I posted an unsympathetic, knee-jerk response to a review on an indie-rock site, not to the review but to the band and the name of their album. The band is Rabbit Is A Sphere and the album is titled Hope Is a Cinder That Blinks Quietly Until You Die. I was taken to task for criticizing the band and the album, and rightly so, because I hadn’t actually heard it. Guilty as charged. I still haven’t heard it, mind you, and I should seek it out. Nonetheless, I have been chafing at this latest eccentricity found in the Indie Rock community of trying to create the most eye-crossingly confused group name and the longest album title possible. The current champion of the latter category is Marnie Stern who’s recent release has received very good reviews and glowing praise for her guitar prowess. The album:This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That.
‘Scuze me while I suck on my oxygen mask.
The original intent of Indie Rock, or so I had been led to believe, was to be somehow set aside from the stereotypes of rock, and the only way to achieve that separation was to oppose them head-on; rock star flamboyance, manicured self-image and backstory, songs that defy the simplistic, lunkheaded boy-meets-girl and let’s get drunk ‘n party fare all had to be confronted. Because labels had a tendency to shy away from bands who didn’t play the game, it was necessary to do it D.I.Y. (do it yourself, for the abbreviation-challenged) and so, through a type of attrition, musical dominant traits evolved for the Indie Rocker. These traits are now as stereotypical as the traits they ran from.
Hasn’t done me much good though. I’ve been quietly releasing music for awhile now and, yeah, maybe I self consciously avoid falling into these new/old habits, but I still shop for my clothes at Target and hold down a day job. So come with me on a journey to remake myself into the next hot Indie Rock phenomenon, hopefully hot enough to sell out to a major label and, afterward, explain myself to or chastise my fanbase for never having gotten “me” at all. Fun times! Let’s go!
1. Absurdly long bandname — And yes, even though I’m a solo act, I’m now a band. I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for James Taylor, singer/songwriter. As I mentioned before, I will need a name guaranteed not to fit on the tilecards that separate the CDs at Best Buy, and I think I’ve got a doozy lined up. How about: Cardio Pulmonary Tyler Moore! The true fans will know me as CPTM. The superfans will call me “Sleepy Tim” and I’ll call the superfans … uh … probably nothing because I will need to maintain a demeanor both aloof and slightly scared of my growing legion. See, this is all new to Cardio Pulmonary Tyler Moore. Up to now, my only fan was the band next door, Rhoda Mawkish-Turn (rimshot, y’all!)
2. Physical presence — Thank God I’m a dude, that’s all I have to say. In Indie Rock I can be ugly as sin (check and check) and still work it. If I were a woman, I would still need to be hot but probably pad it in some odd way … Bad glasses, bad attire, super outdated hairstyle, but the women of Indie Rock still need, at a moment’s notice, to be able to wash up, primp out and pose for Maxim’s “Girls Of Indie Rock” spread. Not for us guys! Big ol’ gut, thrift store shirt, crappy jeans, bedhead or bald head, chinny-chin full of fuzzy hair that I wave like I just don’t care, horn rimmed spectacles and an assurance that, should anyone snap a picture of me, I’ll always look like a deer caught in headlights. In Indie, ugliness is an asset, but only if you got junk in the tighty-whities.
3. Logo — Easy. I’ll just scribble the bandname on the back of a T.G.I. Friday’s napkin, take it home, scan it into the computer and, bam, I’m golden. This ain’t like metal where your logo needs to look like it was forged by the disgorged bowels of hell.
4. Design — Also easy. This is Indie. I can’t look like we have any design sense because that would be fake, unlike all the previous steps I’ve undergone for CPTM … cough … So here’s what I’m gonna do. I’ve got young nieces, one of which can draw really well so I can’t include her. The second of the nieces is coming along with the drawing, that might be viewed as fostering a skill, we can’t have that, so sorry, kid. Number three, ah! She just turned one year old! I’ll get her a 64-color box of Crayola crayons and a ream of paper. I’ll be set in the artwork department for life! I just love it when a plan comes together! Let’s just cross our fingers that she won’t eat the Burnt Sienna.
5. Album Title — This is a bit trickier than the previous steps. The title needs to read like a paragraph from an instruction manual, but it needs to be like an instruction manual written by David Koresh. It has to, essentially, be a load of nonsense yet have the illusion of gravitas, like this is the most important thing you’ve ever read in your entire life, yet it’s about the relationship unicorns share with the ghost of Mussolini. What kind of title would CPTM require, I wondered? Something about clouds because they’re mysterious, ethereal, and depending on how you look at them, they could be anything. Okay, now we need to find a polar opposite, concrete, something that is and cannot be mistaken for anything else. How about a John Deere tractor? That’s pretty darn solid right there. Now, tie them together like an instruction command and you have Swallow the Misty Clouds From the Wake of the John Deere Tractor. I smell a huge, steaming hit here, people!
So what about the songs? Exactly my point. After we’ve crossed all these newly imposed “T’s” and dotted their “I’s” I suspect a vaguely interested purchaser of the music has begun to write them off, if they hadn’t by the time the dumb band name was initially announced. That’s a shame, especially if you consider that Liz Phair, Wolf Parade and Godspeed You Black Emperor have made very good recordings over the years, helping to set the standards that have now become so hackneyed. They weren’t posers when they recorded their albums, but even if CPTM‘s songs were earnest, quality tunes (I doubt it) I look like a poser for indulging in the lukewarm waters. This is where my problems with the latest class of Indie Rock stars lie; the whole scene was designed to not need to play to the norms, to be wildly different and, most of all, unique to one’s self whether it meant not being easy on the ear, or not accepted by the mass audience, or even not squeaking by the scraggly college radio screener who smells of garlic pizza, B.O. and patchouli. Why new bands feel the need to wear their mullets, sleeveless striped t-shirts, ripped-knee jeans and checkerboard Vans to fit into a classification meant to exist without classification is inexplicable.
But hey, if it’s about fitting in, there’s a much easier way. The local beer bar in any town will gladly book a Bon Jovi cover band for a night or two. If fitting in is the price to pay for a steady gig, what is the difference? And next time you see Cardio Pulmonary Tyler Moore rockin’ through your town, don’t forget to request “Livin’ On A Prayer” ’cause you know we (I) know it by heart.
P.S. I will gladly accept a review copy of Rabbit Is A Sphere’s album and review it without prejudice, just in case anyone is asking. Just consider this entire column a tough-love rant from someone who is concerned, that’s all.
Next week, I go back into the CCM vaults to pull out some overlooked gems, worth your time even if you’re not into CCM. I might even have a guest to comment. Stay tuned!