Last night I found myself at The Sound Academy, on Toronto’s Polson Pier for a show by TV on the Radio. Not the place I would normally find myself, but they’re one of The Lady’s preferred musical acts, and I am nothing if not a dutiful companion.
The openers were Brooklyn collective The Dirty Projectors, a band who despite their seven year history looked and sounded like something out of the Indie Rock ’09 Handbook, all capo’d guitars and female multi-instrumentalists. Every song sounded like Vampire Weekend with a case of the math rock shits, and the crowd was just lapping it up. And I could not have felt more out of place.
Because man, I just don’t get white people.
All right, let’s not be reductionist, I don’t not get all white people. But pinned in a crowd of bearded, cardiganed twenty somethings who were actually dancing to the atonal yodeling of the openers, I had to ask, “Who are these people?’
I’m not the first to quizzically arch my brow at the current state of what’s hot and now in rock music. The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones ignited a mini firestorm a couple years ago for wagging his finger at indie rock for not being black enough. One of the more measured responses to Frere-Jones’s argument was from Slate’s Carl Wilson, who pointed out the problem, if you consider there to be one, isn’t that it isn’t black enough, but that it isn’t poor enough.
Ultimately, though, the “trouble with indie rock” may have far more to do with another post-Reagan social shift, one with even less upside than the black-white story, and that’s the widening gap between rich and poor. There is no question on which side most indie rock falls. It’s a cliche to picture indie musicians and fans as well-off “hipsters” busily gentrifying neighborhoods, but compared to previous post-punk generations, the particular kind of indie rock Frere-Jones complains about is more blatantly upper-middle class and liberal-arts-college-based, and less self-aware or politicized about it.
Too right. Bear in mind these arguments are both two years old, and the tastes of the tortoiseshell set seems to have swung back to the disco side of things, which still makes no sense to me but I find a little more bearable. So how did I fall so out of step with my own people? Am I just too old? Too poor? Not exactly.
What you need to know, friends, is I grew up in a place called Windsor, Ontario, the [former?] automotive capital of Canada, land of debauchery and shoreline sharer with Detroit, Michigan. Sharing the river means those of us in Windsor/Essex County absorb most of our media from American sources. It means Cancon rules are relaxed and by the time I started caring about music in the mid-80’s, Detroit radio stations were starting to give hip-hop a chance.
I’ve yet to read any of the recent books on how our brains react to music, so I have no explanation for why I was always drawn to the soulful side of the music spectrum. Before Wayne Morgan played me ‘Raising Hell’ by Run-DMC on the bus to my advanced studies class, before Kris Bondy played me ‘Crushin’ by the Fat Boys on the playground at morning recess, my favourite band was probably the blue-eyed soul of Hall and Oates. By the time I heard that sample of ‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras’ by Bob James chopped up by Jam Master Jay at the start of ‘Peter Piper’, it was all over for me, I’ve been a student of hip-hop ever since.
It’s not a matter of trying to be something I’m not, or trying to forget who I am. I know exactly who I am. I grew up an only child and chubby latchkey kid who didn’t have a lot of friends. I was kept company by The New Dance Show and Lisa Lisa‘s after dark show on 96.3 back in the late 80’s and early 90’s [you know how long it was before I realized what those commercials on the New Dance Show were for?]. Every night I fell asleep to De La Soul and 3rd Bass songs taped off the radio. I wore clothing in support of the LA Raiders [they still played for LA then] because that’s who Bo Jackson played for and because Chuck D and Ice T wore the same gear. My buddy and I would do the Kid-n-Play toe tap routine [at 1:19] and I could do a split as good as Big Daddy Kane ever could.
And now I’m a thirty-one year old man who lives in a city where there are a million people just like him. A man who walked the streets of Toronto today in a matching Kidrobot shirt and cap ensemble, with a complimentary pair of Nikes and Illmatic bumping in my headphones. And somewhere around 2005, all the things that are supposed to make me cool and trendy stopped making sense. The great thing about being old, is you stop caring about stuff like that. The great thing about being young, is you don’t care what old farts like me think.
Oh, and TVOTR were pretty cool. Young Liars made for a great encore.