After the hearing, I drove back towards the airport. I was a bit desultory about it, because I believed I'd already missed my "cool flight" due to a minor emergency I had to address by telephone. I was rolling down Sunset or Beverly or one of those streets that leads west into the hip.
The Loyola Marymount radio station always plays the best tunes--very indie, very fun, with very amateur student DJs. The campus DJ this morning, though, began an editorial. The topic was not our Vice President's vocabulary, nor the hype revolving about satire from the left.
No, he was addressing a more dangerous menace to our American society. "I don't know how many of you saw that concert sponsored by the LA Weekly", he explained, although I have omitted the ditto marks for his frequent pauses, "but I don't know. I don't know about that show. I don't know if you had this experience....". He seemed a bit lost, a bit fearful to let the cat out of the bag.
Then he let us know what the the problem was. "There were a lot of SCENESTERS there". Yes, he finally was brave enough to tell us. He had encountered Los Angeles' version of the Weapon of Mass Destruction. He had us all on Scenester Alert.
Lately, I find that people speak of "scenesters" with a derision once reserved for the young urban professionals, the "yuppies". Scenesters suck the life out of parties and concerts. They are a menace, and they must be stopped.
I consider it no coincidence that they remade the Stepford Wives just when America's under 30s seem beset by people who are, well, dare we say it, a little *too* acclimated to the scene.
It used to be so much simpler once. There were people who took themselves far too seriously, whom one avoided like the plague. They tended to engage in over-adoring worship of worthy but actually fairly retro bands like X, lacing their knowing conversation with derisive comments about any other band that anyone else liked. They imagined there was a true spirit of punk, and had endless debates about whether acme or zeta band fit into the spirit. I once met the ultimate punk, who told me how much he loved that it was all a marketing scam. He was uber-scene-attuned.
The old-fashioned version of the Scenester had far too much success with the opposite gender to be entirely free of my envy, but usually ended up selling high yield (junk bond) securities at 35. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you have said fatuous things like you'd have killed yourself before making the Lou Reed live album, or other appropriately "full of hip" things. I have a saying, by the way, about such hip men and their future sports cars. Nobody owns a really good sports car until they are too old to truly drive it. So it was with these old-fashioned scenesters. They figured out what the salt trade was all about, and they usually voted Republican before their fourth decade. So everyone becomes what they fear the most--though I'm sure Exene Cervenka is still, somehow, Exene Cervenka. Of course, I think anyone of any age who wants a sports car should get one.
I personally never minded these kind of folks too much, as I have never been insecure about the fact that deep down I like that ABBA won the Eurovision song contest with "Waterloo" or that I still sing along to the first U2 album.
Although I have my own set of obscure artists I enjoy, and although I take as an article of faith that the modern record labels are dead dinosaurs on the hoof, just waiting to collapse, I am not really a music snob in the first water sense of the word. I will sing "Free Bird" without stint. I first came to appreciate the possibilities in dissonant music not from Varese, but from the two minute scrub board solo on Black Oak Arkansas' live version of "When Electricity Came to Arkansas".
I'm unbelievably boring. Even my vices are boring. But I do enjoy a good chat about music and literature and the arts as much as the next middle-brow guy. I don't really feel out of place in the places of the dreadfully, gothically dead. I talk decent music and books and darn good tropical fish talk.
It seems as though everyone I talk to, lately, is infected by the Scenester virus.
But it's like the old Ides of March virus--you hear a lot of talk, but nobody really gets the virus.
I don't know that many Scenesters anymore. I live in the suburbs. My suburb usually pulls in a has-been haircut band to play the 4th of July festivities. I never go see these events, but they play them on cable access. I am pretty sure you can't live in a town where the height of hip is "Loverboy" and be a Scenester. But in the Atlantic magazine I read on the plane, I found a book review of a book by an author who essentially wants to stop paying homage to all 20th C. experimental literature. It's funny--I've not read as much of the classics of the 20th C. as I should have read. I've read Pynchon and Beckett, for example, but very little Joyce and only a smattering Nabokov. Swann's Way, which I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy, sits unopened on my shelf. I freely confess that I love Trollope and Tolkien and CP Snow and a world of folks who wrote straightforward narratives that even a moron like me can understand.
But this bookish fellow apparently wants us to dispose of all that modern literature. Cast it out, like an offending eye. I'm not so sure. For one thing, MTV videos would have been a lot less fun without surrealist influences. For another, I am concerned that if universities actually taught books people wanted to read, then a counterculture of not reading them might have arisen in protest. Besides, I don't think that the enemy I have met is "modern literature", anyway. In the words of Pogo, I suspect that enemy "is us", but that's another post.
You know, part of the problem is the jazzification of alternative rock. It's not really a sweeping movement in its own right, but a series of kind of "inside things" for "inside folks". This can give rise to fertile fungal breeding ground for Scenesters. It's a plague that only chart success can cure for a band. I fully expect that someday people will swoon over bands like the Shins in the same way that a few aficionados now swoon over Stan Kenton. Nothing wrong with the Shins--a good band--nor with the amazing Stan Kenton (I'm more Ornette myself, but that's just my hipper side talking). But my point is that music is so much a hobby rather than a lifestyle now. Thus, Scenesters, who seem to make a "hobby" of being cool, stand out like so many urban Houston podiatrist cowboys in a Laredo conjunto bar.
It used to be so easy to be cool. Want to be in on the Manchester scene, but don't really like all that depression and bands with names like Happy Mondays? Why, just listen to the Durutti Column and you'll be okay, even if it is just pleasant guitar instrumentals. Can't do the Clash? No worries--turns out the Jam are a pop band in disguise. Less hip than margarine? It's okay--either Richard Thompson or the b sides of Squeeze will get you through with the "hip" crowd, and you won't have to even listen to a synthesizer or a single off-key voice. Heaven knows if Little Feat could be cool, then anyone could.
That was the Smiths' great contribution, by the way. The notion that being "un cool" was so very cool. Of course, so many of us knew that before Morrissey (who is about my age, which is an odd feeling) said it out loud. But he made being uncool marketable, and that's not a bad thing.
All my life, by the way, Scenesters have reported sighting the "Next Big Thing", when the Next Big Thing was almost always a really retro act "Yesterday's Thing".
I love Springsteen's first two albums, for example, but they are classics not because they were so very new in their time, but because Springsteen took the bar band music of his region and gave it a bit of lyrical fun. Now Springsteen could be put on the penny instead of Lincoln. But I'm old enough to remember when his first two albums were "cult classics" that only Scenesters knew.
I feel that way about so many other bands that were the great new things--the example which springs to mind is the Clash (great re-do of early 60s rock, with fairly lightweight political content, but anything but trailblazers). Of course te Clash were a great band, but they were not the Second Coming, but in their day they were hailed as just that.
But I digress. You see, there are pod people among us. They have goatees and they drive Toyota Scions, or so I imagine they should. The Scion makes the entire point, by the way.
Toyota made a wonderful car to replace the Tercel called the Echo. Top notch workmanship, reasonably priced, low gas mileage. But it fell utterly flat. It just bored kids too much.
The folks at Toyota had a brain wave. Take the Echo, and start a new car company based on it called Scion. Put a sawed off jeep box on one form. Put a jazzed up racin' economy car frame on the other. Offer a flat price, and no options other than weird looking stripes.
It's flying off the shelves. But isn't that the whole Scenester disease?
We're all afraid of people who look the part, but we suspect, deep down, they have the 1.3 liter engine, which is barely enough to get up the hill. I'm playing this as metaphor, by the way, because in point of fact, I LOVE Scions. I almost bought one. I am not a Scenester, though, and I am not a crook.
I think that sometime after I turned 40, I stopped worrying about making any scenes.
But it is fun to watch these Scenesters still operate.They're like pod people. You think they're all hip and cool, and then they open their mouths and alien hiss comes out.
I take my wisdom from that fellow Rodney King, who asked, at the height of the Los Angeles riots held after police officers were acquitted for beating him just shy of brain damage simply "can't we all get along?". So I'm not going to worry that virtually everyone I know is more attractive (and usually thinner) than I am. I am not going to worry that I caught myself listening to Yes' Fragile album on tape tonight. I'm not going to long for cars I don't own, or goatees I can't grow. I will listen to thirty year old songs, and like them as much as I did at 14.
But I love it when I do a rare walk into a club, and I see Scenesters there.
It's better than the orangutan house! Thank goodness the local bars banned smoking, because it's easier to see what color someone's hair might be if the air is clear.
I think Scenesters are kind of cool, truth be told, and I'll let them make all sorts of critical judgment calls I no longer really care to make.
But I do feel for that DJ in Los Angeles. It's hard to be a man, my son, when all the Scenesters around you revile you. But life is not Kipling. Can't we all just get along?
Maybe I need a four track recorder. Maybe I should have bought a Scion car, so that I would look kinda like that old TV show about people who rode around in Jeeps fighting the Afrika Korps. Then I could have been cool. I could be a contender.
But instead I still can't figure out how to run the five dollar simple recording software in my new computer. I still can't play the white side of the King's Indian Defense. I still love to sing along to "Roundabout". That's all okay.
So I must look to each of you--keep our planet safe from Scenesters. I'm just a tourist in a world that's always been far cooler than I am.