Oberst put out “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and matured in subject matter (without losing the emotional component), he got much more mainstream acceptance.
I also think the fanbase ANY act with a lot of emotional content attracts acts as cause for dismissal by a lot of people. I don’t just mean emo kids here, I’ve heard Tori Amos dismissed as “music for fat chicks and the raped” and Hole dismissed as “music for angry white girls desperate to have issues”. There’s a mainstream bias against anything with a primarily young and/or female audience (and don’t even get me started on the bias against anything with a largely gay audience) that keeps people from taking certain acts seriously and actually LISTENING to them under the auspices of “Those people don’t know what they’re talking about, they wouldn’t know good music if it smacked them in the face” that definitely impacted all the artists mentioned above unfortunately.