9.01.2009

Indie Music and publishing

Over the weekend I read through Bill Wasik's And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture, which ended up being another title in a long line of books that try to grasp the push and pull of 21st Century culture. It expands upon the birth and growth of memes and fits on the bookshelf stocked with titles like The Tipping Point, Freakonomics, The Wisdom of Crowds, The Black Swan, and Here Comes Everybody.


The second chapter of the book covers Indie rock and how most new bands have become disposable. Throughout the chapter Wasik follows the hot bands of 2006 knowing full well they would disappear as quickly as people became aware of them (these bands fits the thesis of the book perfectly, and therefore, made a great case study). He follows the North Carolina group the Annuals (who it turns out have 2 albums and a handful of eps available) as well as Peter Bjorn and John. Wasik spends the chapter deep in rock snob territory, name-checking pitchfork media, SXSW, CMJ, tapes 'n tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (a bands I couldn't remember why I had their MP3s until I heard them and remembered it was the band that sounded like David Byrne, but I quickly grew tired of and returned to listening to the Talking Head and David Byrne albums I have), add hip band of 2006 in here. So, why do I keep thinking back to this chapter? Is it because I've been spending time at home rearranging my music and I keep finding these odd songs here and there that I have no idea what they are (hint: I take a listen and end up filing them in the random Indie Rock folder I created. See: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah). It's funny because I can identify most of the other stray artists and put them in the right folder (and we're talking about a mix of artists I pulled from someone's 78 collection posted online as well as old country and remnants of an obsession with bollywood). But why has this happened to indie rock? It wasn't always this way. I remember bands in the 90s making at least two or three albums before disappearing (I know there were tons of bands that made a blip and left, but they still seemed to have some fan base that would listen to them for years after the fact. I still want to find a copy of Bash and Pop's album). But I digress. Maybe Bill Wasik's theory about the indie rock scene is right, it's not the bands but the audience. We've become so accustom to instant new music we don't stick around to develop a taste for any one band.


The chapter also focuses on how we treat authors the same way. All the young authors are treated as flavors of the month and not taken as seriously as established authors like John Updike and Philip Roth. I'm going to skip the issues I have with using a poll from the New York Times Book Review to show preference for older authors, and just point out that these young bucks that the author identifies are David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, William T. Vollman, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, etc. You know authors who have received some of the highest advances from publishers, have movies of their works, and have received grants awards etc over the past 10 years. Yes these authors may not be viewed on the same level as Morrison, Updike and Roth by the writers, critics and editors that the New York Times Book Review decided were prominent, but they still are well known in the literary world. We're still talking The Police, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Phish to The Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Who (we will also ignore that most of the discussion on literature, music and memes takes place in the trapping of upper class hip urban and suburban centers or what most media still considers the mainstream consumer).


So the point of this ramble is that you know what we need a new model that allows young writers to be discovered, consumed and forgotten. The literary magazines aren't strong enough to do it themselves. We need a MySpace of literature (as much as it pains me to write that), some place all of those hundreds of MFA students in programs around the country can share ideas and stories and find an audience. Something for literary fiction the same as the resources out there for science and speculative fiction. If there is something already out there (and not livejournal or blogs or any site that keeps stories by different authors separated) then let me know. And before you sneer yes I understand that authors will never have the same model as bands because reading is no longer in fashion with most people, except for those Twillight, Harry Potter things that everyone reads. Besides we might see a revitalization in reading in the mainstream if e -reading devices and book clubs continue to be cool (or have we started to adopt "off the chain" now? I don't remember. I'm just going to go back to waiting for The Beatles to be relevant again.)

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