Last night at work, I found myself in a conversation with a young man (Nick, the same dude who gave me the new Panic! at the Disco record) wherein he opined that the first decade of the 21st century was one of the worst ever for music. Since I was working, I had to keep my response brief, so I said I disagreed. He clarified his statement by saying that he meant it was a bad decade for “mainstream music.” Again, I was working, so I couldn’t bust out my soapbox and deliver the sermon that I felt bubbling up to the surface of my brain. But Bollocks! is my fucking soapbox, so what follows is my somewhat rambling response to the questions of 1) whether or not the last decade was really so awful, musically speaking; 2) If so, for whom; and 3) why or why not?
Obviously, I think the Aughts were peaches and fucking cream for music. I have several reasons for thinking so. But I don’t have to bash out some discursive essay on the historical factors that contributed to music being great through the first ten years of the twenty-first century. There was awesome music during that decade and it’s not my fault if some people couldn’t fucking find it (if you knew me over the last ten years, I would have been more than happy to sit down and listen to music with you until you found some shit that really moves you). Whether that music was “mainstream” or not is immaterial to me.
If you haven’t been able to make the inference in the three years that Bollocks! has existed, let me spell it out for you: I don’t give a shit if music is mainstream or “indie” or twee or emo or whatever. I don’t give a shit what anyone calls it, I only care if the music is good. I really don’t like to tell people how to live their lives, but I will offer this one piece of advice, which I believe I’ve offered before in some form: you shouldn’t give a shit how the music you love is classified. Like what you like and try not to be a dick about it.
Because some people labor under the delusion that I hate most music, I’m often asked – in a “stump the asshole” kind of way – to name bands that I like. I’m usually interrupted by the third band on my list with the addendum, “Bands that I’ve heard of.” I used to try to figure out what bands the asker knew about and adjust my list accordingly, but I’m not going to do that anymore. Because if I tell you I like a band and you haven’t heard of them, you know what you can do? Go to the fucking internet and find out about them! When someone tells me about a band I’ve never heard of, I go find out about that band. I’m not saying this because I think I’m hip – I’m saying this because I’m a fucking nerd. But if you think you only like so-called “mainstream” bands, you’re cheating yourself out of some great music. Likewise if you think you only like “indie” bands.
Astute readers will point out that I frequently rail against corporate rock on Bollocks! and I pick on mainstream bands like Nickelback and My Chemical Romance with a zeal that approaches (and, okay, surpasses) the sadistic. That’s true, but that’s also because I have little tolerance for bands when I perceive that they make music to make lots of money instead of to make good music. How can I tell the difference? It’s a feeling I have when I hear the music and yes, it’s one hundred percent subjective, but so is everything we say when we argue passionately about the music we love or hate. And besides, I don’t hate corporate rock because it makes money – I hate it because it’s fucking boring. If you like Nickelback, though, if you really like them, I can live with that. Just don’t tell me they’re better than the Hold Steady because they’ve moved more units.
Obviously, my work duties didn’t allow Nick the opportunity to define exactly why he thought the Aughts were so terrible for mainstream music, but my point is that great music has been with us almost since the first music was made. So has shitty music. It’s up to each of us to find the music that moves us and if we’re really wise, we’ll keep open minds about it. I’ve been no fan of Kanye West (although I agreed with him when he said George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people. I don’t think Bush’s lack of concern is due to any animosity toward African-Americans, though. I think they just literally don’t occur to George Junior. Same goes for poor people), but I was delighted to find that I really enjoyed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I like it when an artist changes my mind. I doubt that Taylor Swift will ever record a song that I give a shit about but if she does, I’ll be the first to trumpet that fact from the rooftops.
Grammy-winning artists the Arcade Fire sang last year that “the music divides/ us all into tribes” but the tragedy is that it doesn’t have to. Just because you normally like mainstream rock records, it shouldn’t rule out the possibility that you’ll fall in love with an underground hip-hop album or maybe some early country music. I love music from almost every genre I can think of (if I count the Cure’s Disintegration as emo), but I’m aided in that by a seething disdain for genre. If you tell me you love shoegaze, I’ll wonder what the fuck you’re talking about or I’ll wonder if you also like heroin. But if you tell me you like Asobi Seksu or My Bloody Valentine (I abhor My Bloody Valentine, by the way. They’re fucking terrible), I’ll understand where you’re coming from.
If you’ll permit a somewhat awkward segue, part of my absolute fury that some people want to ban gay marriage in this country is that I see an implicit assertion in the anti-gay marriage argument that we can choose who we fall in love with. Deep down, I’d like to think we all know this is bullshit. We have no control over what moves us, but if it doesn’t hurt other people (and, contrary to increasingly unpopular belief, being gay doesn’t hurt anyone), we have a right to be moved. That’s especially true with music; I can’t always articulate why I think Joe Strummer was such a badass, but I’ll always get a little misty-eyed listening to Streetcore. I can’t help that and I wouldn’t want to.
What I become afraid of when I hear someone suggest that music is getting worse, that it was better way back when, or that some recent decade was terrible for music is that the person speaking these thoughts has given up (or begun to give up) on what I feel is a lifelong quest to find art that resonates with our own humanity. That’s a gateway drug to premature old age and – far worse – bitterness. Every country in the world has music, even countries completely rent asunder by war, famine, and death. Hell, especially those countries. That is a testament to music’s power to help us transcend our misery and celebrate our joy. So I’ve made myself a solemn vow to never close my mind about music or say that it was better when I was younger. Though I will no doubt be a cranky old man someday, eager to chase the kids off my lawn, it’s likely I’ll ask them to stay a while if they bring their records.