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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2007/08/22
by Jesse Jarnow

I is in ur ipod listening to your spams.

BRAIN TUBA: I is in ur ipod listening to your spams.
"I read a lot about this band but resisted based on the snide expression on a couple of their faces in a magazine," Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy said a few weeks ago in a New York Times’ Playlist feature. ‘I can’t get past those first impressions easily. There’s so much music to listen to, so you narrow it down any way you can. I’ve missed out on a lot of stuff (probably based on arbitrary facial displeasure).’ He happened to be speaking of Brooklyn indie folkers Grizzly Bear, but that’s beside the point.
Perhaps listeners of recorded music will always feel overwhelmed by the functionally infinite amount of interesting acts to choose from, though Tweedy does raise a functional strategy. Even outside our email accounts, the predominant cultural condition of the early 21st century is spam. It is all too easy to spend more time deflecting unwanted information than it is to figure out what one really needs. It is true up and down the line, from breathlessly saturated newsfeeds to narcissistic MySpace overdrive to band after band after band after band.
"Work on your conceptual skills," veteran avant-guitarist Marc Ribot suggested this year as advice for young musicians trying to break through. "Work on your ability to do whatever it is that you need to do on your instrument, find other people with whom to work, and then understand that your band, or your individual ability to say what you need to say, exists within a political and cultural context. Just like you practice your guitar, and just like you rehearse with your band, you have to work politically, to find a context in which you can exist."
The overabundance of music brought on by mp3s has spawned complementary effects in musicians and listeners. For the latter, music has become so plentiful that it has nearly been restored to pre-technological ephemera. There is just so much of it that, unless it means the world to a listener, it is literally worthless — able to be cast aside for no reason better than a collectively unpleasant countenance, just another band passing through town to be taken or left.
For musicians, it means that they have to do something more than music to get noticed. This is not as contrarian as it sounds. Take, for example, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. Both generally held as models for musical authenticity, both were, in no less than Iggy Pop’s words, ‘highly artificial groups.’ That is, neither would’ve been able to play the roles of musical Johnny Appleseeds if not for the work of their conceptual gurus — Malcolm McLaren and Arturo Vega, respectively. In other words, it’s what the music industry has always been: show biz. All you need is hooks, really, and not necessarily the type you can whistle.
Most importantly, with music as plentiful as it is, one can afford to trust his gut first and his wallet later. That’s kind of amazing, actually. Though it may lead to overconsumption, it is perhaps that overconsumption is the natural state of the ear as it sorts through albums and b-sides and bootlegs and Beatles knock-offs from southeast Asia, using every available tool of chance, and knowing biologically that there is something, somewhere that will please it just so.
Jesse Jarnow blogs at

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