Thursday, April 07, 2005

Very, Very Slow Fade

Sasha Frere-Jones on Slint in the new New Yorker is one of those pieces of music writing that, like the best music itself does, made me look at the minor quirks of my own life in a completely different way; appreciate something I’d not appreciated; glory in the negative and transcend it. That’s a lot of weight to put on someone who apparently has stories about dating related to Big Black and wants to see Oxford Collapse on Cribs. But sir can get the job done.

Two weekends ago, The Johnsons Big Band went to Chicago to play the Hideout and then back up the world’s greatest living Englishwoman, Sally Timms, as she opened for Slint at a mega-venue called Park West. It was important to me because I adore Sally and because it would’ve been – had the entire crowd paid attention – the largest crowd I’ve ever played for. But it was mostly important because these two shows, buffered by a few hours of the most enjoyably hedonistic stupidity the JBB has yet produced, were the last the Johnsons will ever play.

Slint is one of those bands, not unlike Simon & Garfunkel, which I despise for reasons completely unrelated to the band itself: Spiderland was the record amongst people who, in my college radio days, tormented me unknowingly; confusions which turned to wounds which turned to scabs that have never fully healed. Plus, Slint went on to inspire so many of the artists which truly turn me off of music – music that’s aimed at the head, which is fine, and which ignores the ass, the throat, the fingers and the breath. Which is not fine. Seeing them live in concert, pausing for minutes between songs, arch-fans booing and shushing those who dared to show their unworthiness by breaking the silence, redoubled my ill will.

But reading Frere-Jones on Slint, two weeks after the show, makes me see a different show. Not holier-than-thou indie showmanship, on the part of band and fans, but an entire generation of now-grown college-radio boys, paralyzed by their own inability to communicate, and by their own stiff upper lips. Slint’s refusal to, for example, speak to the audience between songs wasn’t some kind of academic statement – it was a nod to that audience’s needs. The audience needed, for an hour or two, to communicate solely through plodding guitar articulations and seat-shaking bass-and-drum crashes. As Frere-Jones says, “… proxy for all the stuff that boys don’t talk about: that excruciating weekend with your new stepfather; that scary walk in the woods; that rift with your best friend, whom you haven’t seen in years.”

And it’s only now, reading F-J’s piece, that I realize the life-imitating-art perfection of that Slint show: Slint’s music is about all the reasons why The Johnsons, which I will always consider one of the best bands to ever play, could never succeed and can’t continue to exist. That weekend, that walk, that rift, that inability to simply state a need, ask for help, decry an injustice, spend time alone or request meaningful company: When someone asks why we split, I couldn’t quite explain it, since we get along so well musically and personally. But our music has ceased to be about introversion and collapse – it’s become about extroversion and community, stability and reasoning. Meanwhile, inside, most of us are still terrified of being asked our opinion, yet upset at not having that opinion listened to. We’re guardedly pessimistic. In the end, our music became something that fulfilled the needs of each individual within the band and the audience – to create a commonality and then subsume itself within that commonality – but it ceased to fulfill the needs of The Johnsons as one dysfunctional subset of that commonality.

Halfway into Slint’s set, we all left. We grouped together for what will probably prove the final time, complete with the roadshow of girlfriends and stragglers, and stood outside Park West hailing cabs and divvying up responsibilities, all the while blagging on about that moment’s common enemy: Slint blew. I mean they fucking sucked. And their fans sucked. It was everything we hated about indie rock, despite the fact that some of us were big fans. (Sam, for example, soundchecked his drums with Spiderland beats, which he not only knows but teaches to his young student.) But the fact is, perhaps Slint is what we don’t like about ourselves, and what we didn’t like about our own music – not its sounds or its feel, but the missing links that made it all fail.

Ahh, fuck it and go check out bassnation’s new mix, Darkest Before Dawn, a Dawn of the Dead-style update of darkcore and, more importantly, just some sweet evil sounds. Mmmm...


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