Monday, January 21, 2008

Here's a False Problem

Two recent articles on the soundtrack to the film Juno: one in a horrible free magazine "The L" and one in the NY Times .

Sample quotes from "The L":
I've always taken the stance that "indie" is, in fact, an aesthetic sensibility. And what's so striking about Juno is that they straight-up fucking mangled that shit in the film, with all the retardo dialogue, yet they managed to nail it on the soundtrack.

I'm afraid the backlash against things like Juno or the Decembrists is causing people to abandon the ideals we've all grown up with, possibly just for the sake of being contrarians.

and some complaints about "indie, the marketing niche" rather than production or aesthetic.


Let me deal with this one summarily. The distinction between production and aesthetic is a false distinction. There is no "outside" the marketing niche.

Sample quotes from the Times:
At the same time the indie soundtrack has come into its own as a stable, if modest, seller. Directors like Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums") established the type with a mix of new independent music and older rarities, and in 2004 "Garden State" accelerated the trend by highlighting the indie band the Shins. One of their songs, Natalie Portman's character promised in the film, will "change your life, I swear."

"They have the ability to be ironic and sincere at the same time," he said. "You believe the love, the sentiment in everything they're saying, even though they're being crass or they're joking around."

[I myself "seem to choke back" vomit reading this]
Ms. Dawson closed her eyes and squinted as she sang, and although she made her share of wisecracks, she also seemed to choke back tears when pleading with her fans not to abandon her. "Just treat me normal, please," she said. After her last song she announced: "People who have to leave, leave fast. People who don't, get in a circle and hold hands." She walked into the middle of the circle and began to swirl it closely around her: a full-audience group hug.

OK, the point here isn't that "Ms. Dawson" is exceptionally crappy and embarrassing. But really aren't we tired of the image of the artist bewildered by a success they didn't desire? Is anything more warmed-over? I have to give a great deal of credit to Cat Power here (whose songs also appear on the soundtrack, natch), for not giving in to the invitation of fame to publicly-worry-about-fame. "Ms. Dawson," like many of the neurotics to be found on the NY subway, cannot help giving us her every thought in song--her music is a breathless, music-less rush of inanity--and now cannot help but turn her performances into introverted worry-fests. The worst part is that I would very much *like* to say, no one goes to concerts to hear the artists wring their hands in between songs about their personal lives, but.... fans of this music probably do go to shows for that reason. They are on a first name basis (which this blog is NOT) with "Ms. Dawson."

To clarify, briefly, the relation between the two articles--or, to solve the problem of one with the problem of the other:
is there any more palpable demonstration of the false problem of production/aesthetic than seeing this overgrown child crying onstage about how much money she is making?

Indie exists. It is not an aesthetic, however, nor is there a divide between "authentic" indie and some insidious "marketing niche" version. "Indie" IS the new name for the million-seller. Don't stay awake nights worrying about it.

4 comments:

Tim said...

I can't find anything on either of the Wes Anderson soundtracks mentioned that is newer than ~30 years old, other than the Mothersbaugh instrumental stuff.

B. Willett Parker said...

That's a really good point. I didn't notice that. It shows the arrogance of our perception--that the Kinks and the Clash are "ours"; when really they just age well.

B. Willett Parker said...

I thought a bit more about this, and isn't there that one Elliot Smith song, though?

Tim said...

Ack, you're right. But, in terms of like indie-soundtrack mainstays, that's a pretty low percentage of songs that could be termed "indie."

My real point is that it's unfair to lump Rushmore in with the other movies. I think Rushmore will be "canonized" and Garden State/hopefully Juno* won't be because the first created aesthetic, while the latter fed on it. What was the aesthetic of Rushmore? The kid wore a red beret and school blazer... not really indie rock uniform material (or I don't know, is it?).

Am I falling directly into your trope of only liking art that was made when I was 15? I can't objectively say I'm not. But let's just look at these two soundtracks from the standpoint of a 16 year old. Both soundtracks offer a teenager the opportunity to show off their hip/indie musical taste. But Juno lets them stop there, at that point where music made at or just before their coming-of-age is the best, whereas Rushmore directly contradicts that -- it requires the new listener to recognize that there was music that was made 30+ years before that still makes them cool. There's an important point to explore in there, but it's your blog so I'll stop.

*I haven't seen Garden State, and hated Juno, but admit that I might've/probably would've liked it if I were 16.