Listen to shittier music

I believe that everyone gets one artist\band at a pivotal time in adolescence that sort of casts the net for our musical preferences. That one band might not exactly be your favorite group, but if you analyzed the style and elements that band\artist had, you’ll find you flocked towards what sounded like it for a time. Even after, it’s elements were capable of tracing in what you went forward into. It’s like the first book you really enjoy; your frame of reference begins here.

In Junior year of high school, Amanda Santillo sent me a few gigs of music over AIM. I’d had a blue iPod mini for about two months and only carried three bands on it, so this was a big change. I didn’t know who any of the artists were, but I was hooked. I’d lay in bed pretending I was asleep with the blue backlight on so I could see how long my battery life might last. It meant I didn’t sleep well, but I knew my music. I was listening to the point that I could play the “guess that song” game from the most obscure parts of songs. I recall sitting for an hour once, guessing 4 and 5 second samples correctly and then being done with it. I had trained my ears to that moment and I trained well. 

There was something about my youth that enjoyed shocking people. Maybe I needed to not be like everyone else, or maybe I just liked to see that look on people’s faces. Their reactions made me happy. “The Number 12 Looks Like You” aided me in that juvenile goal. Whether it was the unappealing vocals screaming over one another (which I found VERY appealing), the well-composed instrumental work, or just the naming of their songs and the lyrics in them, something sunk it’s teeth into me. With song titles like “The Proud Parents Convention in the ER”, “Don’t Get Blood on my Prada Shoes”, “Clarrisa Explains Cuntainment”, “Like a Cat”, “Sleeping With the Fishes, See?”, and the best cover of “My Sharona” you’ve ever heard, I was enraptured. It had everything I wanted. At the time I opposed the materialism of American capitalism, and they mentioned it just enough to intrigue me. I couldn’t imagine ever being like the kids at my school that got drunk every weekend and thought themselves mature for it. I hardly understood the lyrics myself in retrospect, but what did speak to me was cynical in a way that reassured me. “All these happy kids aren’t paying attention to life”; my teen angst felt vindicated. Likely a contributor to my need for proof and a solid backing argument as I got older, but back then it was just “the truth”. I’d thankfully grown more self-aware with time.

I’d argue then how musically, they put any other kids favorite bands to shame. The simple chords I heard in other bands couldn’t match the complex time-signatures and well-composed musicianship that Number 12 was doing. Metal guitars flowing over incredible drumming, almost like the notes just existed together, how could anyone possibly play this naturally? My father had raised me on Metallica and whatever 90’s artists I’d found through radio channels, so this was the most complex thing I had ever heard. I’d later realize it was just Jazz music; if the giants of the Jazz era never were, the Number 12 would’ve never known how to play Metal like it was Jazz (or Jazz like it was Metal?). 

I thought the screaming was pure emotion over audio format. While I pretended to know the words then, they were only lines I picked out from the screams which I can now admit I hardly understood. “It makes more sense to speak nonsense”, “In my heart I know that the devil doesn’t lie”, the sort of thing your Church-going parents don’t want you listening to. They had a concept-album written entirely from the perspective of a serial killer. Most of their songs spoke with an 80’s slasher film type of violence.  I was glued to those films when my headphones weren’t on, so I found their violence appealing instead of appalling. Their lyrics weren’t what made music really pull me in, but musically their complexity drove me up the walls. Admittedly, The Number 12 only began my relationship with music even though I didn’t get to see them play live until just recently. The political side of another band is what really pulled me into constant scribbling of lyrics on everything I owned, and even writing lyrics across blank shirts by hand.

Orchid did the music louder and more distorted than Number 12, writing lyrics about social and political concerns I had. I wish I could say they were what made me love music, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say Number 12 was my first dose. Orchid was the band that really took hold. I couldn’t stop from there. It was Orchid, Ed Gein, Combatwoundedveteran, Dillinger Four,  and others of the like, trading lyrical content for popular appeal. It wouldn’t occur to me that a band could do both until much later in senior year when Mike Durnin and Dan Neist showed me bands like Bad Religion and NoFX. Pete Ciullo would introduce me to Streetlight Manifesto and other punk bands that would focus my radar for music. They did this by example not by insistence, and at times even at request but never did they say “you have to listen to this” or “why don’t you listen to ______?”. It was always “oh if you like ____, you’ll probably enjoy ______”. And while punk rock definitely took hold when the well of obscure political hardcore bands ran dry, it was the lyrics that managed to pull me towards the less difficult to understand vocals. Greg Graffin and Fat Mike spoke to the general frustration, and Anti-Flag had my outlook pegged, but Jayson Green hit the issues head on.

It wasn’t just the way he saw the popular crowd, it was how he saw his own crowd. The Nietzschian sort of criticism that looked at his own tribe members and said “no, no, no, this isn’t how we live”. The song titles didn’t have any sort of juvenile appeal here, nor was there any violence to accompany the music for shock factor. If anyone didn’t like Orchid it was the sounds that turned them off, lyrically you couldn’t disagree. 

“And our party’s Mystique shall be our capability to think” highlighting the importance of intelligence over anything else.

“I never wanted to have sex til you asked me, goddamn I’m a brand new man!” A satirical prod at the idea that somehow sex should revolutionize who you are. 

“You own everything, that’s why there is nothing new. This is the face of the change, all in all, why not face it?” What better critique on the stagnacity of American thinking? 

“complete self-destruction, all the watches stopped when the first brick was thrown. Chaos is me.” Which covers the passion Camus had for rebellion. On another note, the band references important authors quite often; Marcuseh, Foucault, Adorno, and other French thinkers pepper the lyric catalog.

“your chaos ain’t me, it’s a mask that I put on and I wore it for too long. But chaos definitely ain’t you, no matter what the ship says.” Reflecting on the crowd their earlier works (“Desorde C’est Moi” tr:Chaos is Me) had gathered, the band turned targets on its own lyrics. Essentially going full-Nietzsche, the band turns even on its past self (“this too, only youth!”), Affirming the philosophy it has set out to prove.

After breaking up, Green would go on to form the band “Violent Bullshit” and move to NYC, doing what most youth idols do: change. While part of me feels disappointment, the more mature part of me is glad he didn’t waste himself trying to be vindicated by 19 year olds his entire life. There are enough failed projects in the world, but Orchid thankfully bowed out when it should. There’s a certain feeling in your favorite band being so unsung and with only a narrow chance of seeing them again. 

I recently got to see the #12 live for the first time. Despite being lyrically juvenile at times, their skill as musicians couldn’t be questioned. While I don’t know that I’ll get to see them again, I know I’ll try to catch it. That feeling of singing/screaming along with 50 strangers and a good friend to songs I thought only I knew the words to is incredible. I’d advise you find yourself a lesser-known band and see what it feels like if you don’t already know. 

Refused once said “How can we expect anyone to listen if we’re using that same old voice? We need New Noise. Great words won’t cover ugly actions. Good frames won’t save bad paintings.” We can’t hide behind shit art in nice packages for long. We need wittier music, shittier music.

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