[23 July 2009]
Last weekend, I made my journey to Hipster Nation’s annual convention, the Pitchfork Music Festival. I arrived with a fifth of gin, my bag chair, and an immediate distaste for many of my fellow attendees. I knew they would need to share the space with me. But I wanted to let them know without any misunderstanding that their presence was nothing but a distraction.
How had things come to this point? Aren’t rock festivals built on a foundation of one nation under a groove? Why didn’t I arrive with anticipation for that singular moment, that show moment when you look out all around at that giant sea of bliss in which you swim?
The first reason has to do with me. I’m aging. And I don’t like it.
The second reason has to do with them. They’re not angry enough. In fact, they’re a bunch of wimps.
American ‘alternative’ music prided itself on being the angriest music around. Bands like Husker Du, Jesus Lizard, Mudhoney, and Nirvana cut their teeth on ‘70s arena rock. Their guitarists knew Thin Lizzy licks. They just played ‘em faster and louder, chewed up with feedback. When I began to go to shows in the early ‘90s, I was scared shitless. There were a mess of big dudes with tattoos (when they were still cool) and Melvins shirts who lived for the moment when a scrub like me would try to sneak around their mosh pit.
They screamed toward me like Ronnie Lott about to hand some poor receiver his head. I ate a lot of floor at those all ages shows. But it made me love the music more. I was an angry kid. I didn’t want something handed to me. I wanted to be punched in the face. So I was.
The alternative music of the early ‘90s still hung with the metal crowd. There would always be a few dudes at every show auditioning for the Lemmy biopic. You never felt out of place because there always was three kids there with the same Ride the Lightning shirt as you. I don’t know when things started to turn the other way. But I remember when I first noticed the proto-hipster.
It was the Weezer show at the Aragon in 1994 when I saw him, standing away from the front of the stage. Everything he wore looked fresh out of the box, as did his lookalike girlfriend. There were no joy in their faces, just some kind of dim realization that somewhere close by was a Marshall amp. Also during that show I was dropped while crowd surfing. Right in front of the stage. Huh?
Something was amiss at the Circle K.
Over the next four years, their numbers slowly grew. They in particular loved Pavement—the first band I lost to them. But they also came out for GBV and Sebadoh. Always neat. Always aware of themselves. Most of the time with a bored girlfriend.
Yeah, they had girlfriends, alright. What right did they have to them? Didn’t they know this music was for angry young men whose experience with feminine intimacy had never proceeded past their mom wiping their ass?
I don’t remember what show it was, but it was right about 1998 or ‘99 when I heard one of them called to their face a ‘hipster shitbag.’ The enemy was named. So the anger began.
After college, things only grew worse. At least in college, I could get to see a band before they descended. No longer. They were always there to see whatever band you were seeing for the first time. Same glazed faces. Only the fashion changed. Button downs gave way to ironic T-shirts. Dickies for skinny jeans. Tattoos were in, though not of the flaming skull variety I so admired. Elvis Costello glasses were ruined for good.
And me, I stayed the same. I missed my ears bleeding. I missed the bruises and sense of danger. I missed the wild girls.
While I mourned my ‘90s, Hipster Nation blew past the line in the sand. They found their true calling. They would unite and resurrect the fashions and music of the ‘80s. Leotards. Neon sunglasses. Painters hats. Every single disgusting and disturbing trend of my childhood, many of them the very reasons I buried my head in Black Sabbath in the first place, came marching back like some wicked flashback.
Shows I went to became reruns of You Can’t Do This On Television. Before I found some of their trend-hopping mildly amusing even. No longer. Not when I was faced with audiences half full of people clothed like the short-bus kid down the street.
In 2005, the Intonation Music Festival was announced. It was within walking distance from where I lived in Chicago. It featured artists like Andrew Bird who I dug, with bands like the Hold Steady which I had never seen. And it was dirt cheap. I was pumped. When the Saturday of the show came around, I felt like a kid on Christmas.
The day broke my heart.
I was 27-years-old. I knew most of the bands that were playing that weekend. A couple I’d seen more than twice. I knew the music scene from “Cotton-Eyed Joe” to “Baby, Please Don’t Go”.
I was a stranger in a strange land.
Clown buses filled with every hipster between the coasts must have arrived that morning. A tribe surrounded me on all sides, ready to announce that from that point on they owned indie rock. People who looked like me would be tolerated still, but they would no longer guide wider tastes.
One of those hipster-baiter Ts
The hipsters had won. And they partied like it was 1981. Both days.
Me and the hipsters have held an uneasy detente since that day. I occasionally make T-shirts baiting them, but I refrain from testing how fast they can chew a pair of their sunglasses. I will berate them in public when they try to pack seven of themselves in a space made for one human of normal density, but I allow them to move freely and interact with each other.
Where does this leave us?
Hipster, here’s what you can do for me.
First, buy a mirror. If you own a mirror, for the love of everything which is sacred, please dress at a volume a couple scoches below ‘70s Elton John. Someday you’re going to be an adult, no matter how hard your parents try to prevent it.
Second, stop trying so damn hard. Peer pressure’s a bitch, but maybe it will be easier to ignore when you realize you’re around a bunch of trend-sniffing junkies.
Third, eat something. And after that, do something active. Instead of copying the look and dress of a young John McEnroe, try actually playing tennis. You can exercise with your Ipod. It’s what the playlist function is for.
Fourth, listen to some heavy metal. I suggest Motorhead, but hell, you’re in such bad need to get rocked even Motley Crue is acceptable. Listen to it until your ears throb. Then make it louder. If you’ve followed my third point, go and break something. Feel the catharsis!
Me, I’ll leave you to your youth. You want to place fashion over music, irony over sincerity-go right ahead. You know what, the older guys always thought me and my friends were assholes, too. You’re right, I’m jealous. You’re piddling away what for me is spent. Enjoy it, ‘cause nothing lasts forever.
Oh, and what do you know? During the Flaming Lips closing set Sunday night, I, indeed, had one of those show moments. And that blissful sea was full of hipsters. Maybe we can live together after all.