clap clap blog: we have moved

Monday, April 14, 2003
But first, a little goth-emo diversion. The interview in Pitchfork today is with Jamie from Xiu Xiu, and it might be worth reading some reviews, too. Then lemme get into it.

On the second page, the interviewer talks about bands like the Frogs "torturing" their audience and says that, given how "scary" Xiu Xiu are on record (yeah dude, there's nothing scarier than a guy screaming about his mom) if he ever scares people in concert. Jame responds:

I'm just not like that as a guy, so if I did that it would just be totally phony-baloney. I don't know how I can put this, but the most important thing philosophically with what we're doing is to be genuine with what we're singing about. Because the songs are about real things...It would be really, really disingenuous of me to, like, fuck around during one of our shows, or freak people out, because that's the opposite of what we're trying to do musically.

Now, this is all very nod-nod, oh yes it's very authentic and real man, but I think he sort of misses the point. The point is if he ever fucks with people emotionally (the Frogs don't go out into the audience and punch you, after all, they just start songs by screaming "I EAT AFTERBIRTH!" which most people find weird, for some reason), and I think the beginning of the interview is a classic example of trying to fuck with people, except it's done in a way that strokes the egos of people who like you and distances people who don't, which seems like the height of dishonesty to me. I'm going to quote a semi-long section here because I don't see any way around it, but fuck it, that's what blogs are for, right?

Jamie: Any time you're doing something in music that makes you feel kind of uncomfortable, then something actual is happening. And sometimes it's successful, and people can get touched by it, and sometimes people are like, "Is it a joke?" But the times that it's successful never happen unless you go fucking balls-out on something and just rip yourself apart. Personally, too, any creative venture that's ever meant anything to me personally has been really over the top. I mean, shit like, most indie rock, I think, is some of the dumbest fucking music I've ever heard, because it's usually just, listless. Not even the same old stuff, but people being very subtle, and very guarded. I mean, fucking, why? Why?

Pitchfork: I think a lot of people just want to be in a band, or think that they can innovate by just being another band with, like, tape manipulations...

Jamie: People have been doing that since, like, the 40s. Big deal. If somebody can do indie rock with tape manipulations, and then they can tear their fucking heart in half, then they're doing something, hopefully. I don't know. Going over the top in and of itself isn't an end. I don't just mean emotionally. I think that in anything you do-- I mean, just SCREAMING THAT MY LIFE'S HORRIBLE! I'M GOING TO CUT MY OWN FUCKING HEAD OFF! I mean, I don't think that's necessarily going over the top. I think that whether or not we do it successfully, sometimes we do. I think that being incredibly honest with what you're feeling is the most over-the-top that you can go. And if it's really histrionic, and it's really crazy-dramatic, but that's a real expression of somebody's life, then that person, luckily for them, is doing something that can be a real experience for somebody. And if you just sit there and wear a fucking trucker hat and play a Jaguar guitar, you can suck my fucking asshole. Ech, ech! It pisses me off. I'm so fucking tired of that shit.

My initial response to all of this was: huh? What're you talking about, dude? But then the reflexive hipster-bashing[1] reared its head at the end and then I started to notice a few other things and, well...OK, first off, it's nice that in the subsequent question he talks about how stuff can still be honest and true if you're writing about someone else's experience, not just your own. But then everything in this excerpt is so narrow-minded and wrong, it just boggles the mind that a 31-year-old could have said it.

Let's try to answer the "WHY?!?!" of "subtle and guarded" first. Well, people are subtle because subtlety is nice and probably a better reflection of how life is actually lived--slowly, boringly, banally--and people are guarded because they realize that they're doing something in public, and they realize that when you put something out in public, it gives people this weird idea that they know you, or even that they're sort of your friend, and that's a pretty dishonest feeling to be encouraging. People are guarded because maybe they realize that just like Jamie worried (for a good minute or two, seemed like) about exploiting the gay Vietnamese hooker, you can also end up exploiting yourself. Despite his "dude I'm such a rebel" stance toward the standards of art, the reality is that critical opinions as well as the marketplace demand that you show blood, that you expose and confess and emote authentically, that you give up little parts of your life for the voyeuristic impulses of others, instead of doing something weird like being creative and making up stories. It's fair that most people don't go over-the-top when they're confessional, and from that point of view I suppose Xiu Xiu is doing something good, but if you're more of the opinion (as I am) that applying standards of "truth" and "honesty" and "authenticity" to a creative, imaginative medium like art is about as meaningful as applying standards of intelligence to peanut butter, then it's just over-the-top bullshit rather than regular bullshit.

But here's why Jamie thinks that people should be like this, rather than sit around with a jaguar guitar and a trucker hat. (Note to self: do not play Jaguar and wear trucker hat or any music I play will be totally invalidated.) He says "it's doing something that can be a real experience for somebody." Now, seriously, what the fuck is this bullshit? Have we honestly gotten to this point? A "real experience"? What the fuck isn't a real experience? Taking a shit, watching TV, wearing a trucker hat and playing a Jaguar: all real. Not fake. Real. Your whole life is real. The reason we don't need to hear about someone else's life is because we have our own life for real experiences, and really, hearing about your dog dying is a lot less "real" than our own dog dying, isn't it? The only real experience we're having in that case is hearing a song about your dog dying, if you want to go by those standards. Have we honestly gotten to that point where we need to listen to someone else up on stage screaming and playing electro-gongs to have a real experience? Can't we just go mow the lawn or something?

The weird thing about all of this is Jamie's early insistance that only music like Xiu Xiu is valid. I mean, OK, fair enough: some people will like it, and some people will be OK with giving up little bits of their life to pander to those people. That's fine. But no other music is valid? His weird inability to conceive of why people would like electroclash parties (coke and fucking, dude, coke and fucking) seems symtomatic of this, and moreover, seems symptomatic of the worldview of the confessional musician: if I don't feel it, it can't be valid. And that's pretty sad.

[1] My official position on hipster-bashing is that it's a pretty tired and weak-ass excuse for social commentary. It's fine for hipsters letting off steam by bashing other hipsters in a bar or somewhere, but when you do it in public it's probably not the most productive thing.