A letter to SubPop…

My wife and I decided last night that we were going to get out of the house for a little while. This meant dinner (scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries for dinner…alright!) and a little trip out to the local BORDERS for some magazine perusal and possible music purchases.

I found nothing in terms of music. So, scouring the music mags for laughable headlines and unjustifiably acknowledged music celebs, my eyes graze over the cover of MOJO magazine and I internally comment, “Oh, look: Nirvana’s on the cover of a magazine for once.” But, then I notice the OTHER headline, the one that says: “20 Years On…SUB POP.” “Wow,” I thought, “it really has been that long.”

The headline had me thinking a little bit. Before Nevermind took a chunk out of me, the same way that it took a chunk out of everyone else, I’d already been a budding music enthusiast, (I’ve gone on and on about my Monkees obsession and my sexless love affair with my Dad’s record collection). When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an FM staple, it was then that I knew music was going to be an uncontrollable and relentless force in my life. And, at the time, you couldn’t have asked for more. Every record label was suddenly investing a ton of green into the next loud and obnoxious, (“Your parents will HATE this…we guarantee it!), alternative rock group. Perry Farrell was in full-swing promoting the first of many Lollapolooza festivals and it seemed like, everywhere you turned, there was some freak with a guitar singing something fucking awesome. The execs were daring to be more outlandish, realizing that an open-mind could possibly yield a lucrative bottom line, so they were nice enough to bless us kids with all these sounds that, at the time, were 180° from where Pop music had been maybe months before. It was a good time to be an angry, self-absorbed teenager, thankful that these beautiful sounds were being funneled into my somewhat sheltered suburban existence. And, these bands offered me a solid base to work from as I spent time in my high school library reading issue upon issue of Rolling Stone magazine, photocopying reviews and articles, just so I could find out where to go next, and what albums led to these bands’ respective leaps to fruition.

As history states, it will always be Nirvana that brought Seattle to the rest of the country. But, Sub Pop was the driving force behind the Renaissance. Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Green River, L7, Tad and, of course, Nirvana, led what was probably the last label-driven movement music has seen. And, I say this with an otherwise significant amount of respect and gratitude for the wonderful Internet, chances are, there will not be another.

Ever since Shawn Fanning opened our eyes to the money we could save by sharing and downloading music online, making it possible for EVERYONE with a computer to basically own a music library without having to pay for it, music’s impact has become less significant. Record stores are dying. The eager young kid with a crumpled ten dollars and a Walkman, willing to blow his allowance on the dare of a potential musical eureka versus a bad purchase, has been replaced by the young kid that scours Myspace pages and finds free sources for MP3s to throw onto his/her iPod. The disposability, lack of personality and ease at which music is attained, has sort of diminished its value, which has, in a way, justified the continuing downward slope of quality. And, really, who wants to pay for crappy music? But, who wants to invest in quality if there’s no compensation?

The kid with the crumpled ten-ner, fingers flying through stacks upon stacks of stacks of dirty LPs or CDs with cracked cases, THAT’s where you get your awakenings, THAT’s where generations begin their assent into musical, forgive the pun, nirvana. The SubPop label was probably the last to experience the joy of being appreciated for what it could bring to its audience and, only a few years later, the world.

This isn’t to say that there’s an absence of independent record labels. On the contrary, there are many and, thankfully, their existences online have seemingly allowed them to prosper probably better than they would have through the old school channels: ‘zines, local newspapers, college radio and paper catalogues. But, I don’t see any of them leading any kind of cultural shift the way STAX, SST, Touch & Go, Impulse!, etc. had touched a nerve so long ago. There’s too much at our fingertips, shorter attention spans and no work necessary. Every musical Renaissance we have going forward, will most likely be quiet, setting off small eruptions amongst its select group of purists and appreciators. Converts are welcome.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Current listening:
Louis Armstrong - La Vie En Rose (Best Of The Best, compiled and released 2003)
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