Last week, The Daily Beast published an as-told-by story from Billy Corgan. The Smashing Pumpkin’s frontman’s piece, titled “What I Learned As A Rock Star,” questions the current musical landscape, especially a breakthrough musical genre rebelllion. He mentions Pitchfork, a lot.
In true 90’s fashion, Corgan’s main metaphor for the music industry is to compare it to a high school. It’s the "Nirvana thing." Nirvana was dangerous because they became so popular that Cobain sang to the very jocks that beat him up every day. The concept of a scene being knit of specific Hollywood-esque cliques of jocks, nerds, stoners, and prom queens is dated. “Do not destroy yourself to get the football captain, be the football captain. It’s that simple,” was the phrase Courtney shouted at the camera in Not Bad For A Girl, and when I heard it, I got a rush of power. I was a teenager. I had finally found my inner jazz choir nerd and channeled her into an electric guitar. I could even do barre chords. Things were looking up. But, the 90's were so over.
The music industry is not a high school. This isn’t happening anymore. It’s a beast of information with a big, fat greasy belly called “The Internet.” Does your band tumble? My band tumbles. Oh, and everyone is in a band now, because the beast’s greasy belly is also a great learning tool (often covered in shit). You can teach yourself how to play all the Smashing Pumpkin’s bass lines from headless kids on YouTube. That’s how I learned D’Arcy’s part in the super-hit “Zero” when my side-project band Eating Out decided to cover it at a show we played a few years ago.
Essentially, Corgan’s article is a cry to the kids: “Where’s the rebellion right now? I’m talking big picture: where are the cultural markers? Where are the bands of dissent? Where has the pushback gone?”
It’s all here. It’s all happening, but Corgan, a veteran football star (to use his metaphor), just can’t see it. “He’s opening tea shops and running wrestling companies,” my editor friend Nicole Villeneuve pointed out. He’s tweeting about God.
In the article, Corgan picks on the Pitchfork indie-darlings; the white, straight boys in popular band’s that aren’t pushing any boundaries. “If you are 20 years old and you aspire to be like me or Kurt Cobain or Courtney Love or Trent Reznor, you’re not going to make it that way.” Corgan let’s us in on a secret: Pitchfork people are, like, all about social codes. They only love you because you are good for hits. It’s tastemaking with the blinders on. Watch out for this evil! Well duh, asshole.
Rebellion is happening. I see it all the time. I see it when I turn on the television and Nicki Minaj’s plastic, contorted face is moving a mile a minute under her candy pink hair. She’s a freak. She’s rebellious and she is a huge star. I see it with Tom Gabel. I see it with Odd Future. Fucked Up, maybe they could be rebellious. It’s hard to rebel when you are famous, because the world doesn’t consider it rebellion when you are being paid to rebel. But isn’t that the problem? Isn’t that why Kurt was so sad? He wanted to be rebellious, but he was suddenly being paid for it, so he lost the respect of fellow rebels. The jocks gave the thumbs up. No one wants to be Kurt Cobain. It’s too much responsibility.
“Is Corgan right? Has indie (and thus punk) become an echo chamber for fans or will there be a real breakthrough from the world to the mainstream again?” asked a blogger at Punk News.
My friend Josiah Hughes made an excellent point in his latest, highly-trafficked article with Mark Teo, titled “Canadian Music Is Boring,” that answers Corgan’s musing. "Our tastes are simply too fragmented and personalized to arrive at another consensus band," Hughes wrote. There will be no mass rebellion like there was in the days of Gen X, but that is okay.
As a touring musician, as someone that some people would refer to as “punk,” the greatest thing about the so-called “punk scene”—and I use the word “punk” here as in DIY methods and not as a sonic descriptor—today is the common understanding that being in a band is not a viable career option and no one is rich. No one, in my “clique,” is making any money. We will all have day jobs until we are lucky enough to have 25 seconds of our song in an indie film, and even then, that money won’t last. The check was small and amps are expensive. We will keep booking our own tours and paying back our small, generous labels. We’ll get our friends to help us make music videos at no cost and we’ll get our editor friends to put them on websites that people read on their phones while waiting for the subway. We’ll never be on the cover of major music mags, but we’ll sell out small clubs in New York. We’ll celebrate breaking even after every single tour. That’s just how it goes in the belly of the beast and that’s totally okay with me.