Out & About

In the indie-rock underground, the skinny white kids in vintage ringer tees don't really pick their battles. There's the arm-crossers and the pocket-stuffers, the bike-riders and the Vespa fans, the tapered-legs and the boot-cuts. And then there's the kids who fight about music. (Thanks, I'll be here all week.) The young ideologues in this camp love to get excited about the Washington state band Modest Mouse: Geniuses? Misogynists? Goofballs? Alcoholics?

Back when I was a card-carrying indie-rocker (see, I'm into jazz now), I donated a few hours to the cause, constructing air-tight arguments on behalf of the group--clearly delineated positions that passionately but rationally explained the band as a perfect midpoint between the tucked-in art-school damage of Boston pioneers the Pixies and the tucked-out backwoods damage of fellow Washingtonians Nirvana. Made sense, too, if you took a single listen to The Lonesome Crowded West, Modest Mouse's very good, very long 1997 full-length. That record contains music that still moves me, even as I sit, John Cusack-style, among my Mingus and Ayler and Miles records. (See, I'm into jazz now.) Mostly that's because what comes naturally to Isaac Brock, the singer in the band, is exactly what eludes so many of the skinny white kids in the indie-rock underground: inhabiting the very human, very thorny area between genius and misogynist and goofball and alcoholic. Of course, this is why lots of kids hate him: It's much easier to be the guy from the Get Up Kids or the girl from Sarge, to be someone with a clearly delineated position that rationally explains this or that and does it inside a catchy chorus, too. But it's not really that interesting.

Now, before your skinny-white-kid ire is raised, let me tell you that I'm not down with misogyny or alcoholism or any of that icky stuff (though I can tolerate genius if I must). And I'm sure if you've spent more than the half-hour I have with Brock, you may be very qualified to call him a butthole and be happy and/or right. But I'm going to find it very difficult to believe you if you tell me that Brock's music isn't more interesting because he seems like such a hard guy to pin down, that the Promise Ring is better because you don't ever have to worry about the subtext of Cherry Cokes, that Dashboard Confessional more effectively crystallizes the twentysomething...oops, I did it again.

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Mikael Wood