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Re “In on the Killjoy” (10/17) by Michael Little and the terrible
Right, right, we get it. This article is supposed to generate a stream of outraged e-mail from D.C.’s easily outraged rock community. But couldn’t the same effect have been achieved with something that (a) made a shred of sense, and (b) was funny?
The problems with Little’s work are legion, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll focus on the most glaring.
1. Little does not seem to have attended a rock show in Washington since late 1996.
Aside from Fugazi itself, the bands Little derides include Rites of Spring, Minor Threat, Nation of Ulysses, Embrace, and Insurrection. Did the editors of this piece detect any common threads in this list other than the fact that all these bands are gone? As far as I know, none of these bands have played a show or released any new material in years and years. We’re all down on the burning of witches, too, but there’s no need to publish a rant about it at this stage of the game. That ship has sailed.
A glance at the live music listings for D.C.’s hipper venues reveal upcoming shows by the Carlsonics, Washington Social Club, Metropolitan, the Hurricane Lamps, Beauty Pill, Meredith Bragg, the Out Circuit, and the Cassettes. And these are just the good bands I know of playing in the next couple of months. I don’t knowmaybe some of these people were real into Jawbox or don’t drink, but I’m pretty sure none of them will be delivering the “let us not party” straightedge sermons that Little funds so infuriating.
These are great D.C. bands, even if they’re not bands Little has seen or heard of. And the D.C. area has always had bands like this. Aside from Dischord Records, Washington was/is also home to such labels as DeSoto, Teenbeat, and Simple Machines. The output of any of these labels is just as likely to elicit knowing nods from hip-record-store clerks across the country as anything from Dischord. Aside from that, while the relatively small number of emo post-punkers may know Washington best for the bands that were such an influence on those particular rock sub-sub-genres, most of the more well-known D.C. bands from the past 10 years, such as Velocity Girl and the Dismemberment Plan, were neither particularly punk nor particularly preachy. (We are poorer for having lost them both.)
2. Rock ‘n’ roll is not about doing drugs.
I guess plenty of rock ‘n’ roll bands have been into drugs, or have written songs about doing drugs, but Little’s entire flawed premise is that rock music “wants you to drink heavily, gobble illicit little pills without knowing what they are, and drive your car at insane speeds smack into a K-hole.”
Look at the bands Little holds up as examples of “true” rock bands. Black Flag, Camper Van Beethoven, the Ramones, the Dead Milkmen, and the Butthole Surfers. Huh? Where did that list come from? Yeah, OK, some of these are decent-to-great bands, but who in the world would consider that a representative list of history’s best underground rock? It’s more of a sub-list of sorta-punk party rockers. Maybe when compared with those bands, Fugazi and its ilk are pretty far over to the side of the Puritans. But come up with a better list, man. Bruce Springsteen, the Replacements, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones, Wilco, Bad Religion, the Pixies, the Beatles, Superchunk. (Some personal deviation may have skewed this list somewhat). Yeah, OK, there are some songs in these vast, adored back catalogs about drugs. But the music is not “about drugs.” It’s about drugs, sex, driving, love, heartbreak, having kids, prison, workin’ for the weekend, being unable to sleep, geography, failed hopes, hangovers, parents, the American South, getting old, kisses, rain, fistfights, cities, being lost, shouting, mistakes, being sick, drive-in theaters, and food.
“Look, I’m going to tell you the truth here,” writes Little. “Rock music is dumb. So dumb it’s funny.” How can the same people who publish a fairly literate-minded alternative weekly newspaper buy into something so heartbreakingly wrong?
“Born in the USA” is about the futility and stupidity of a bad war, caught up with the way someone might feel about his country. “I Will Dare” is about being young, being stupid, and being in love. “Heavy Metal Drummer” is about, you know, the drummer for a heavy-metal band. “Driver 8” is about trains, I think. These songs are not dumb, and they are not meant to be. I’m not making the “rock music will save the world” argument. But Little is missing out on some of the best music ever made if he thinks the history of what rock ‘n’ roll is about begins and ends with Elvis Presley. There are some songs out there that will burst your heart. You should go and hear them immediately.
3. This article is horribly unfunny.
The most grievous sin committed by Little and the Washington City Paper in this instance is not being funny. This article is many things. Among them: vitriolic, short-sighted, rambling, pointless, vague, ill-informed, petty, carping, and whiny. “Funny” is, sadly, conspicuous by its absence.
A cover story knocking the hallowed D.C. indie icon Fugazi and its legions of hooded-sweatshirt-clad, dour-eyed followers? Great idea. Let’s have it. But it should make me laugh, right? Fugazi? Straightedge D.C.? Hardcore punk-rock vegan activists? Talk about a target-rich environment for humor. Yet…#nothing. A desert of bile.
Despite the truly admirable achievements of the people behind Fugazi and Dischord Records, it’s true that the fashion and mind-set that accompany their music and other creative work come with a lot of baggage, some of it worth taking the excessively righteous wind out of. I don’t know those people, but I’d hope that they would be able to take something like that with a laugh, or at least a grain of salt. But there’s not anything in this article worth taking offense at. It’s too far off the mark. It’s like being morally opposed to the Bush administration because it’s too caught up in making the world safe from Soviet domination. There’s a track there to follow, but we’re not on it with this mess.
Anyway, I’m sure you’ll get tons of responses to this article, and I’m sure lots of them will be just as ranting, uninspired, and infuriated as the original. Maybe that was the author’s secret grand design. But I just found it irritating. And I don’t even own any Fugazi records.