So apparently a plucky journaliste over at Paste Magazine has penned a silly editorial (to be the February cover story), asking the age-old question: Is Indie Dead? We didn’t see it, because we don’t read Paste Magazine. It’s nothing personal; We don’t read Pitchfork or Spin or NME or any of those magazines that pay the bills by churning out empty headed nonsense and bullshit top ten lists that only serve to suck off the hip acts of the moment and bring nothing to contribute to the legacy of the institution of recorded music.
We only found out about it because Flavorpill asked “ten writers and editors from some of [their] favorite music sites to contribute a response” for a follow-up they were working on. One of their “favorite” sites’ writers must have bailed, as they wound up publishing a lengthy missive of Johnny’s, that had made its way over indirectly, instead.
Paste’s Rachael Maddux constructs her essay by the book, opening and closing with quotes (Nietzsche, of course), over 8,000 words in all, chock full of Googled statements by arbiters of Indie cred providing the points and counter-points. It’s the kind of thesis that a high school English teacher would reward with a big red “A++” and a promise that its author will be a great writer someday. Yet in a collegiate examination, it’s somewhere in the vicinity of the Sex Pistols quote where Maddux winds up out of her depth in a shallow pool.
In one of the author’s overwrought daydreams, the Punk movement’s “earliest adopters” are transported to the present day, and “hang themselves by their guitar strings” as we awkwardly explain to them how our Indie bands are kinda indie but not really, and our Punk bands are kinda punk but not really. This is just one of many passages in which the line between Indie and Punk is ignored, or at least written off as too difficult to define. It’s also the most obviously out of touch tangent, floating way beyond the jurisdiction of any expert, reality-based anchors. Its pace has certainly quickened, but the cycle of counter-culture becoming commercial culture is hardly unique to our generation. This notion of a golden era of utopian purity is a juvenile fantasy.
The basis of the author’s position (yes folks, Indie is dead) is centered on the idea that as a religion, its tenets have been compromised, just as Nietzsche’s God’s observable power had been trampled to death by the conceit of Man. Yet if this is true, then Indie and Punk were both born dead, years before Maddux (or anyone she quoted) had even heard either word spoken. If the commercialization of a movement is enough to kill it, then Elvis Presley killed Rock long before Malcom McLaren, who killed Punk long before Green Day came along, before Avril Lavigne, before Paramore, before whoever’s coming along any day now to kill it some more. Either way, it’s relatively safe to assume that you have no clue who Richard Hell or Big Mama Thornton is. And that is the tragedy we should be mourning over.
The only people who ask silly questions like “is (Indie / Punk / Rock / Hip-Hop / God) dead?” are those who didn’t pay attention when the answer to the question of what they were in the first place was given. The Sex Pistols are credited with initiating the Punk movement, yet they were assembled like a boy band, based soley on their fashion. But hey, they mean it, man. They were designed to sell the concept of being not for sale, just as today’s “Punk” acts are. But hey, tell that to the evangelists. Take a bullhorn and some Nietzsche down to Birmingham.
What we can contribute to the conversation is that the word indie describes two things, that can be found together or separately: 1) It is a business ethic. 2) It is a sound. However, it is a subjective label in both cases. Which means that it is applied based on human perception, and is only really helpful to the perceiver and those with like minds. It’s anything but empirical.
The same is true of punk. For instance, Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison is a punk record. Never Mind The Bollocks is not. The Sex Pistols sound punk. Johnny Cash does not. However, this is my opinion, and yours may be different.
The most hilarious passage from the Paste article is where Maddux mentions, in parenthesis, a friend who actually re-labels artists in her iTunes if they “get bigger,” explicitly revoking their Indie designation based on their commercial success. What a dysfunction! And yet, now I see the purpose of Pitchfork: When in doubt, the religious must have a bible to turn to. I can’t help but suggest that what would have been far more valuable, not to mention entertaining, would be an 8,000 word interview with this misguided friend.
As we could go on and on about how silly this debate is, and how the question itself is bullshit, the most important point to pull from all of the soapboxing is that these titles are as exclusive as they are intrinsically meaningful. For the life of me, I can’t find who originally said this, but it’s immortally true: While a lot of people have differing opinions on what punk is, one thing it most certainly is not is giving a shit about whether or not you’re punk. [Update: It was Jonah Matranga of Far, in an Antiquiet interview.]
Uh, so is indie dead? Uh, so is punk dead? Well, you tell me. Is chivalry dead? Is fun dead? Only if you’ve lost the energy to keep it alive. Everyone around you will continue to abuse it to their benefit, perhaps even to your detriment. They’ll attain unprecedented wealths of fame and glory, they’ll get your girl, they’ll become poster children for your causes, and you’ll have to settle for consolation prizes of authenticity and pride. God forbid you find critical or commercial success in your lifetime; You’ll be attacked by those behind you as a fraud. This is the way it has always been, and the way it will always be.
To be truly Punk is to not care. To be truly Independent is to not complain. To ask if independence itself is dead is to bid farewell to your youth, and if you decide that it is, then you’re dead. As dead as Sid Vicious, Elvis and Nietzsche.