Jacob Lawrence, "The Lovers," 1946
Jacob Lawrence, The Lovers (1946)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

April 16, 2005:

"You have to admit, that indie scene in the '80s was a great movement."

I hated that "scene." I thought it was sterile and backward-looking and I was careful to remain outside it.

For me, the great moments in the development of art are when cultures collide, and something emerges which has incorporated elements of both, but which is nevertheless new and vital. Rock and Roll was Elvis singing Arthur Cruddup: the white truck driver encountering black street music and singing it not "authentically" but in his own voice, with his own accent. The intersection of two cultures, releasing enormous energy like atoms colliding.

I viewed the '80s indie movement as a great historical retreat from the accomplishments of what had come before. When white musicians stopped referencing black music. Stopped incorporating rhythms and accents from other cultures. I wanted no part of it.

I wonder now whether it was coincidental that those were the Reagan/Thatcher years. When all through the culture there was the return to segregation. When black radio and white radio retreated to the ghettoization of the era before Rock and Roll, and rap become separate from rock, and rock lost its cultural vitality while rap became the music of the streets.

It's interesting that among '80s indie bands I'm aware of, there's one which rebelled against the cultural narrowing of their milieu. That of course is our very own Camper Van Beethoven. Camper's project was just like Elvis': white musicians from the suburbs incorporating accents and rhythms from the musics of other cultures, yet playing it, not "authentically" but like themselves. Polycultural soup. So that something new and unexpected bubbles up. CVB revolted against the great backslide among white musicians of their context. It's maybe a little intriguing that people still want to listen to them today. I wonder if it's because their musical canvas was so much more colorful, and so much more wide, than that of their peers.

I felt that in the '80s the really heroic music was from South Africa. That was a great movement. Political music: the voice of mass resistance to Apartheid. Polycultural music: the marriage of western pop song structures and sensibilities with local rhythms and accents. Brilliant, brilliant music.

But it was black music, and you weren't interested. I wonder whether that isn't the dirty little secret of the '80s indie scene. As I wonder whether your immersion in that scene had more to do with forming a tribal identity for yourself than it did with anything musical. Where "scene" is the word that matters.