Okay, once again I’m gonna complain about music. Well, no. I’m not gonna complain about music but rather about how people, listeners I guess, ingest music. I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m a music lover and a music hater and a musician and as such, I find myself on a lot of different sides of very heated debates about music. Depending on what side I’m on, I find myself completely baffled and disgusted with opposing arguments. It’s fucked up, because music is SUCH an easy thing to ignore and it’s such an easy thing to love in a vacuum. Here’s what I mean:
Just because you liked the first couple of Bad Religion albums doesn’t mean that you have to like them now. It’s been twenty five years since some of those records came out. There’s no real reason that you should hold anything new up to the standards of anything old. Shit changes. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse, but it ALWAYS changes. In the words of Tupac (via Steve Windwood), that’s the way it is.
Think about this: when I was younger I had a girlfriend that I was pretty sure was the hottest woman I had ever seen. I can think back and remember her now and even if we include everyone I’ve ever seen in magazines or on television, this girl was competitive in the very top one percent of the most stunningly ball-meltingly hot chicks ever. No doubt about it.
Well, it’s been a while, and now she’s older and she’s still good looking by the vast standards of the world (as in, there are a TON of people who are vastly uglier than her out there) but generally, I wouldn’t say she’s hot anymore. Yes, if push comes to shove, she’s cuter than the vast majority of uggos, but she’s no longer even in my top 100 by any means. Here’s how that makes me feel: fairly indifferent. It’s not a big deal at all. We were close for a while, I really, really liked her and thought she was the best, the absolute BEST thing on the planet for a sec, but shit done changed and now she’s just a woman who’s out there doing her thing. I’m glad she’s still alive and kicking and I’m sure she’s still nice and has people around her that love her and think she’s great and beautiful and all that, but I’m no longer one of them and that’s just fine.
I guess there’s a small bit of nostalgia for when she was just the hottest girl on earth, but that kind of thing never lasts forever. That’s the beauty of perfection: it’s so fleeting. It’s the pinnacle when the glider stops and the world gets silent before the great descent back towards the ground. That’s WHY her beauty was so astounding back when I knew her: precisely because nothing can be THAT beautiful for very long. It’s a huge part of why we consider THAT to be beauty, it’s because it’s so unstable.
Now, do you see where I’m going with this? You loved a band when YOU were a kid and they were kids. Now you’re a grown woman and they’re grown men and the record comes out and (fart noise) it sucks to you. Why is the result of that assessment anger? People that listen to music operate in this fucked up universe of expectation. Once someone delivers you something that you enjoy, something you enjoy so much that you make it part of the very fiber of your being and dedicate a bit of your soul to it, that if they ever produce something else that doesn’t live up to the thrill of their old offering, it enrages you and makes you kind of hate things, even if, in the great scheme of shit, this newer offering is better than 90% of the shit out there. Can you imagine operating like this in ANY other situation and what a total cocksucker you’d seem to be?
You have sex with a dude and it blows your mind. It’s the best sex you’ve ever had. You even have sex for a straight month and it’s just mind boggling. After a while, you do it and it’s just okay. It’s still better than most of the other sex you’ve ever had with other dudes, but it’s not as good as when he was rocking your world. Is the appropriate response to be pissed off? That’s fucking crazy AND that’s an even more excusable situation, because to translate this back to music, you can ALWAYS go back and put on the old album that you love, but you can’t go back and get buttfucked so generously and tenderly, you can only remember it, and that fades.
Of course, that old record has been listened to into the ground and as such you can’t still squeeze the same endorphin-blasting pleasure from it as you once did. You’ve been hoping for a new fix and it comes up short and so you throw a tantrum. It’s fucking silly is what it is. But I do it too.
Well, I don’t do this so much anymore simply because I don’t have too many bands that I care about that much anymore. I remember being furious at the Bad Religion album Recipe For Hate when it came out. I thought it was a shitty cashgrab and a complete dismantling of everything I held dear about Bad Religion. I’ve since come to realize that my obsession with Bad Religion was pretty unhealthy in terms of them living up to my expectations for any period of time. I got Against the Grain and thought it was too produced. I got Generator and thought that it had some stinkers and I got real worried, however I still probably played both these records a zillion times. I got Recipe For Hate the day it came out (just like I had with all the BR records) and was BUMMED. Eddie Vedder was singing on it? Weird guitar sounds? Bullshit mid tempo shit that tried to wax poetic rather than furious? What the fuck? This is not what I want my Bad Religion to be.
That last sentence is true. It also makes me sound like a petulant baby. MY Bad Religion? They’re making THEIR music to the best of THEIR ability and trying to keep shit interesting as best they can. If it doesn’t always connect with me, fuck…They’ve provided me with some of the best music I’ve EVER heard. I should be able to cut them a break, or at the very least not just start HATING them because of it, right? Especially now that records are free, the notion that someone works hard on a record that I take for free (despite the fact that it costs a lot of money to make) and then get ANGRY with the person who worked hard to provide this entertainment to me because it doesn’t live up to MY idea of what THEY should do is fucking asinine, childish and shitty, and yet anyone who truly loves music does this, because you can’t love something without hating it just as much.
Slight variation: I remember talking to my friend Chris after he played a show with his band, Sundowner about a year ago. He’d taken a chance and changed it up. He usually played an acoustic guitar, but for this show, he’d brought out his electric and a small amp and played that way. He felt the crowd response was lackluster. He got some people approaching him, questioning why he’d switch up the formula. He sat backstage and was a little bummed out, second guessing his decision. My response was this: That was a great show (and it was. He sounded great). People as a general rule have no vision at all. No human accepts change or new things very easily. You are the person who figured out what Sundowner is and how it should evolve. Of COURSE people will be slow to follow your progress. That’s because they’re boring and so far they’ve only accepted what you’ve already done. If they REALLY knew what the next step was for Sundowner, if they really knew how to push forward and make a better version of what you’ve done that they love so much, then THEY would be doing it, and there would be a crowd of people there to see them.
Does this make sense? I’m not saying that artists don’t make missteps. They do (this Sundowner show was not an example of that, however, just so we’re clear). Of course they do. But the thing is that every step is part of that artist’s best attempts to do something good and keep it interesting. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s their deal, not ours. If I really had known what the next Bad Religion record should sound like, I would have made it myself and presumably it would have been my favorite record since they were my favorite band, but I never could do that. At best, I could start my own band and do my best Bad Religion impersonation, which would be terrible.
Bad Religion has a classic song that builds to an explosive outro (which fades out!) where Greg Graffin screams “everybody knows what’s best for you!” over and over again. This is never more true than when you’re a child, underemployed, or when you’re a musician that people enjoy. Don’t change! Don’t stay the same! That sucks! Be more like that! How dare you invoke this iconography!? This is all said by people who sit there and wait to be entertained by you, people who will readily admit that they’re not creative, not musically inclined, people that aren’t adept at expressing themselves emotionally. Lazy people who are sitting there like cowboys shooting at your boots, demanding to be entertained will tell you exactly where you fucked up or what you should have done as though their hindsight/armchair ‘producing’ is somehow as valid as the vision that created the music that brought them to the table in the first place. It’s fucking ridiculous.
Now, finally I’m not suggesting that you have to be able to do something in order to say that someone else doing that same thing stinks at it. For example, I can’t do surgery, but I can spot bad surgery no problem. I can’t take good photographs but I recognize bad ones. This is all fine. People don’t have to like shit. That’s not the issue. The issue here is the rage, the smug disappointment and the cocksure notion that the person creating the shit is the one who got it wrong, ignoring that the whole reason we care is because they were the ones who invented what was right.