Last week I read two books on music – Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran (whose first memoir Love is a Mix Tape actually made me ;( a little) and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad (awarded the Pulitzer for fiction this year). They made me want to reexamine my own relationship with music and technology, so that's what I'm about to do now, sort of. Starting by telling you that...
I’ve always wanted to be in a band.
Rephrase: Aside from the hours of practice, amount of money spent on equipment, the not showering, and actually having talent part, I’ve always wanted to be in a band!
Of course this was back in the days before I had a cell phone bill, before Sallie Mae kept me on speed dial, and before the Internet caught this STD called MySpace. This was back when all I cared about socially online was monitoring the status of my Napster queue while eating microwaveable bacon that I microwaved sometimes. This was back when I was just beginning to build my personal encyclopedia of music one burnt CD and a VH1 countdown special at a time – back when music meant everything. This was back in the 9th grade.
By that point, as a high school freshman, I felt like I had listened to enough Weezer to confidently decide I was going to learn an instrument, be in a band. “Blue Album wasn’t built in a day!” I affirmatively wrote on the back of a Pokémon card and taped to the inside of my locker. I understood the weight of what I was about to undertake. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but neither is being Rivers Cuomo, okay? I was determined. I was ready. I enrolled in a Beginning Guitar class.
And as quickly as I picked up that communal classroom guitar, its strings were plucked from my tiny fingers. Why? I just told you. My fingers were too tiny! “Your hands are a little…small,” the instructor winced. “Come back next year?” He retrieved it from me, placed it in its leather shell, and the snapping sound of that guitar case’s metal brackets were like the nails in my Teenage Coffin.*
I walked out of that class into a Free Period Wasteland** replaying what just happened in my pre-pubescent mind and it sounded an awful something like, “So much for being in a band. So much for channeling Lenny Kravitz. So much for getting laid!” I was floored and disappointed and wanted to pull a Pearl Jam “Jeremy” on the entire class with the visceral song I was going to write about that crushing moment, except, oh wait, I couldn’t…I was 4’8”!
That was then, this is now.
Now, I can levelheadedly say I still love music, but I don’t loooove music because, looking back, if I did, I would’ve got out from under my LA Gears and learned the guitar anyway. Instead I eventually saw the movie Almost Famous and came to terms with being that kid who loves the fantasy, not the reality. Now, I can tell you I thankfully went through puberty. I’m 5’10”. I no longer wear light up sneakers. I even have sex sometimes. I’m okay, everything’s okay! Rock ‘n’ roll.
Over the years, I discovered the next best alternative to being a band: talking incessantly about being in a band. When an interesting combo of words comes up in a convo – usually in the garage of Gchat – a fellow music lover and/or real musician friend will type, “Band name! Such a good band name!” opening the airwaves for us to elaborate on its sound, the album art, it’s Behind the Music episode. Best part is I’d be included because the only instrument I can play is the MacBook keyboard. For a second, it’s kind of like I’m in a band, which is good enough for me.
I did a recent Gmail/Gchat search of variations on “band name,” “our band,” “I’m bored,” and pulled up two pages of results. Here’s a sample of a few that should further illustrate while I’ll never be in one like, for real.
Sounds like: Devo, The Plastics, The Dead Milkmen, Sparks, math rock
The Bogarts was the first band I was ever “in.” There were a lot of “The” bands going on at the time – The Strokes, The Vines, The Hives, The White Stripes – my “band mate” (whose “instrument” was Adobe and drew all these illustrations) and I wanted to jump on The “The Band"wagon. We were also vaguely into classic films/noir and not being invited to high school parties, which should again explain the name. The Bogarts had a simple back-to-basics garage pop sound with a new wave influence and the entire band narrative was booking gigs around Hawai‘i’s non-existent Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit and performing a Ramone’s cover they changed to “I Wanna Be Your Goyfriend” with video montages of Phoebe Cates superimposed over geometry problems projected behind them. Jewish moms loved The Bogarts.
Linda Hamilton Arms
Sounds like: Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, Death, an animal sacrifice
Linda Hamilton Arms refers of course to what everyone’s mom tried to achieve at the gym following the theatrical release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Just like Sarah Connor’s physique, their sound was well toned, solid and rocked hard in venues where fog machines and pyrotechnics were commonly involved. They wore all black with bulletproof vests and aviator shades and their most popular song was “Chill Out, Dickwad”. It was a ballad.
Sounds like: The Runaways, Hole, Bratmobile, The Shining Twins, spooky glam tween
Confettitties didn’t know who or what they wanted to be. They didn’t know what waves of music and feminism they wanted to ride and if intentionally wearing lots of eye shadow was a Girl Power thing or not. When they originally formed they made melancholic Mirah-esque music that required cutesy vocals over whimsical instruments like a triangle and tapping a metal spoon against a block of wood. Then they discovered Kathleen Hanna, feather boas, and cassette tapes, which morphed their sensibility towards writing simple riot grrritty songs like “Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks Is My Plan B” and “I Found This Zine Under a Barbie at Target.” They titled their album Tavi’s #1 Favorite Band!!!, which got them mad web hits and a spot on the Juno 2: Look Who’s (Still) Talking (on a Hamburger Phone) Now soundtrack. Two Tumblr refreshes later, one member had a baby and they broke up due to Ironic Differences.
Sounds like: Catherine Wheel, Boris, Ride, Salem, nightmare pop
Male Polish is kind of like the ultimate pomo homo band. Behind their skateboards, PFLAG bracelets, striped Stüssy t-shirts, and kitschy frosted tips, it’s hard to tell who’s straight, bi, gay or James Franco. In homage/outrage to the Top 40 of their youth, their entire set were covers of boy band songs circa Y2K reimagined as shoegaze (shoegayze?) songs. Crowd favorites were LFO’s “Summer Girls” (reworked as "Summer Boys") or Soul Decision’s “Faded” slowed down 300% and buried under nine layers of guitar because “Girl, I’m faded / But I feel all right” was one serious shoegaze lyric if this band’s ever heard one. Dennis Cooper blogged about them once.
...and I’m going to stop here. I mean, I could go on and tell you about Bleached, Mystery Airhead, and Habibi’s one-hit wonder “You Say Muslim, I Say Moslem” – and in turn would actually love to hear about some of the bands you’re all “in” – but the Gchat tab on my Chrome is blinking, so I gotta split. I have “band practice.”***
*Band name created exclusively within this blog
**This album name too
***Right after I shower
**This album name too
***Right after I shower