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 Everett True

There’s no good. There’s no bad. There’s music.

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Calvin and Hobbes math problem

You know me. I’m a slut for debate. Someone made a remark on Facebook that grabbed my goat full-scale by the horns. (It was via an update regarding the wonderful Sydney band Royal Headache, equals of Guided By Voices circa ’93 and Roky Erickson and Tunabunny; in their own way, of course.) Think of this as me, bucking violently for release:

Everett True
Anyone care to comment on this statement from Nic Tammens?

“I’ve always held the vague association between Royal Headache and Guided by Voices, whether it’s the upbeat, punchy pop/punk/rocknroll meets D-I-Y attitude or something else… it seems obvious to me. But on another note, I really feel the current surge of punk rock in Aus has to do with the sublimation of the Mainstream record industry with the “alternate” industry (somethig very contextual to Aus e.g Triple J), basically a lot of people are fed up with being fed shit and being told it’s cool. This has bred a stronger culture of D-I-Y in Aus and formed a solidarity with musicians/music lovers in the USA (giving Aussies better opportunities outside Aus, e.g Total Control, UV Race, Eddy Current).”

Michael Train 
Had not heard Royal Headache before. They’ve got a lot of Strokes in them, no? At least the intro, then it goes more trebly powerpop. Doesn’t really seem to me to have much to do with bands like Kitchens Floor, Eddy Current…, Slug Guts, Naked on the Vague, or Blank Realm, but I’m not in Australia. There’s also an early-80s NZ thing bubbling in Australia now: White Woods, Twerps, Dick Diver. But none of those bands are half as good as a second-tier Flying Nun band like the Alpaca Brothers. You have to start somewhere, of course, and it does feel like Australia’s been out of the game for too long, so it’s good to see activity. Have not yet heard anything recent that had me feeling anyone had bled for it, as with X, the Slugfuckers, Saints, and so on. Or anything as lovely as the Moles, Cannanes, Ampersands, etc.

Darragh Murray
Everett – I think he’s bang on.

Everett True
disagree. music like this is first and foremost about the live experience: what links these bands is the live experience (they all play the same condemned warehouses, the same living rooms). I couldn’t give a fuck about what happened in the past. what interests me is what’s happening now, and Australia – in this particular strain of rock music – has as much as any country happening now, probably for the same reasons Seattle or Detroit or Glasgow or Peru or wherever has had in the past. Ignored by all the folk at home, and only noticed when feted abroad, these bands have been forced to create their own lines of communication, their own sounds, if they want to survive. Just because Royal Headache have fucken melodies, doesn’t mean they’re no punk or unworthy somehow.

Everett True
And Michael, you probably have a preference for those “second-tier” FN bands cos you saw them live, or heard them back then. Context is really fucking important when it comes to loving music. Royal Headache are as good as GbV back when I saw them in ’93.

Michael Train
There’s no way to comment on the live scene from afar. Very often, as with the US hardcore scene in the early 80s, bands that have little to do with each other musically can end up forming a vital scene, of course. Bu you asked for a response to written text and a You Tube clip, no? So, judging from recorded music only, if from 10,000 miles away, I hear them closer to the Strokes than to Kitchen’s Floor, but for all I know they’re best buds, hang out together, and borrow amps from each other. And, by the way, I’m not nuts about Kitchen’s Floor: saying that Royal Headache don’t seem to me to be fellow travelers is not a negative criticism from me.

If you can find me a current Australian indie rock band that’s written a song as good as The Alpaca Brothers’ The Lie’, I’m all ears. I grew up in late 80s Boston, so I’ve got no dog in this fight…. But I did see Guided By Voices in the early 90s and helped produce the first long look at their music on the radio in 1994. I’m not hearing anything so great as ‘Quality of Armor’, ‘Short on Posters’ or ‘Exit Flagger’. But I’ll keep listening.

[Nice song – Ed]

Michael Train
And context is what gets in the way of actually hearing the notes being struck; it should be the least important thing, or maybe the second least important, after the lyrics….

Everett True
absolutely 100 per cent disagree. you’re assuming here that there’s such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music. WRONG WRONG WRONG

Michael Train
You’re admitting here that you can’t tell the difference? Of course there’s good and bad music, and people with ears usually know very quickly which is which.

Everett True
It’s subjective. Of course it is. And that depends on the context you listen to the music in. Of course it does. To pretend otherwise is thoughtless indeed. Are you telling me that you’ve loved every single song you’ve ever loved at exactly the same level your entire life? That you’ve hated every single song you’ve ever hated at exactly the same level your entire life? Wow.

Everett True
Example. We could argue all day whether Coldplay write ‘good’ songs or not, but what would be the point … except for entertainment value? (And let’s not dismiss that lightly.) You either believe they do, or you don’t. You can pull forward arguments from anywhere to support either view. Bangs alive … you think pop music is JUST about the music? Fuck, I thought even 2-yr-olds knew that wasn’t the case.

Everett True
Imagine you’re listening to some music without knowing the context it first appeared in – where it came from, what the band/artist look like, which country, what age, when, etc etc. Your judgment is still tempered by whether that music reminds you of other music you’ve heard, favourably or unfavourably. CONTEXT. Good and bad don’t actually come into it. Plus, your judgement is also tempered by what the weather is like outside, whether you’ve just drunk some coffee, had a row, played sports, if you’re in the bath, got headphones on, etc etc. CONTEXT. All these affect your judgement. Not whether you hold to some weird ideal (that doesn’t actually exist) of whether a piece of music is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

For example:

Or, as Nic Tammens rather more concisely puts it: “Art is subjective due to culture.”

ADDENDA (the conversation continued on Facebook)

Lucy Gulland ‎
“Of course there’s good and bad music, and people with ears usually know very quickly which is which.”

AAAARGH!

The assumptions in that statement are breathtaking! Apart from all the stuff about subjective experience/context etc. that ET has already articulated, what about the terms themselves? What on earth does “good” or “bad” mean? There’s no moral dimension to musical notes so why use THOSE particular words?

What about these “people”: which people have these ears that can tell the difference between good and bad music? Are they people like you? Do they share your cultural heritage? Your gender? Your sexual orientation? Your economic status? Your social status? Your race? I suspect that when you say “people” you mean a particular subset of the Earth’s population and you’re closing your own ears to the experiences and judgements of the rest. If you don’t realise you’re making those assumptions when you’re listening to music your ears are missing a huge amount.

Michael Train
You seem to like to change your terms along the way. You used “context” originally to talk about my having seen or not seen the Alpaca Brothers in their native, live setting, not to talk about the ability of any listener to contextualize them. Given that most of us will not see most bands in their original context, this second sense is essential, yes, of course. And then it was you who introduced the absolute terms “good” and “bad,” without gradations in between. I only said that there is good and bad music, not that any piece of music can be utterly slotted into one of those categories. There is a vast continuum between those poles, and yes, the taste to place music on it is subjective, but it’s all we’ve got.

Michael Train
In some sense, the musical side of the discussion is beside your point? You seem more interested in the sheer existence of a surging Australian scene. Which we’re all excited about; it’s been a while, or at least it feels like that to someone on the other side of the world—I’ve almost certainly missed things that someone on the ground would have caught. But that feels more like sociology and politics to me. With a little boosterism mixed in…. A vital first step from which good things should come. I haven’t heard yet that piece of music out of the current Australian underground scene that knocks me back a step or two. I’d like to flatter myself that I’ll know it when I hear it, but it’s always possible I’ve missed it.

Michael Train
Ah, common ground. Well here’s to a good year for new Aussie music. And old: I’m in the middle of trying to put together a Sunday Painters–Wollongong, early 80s–compilation. May this be the year for that, too.

Everett True
I’ll run these comments alongside the others on the blog entry. Only fair. I do have plenty of other observations to make – for example your deliberate choice of an obscure FN track from the 80s as a benchmark for ‘good’ music of this kind: a song that won’t mean anything to anyone beyond the handful of devotees who (presumably) loved it at the time, same way most of the present-day Aus bands under discussion won’t mean anything to anyone beyond the handful of devotees … but, well. The points have been made. I do wonder whether it’s possible you might have – in your own words – missed it, this time around.

Everett True
And for the record, I ain’t seen Royal Headache live. I’d react this way if I heard a record this good if was new to me and it came from 2012 or 1978 (e.g. that recent great reissue of Disco Zombies)

10 Responses to There’s no good. There’s no bad. There’s music.

  1. Pingback: Music for the Masses: Pop and Cultural Elitism | Minor Scratches

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