Saturday, April 21, 2012

Of Deists and late Beatles

Who do you think would make a great President of the United States? I think many people would include Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Neil deGrasse Tyson on their lists. Yet, none of these three could ever hope to become President. Why? They're all self-professed agnostics.

In this country, believing in the providence of a Judeo-Christian God is an unofficial requirement for the Presidency. It might not make much sense to those of us who don't believe religion holds an exclusive claim on morality, but it especially doesn't make sense in light of what we know about the Founding Fathers, many of whom subscribed to Deism, the 18th-century version of agnosticism. (Without the theories of evolution and the Big Bang, they needed a divine clockmaker at the very least to explain the origins of life and the physical universe.)

It all kind of reminds me of indie rock. In this scene, you need to get out there and keep playing shows. And yet, the Beatles, arguably the greatest rock band of all time, completely stopped touring and performing after Rubber Soul. They then went on to release four of their five best albums. So why do we insist that current bands should only be discovered by doing the very opposite of what the Beatles were doing at the peak of their career?

Okay, I know what you're thinking. The Beatles did their residency in Hamburg. They wrote nothing but crowd-pleasing pop songs for years before putting out the intricate studio pieces that would cement their legacy. In short, the success of their later years very much depended on the honed performance chops of their earlier ones. And whether a band has that initial, solid foundation to build upon is exactly what indie rock's unofficial "get out there and play first" requirement is meant to measure.

But does it really, though? Look closer and you realize that the Beatles got tremendous help, particularly from their managers Allan Williams and Brian Epstein, and especially starting at a time when many around them still found them mediocre. Read the history and you'll get the impression, again and again, that the Beatles had zero business savvy and couldn't possibly have made it out of Liverpool on their own. For those who understand human nature, of course, that should go without saying. You can only do so much, and the Beatles were obviously too busy writing and performing music.

But we no longer live in a time when budding entrepreneurs were more likely to be lurking in the wings hoping to discover new talent, rather than just starting their own bands. If we did, then yes, a band's draw might be a more accurate gauge of their artistic worth. As it is, though, "get out there and play" isn't so much about a band's ability to play live shows as it is about their conviction to get them.

And that's a problem for bands that want to grow. When you're young, getting shows is not hard to do. It's pretty easy when you're content with nothing more than being in a band and playing out. That conviction isn't hard to come by, so it's easy to see why few in this scene can muster any sympathy for those bands who lack it. But let's face it, it's only easy to come by when you're young. As you grow older, life gets in the way, just as you start having more to say, and these changes in circumstance and temperament naturally make writing and recording more fruitful and rewarding than performing and touring. But what happens if you never got any exposure during your early years? Then those early years don't count, and according to indie rock, nothing you do beyond them will count either.

So is a band really to keep itself artistically stunted for years and years, until a scene representative comes along to start the ticker? No one prefers this to be the situation, and yet we see it happen all the time. A good live band traverses the local circuit for a decade, then finally gets discovered and enjoys their brief moment in the spotlight only to dwindle back into obscurity after a year or two, precisely because they languished for too long as a good live band when it was probably time for them to progress onward towards something bigger. Who would want to hear this band? Who would want to be them? And yet, surprisingly, the present system remains unsympathetic to any other approach.

I think this explains my band's predicament in a nutshell. With doublespeaker rhyme, Bobtail Method, and everything else we've done, I feel that we've long reached our Revolver phase, and I refuse to regress backward. Meanwhile, indie rock coolly awaits our Please Please Me and until then, refuses to accept anything more advanced or developed from us. So one of us will eventually have to cave.

But this issue is really about so much more than Bobtail Yearlings. Many of you would agree that religion is an absurd gauge of a President's moral compass, not only because it would be easier and more accurate just to observe those morals directly, but also because some of our greatest Presidents would have failed such a test. Similarly, do we really need to see a band "get out there and play" in order to believe in their potential as a great band, when we can just directly assess their potential to be a great band? Because, guys... THE BEATLES.