The Brass Ring Or, Second Prize: An Embarrassing Erection At The Waterpark

Remember the now aborted chart domination brigade led by the White Stripes and The Strokes and Jet and The Vines and The Hives? Repercussions abounded: previously, we were content to rest in our own little scene, secure in the knowledge that the mainstream was not going to come calling. We could cling to our delusion of being a bunch of nonconformists that are somehow different and elevated from the average Joe Coldplay Purchaser by the benefits of our outstanding tastes. Then, well, the shit hit the fan. We were treated to one of those inevitable, periodic tectonic shifts, when the mainstream and the underground cultures ever so briefly overlapped. Maybe this raw rock and roll is marketable? Maybe Little Steven does have some brains under the few dozen bandannas heís got covering his head? This time, itís going to be different, and by Gosh, a few of bands, a few or OUR BANDS Ė they, well, they just may make it. Bands that previously wouldíve been content to pay for a few dozen people at a bar, maybe now they can get their well deserved chance at the brass ring. They donít come along very often, so you may as well take advantage when they do. Weíre not getting any younger, why not give it a shot? Maybe weíll get lifted out of obscurity, get nudged into the spotlight?

Hey, I donít begrudge someone for seeking success, or (gasp) becoming popular by the standards of our insular scene. You can take your lofty ideals and shove Ďem in your bunghole hippie. Maybe that will finally cork up where your jive has been emanating. While youíre at it, why donít you pull out that bong thatís lodged in your cerebellum? Grow up. Shit.

Teenagers with disposable income make recording artists millionaires. Easily guided teenagers with poorly functioning bullshit detectors are what turn ordinary people who happen to play music into stars and reserve them hallowed places in the annals of musical history. Mainstream rock critics, ignorant worthless gasbags who wouldnít know a good thing if it bit them on their big fat white overpaid asses, can help a bit too. Both liked the White Stripes. Weíre talking adults who spend their lives overanalyzing thousands of meritless bands and who make a career, a life, out of elevating utter horseshit. So when along comes a studious blues angled color coded two piece, it makes for much better copy then that band with the baseball hats, right? What disaffected teenager isnít going to see some appeal in the White Stripes music? When the White Stripes picked up that momentum and became the most unprecedented big thing in my lifetime, was it that big of a shock. My hatís off to them, they handled it pretty well. Letís see how well you make out being offered endless temptations of massive success. What other mainstream act would offer an opening slot to the Clone Defects?

This isnít to say I like The White Stripes. I donít hate them, but I donít like them either. My 2Ę are that I thought they were unremarkable when I saw them years ago in a bar, and I think that they are unremarkable now when they have long since achieved world domination. Before I saw them I can tell you in all candor that the red/white cutesy uniform bullshit made me cringe. The seventh son of a seventh son hokum made me yawn. The brother/sister/married whatsum was a joke. Then I saw them play at a small bar years ago. Itís wasnít just the same Joeís in tightpants and jean jackets that are at everyshow, they were there too, but it was far more crowded then usual. It was one of those nights were all attention was focused so acutely on Jack and his white pants, where every minor detail of his performance was so analyzed by the crowd, who stood in rapt attention, even awe, that - you could tell that you were not watching just another show, or just some band. Even so, I didnít care for them. I didnít see what the big fucking deal was, and still donít. ĎFell In Love With A Girlí isnít a bad song, but many of the ballads are. Iíd rather the lifting of a great Bob Seger System song make for ĎSeven Nation Armyí, and a radio smash, but Iíll be goddamned if I am going to buy the record. I will happily admit the Stripes have their moments. Some numbers are done with admirable craft and precision, but still, his vocal mannerisms grate my nerves and like I said, the ballads take it up the ass. As for other stuff, well I donít have the slightest right to criticize his very private, extremely personal, and hilariously pretentious decision of getting married on a boat in a piranha invested river in some overrated jungle as completely ridiculous (hey Moneybags, now that youíve made it, you canít married in a goddamn fucking church like every other Joe Schmo?). But my hatís off to the guy, honestly. He produced a Loretta Lynn record and did a wonderful job, he fulfilled one of my most cherished fantasies when he administered a much needed, heartily Phil Honolulu approved beating to the long haired turd in the Von Bondies, and generally became one of the least objectionable mainstream celebrities in quite a while.

Letís compare Jack and Meg to The Mooney Suzuki. I didnít buy their debut when it came out, despite reading some positive reviews. The description of their sound, including the giant red flag of being compared to the MC5 (always a bad sign) wasnít promising. I saw a picture of them in some shitty rag, and just looking at their bland fucking faces I could tell that they sucked. I know dismissing something outright is not something that real writers and real critics are supposed to do. But Iím not a real writer. Iím not a real critic. Iíve never made a penny off my writing and my opinions just get me grief. But, you think Iím wrong for just assuming something is terrible without granting it a listen? Iíve never had a snapping turtle bite my face off, but I can assume that it hurts. I would rather have a snapping turtle bite my face off than buy a Mooney Suzuki record. I would rather have my self respect. Itís telling that the first time I really saw the Mooney Suzuki was one of the rare times when Iíve watched MTV. I was just flipping through the channels, honest, and those of you that are familiar with me or my writing can attest to my near psychopathic aversion to relatively harmless things, and my psychotic excessive hatred towards perceived transgressions both minor and immense. Trust me, when I say this, I donít make a habit of watching MTV. But I was flipping through channels and I saw a band that I had read about that I figured got their brief spotlight despite sucking and that whatever Cthulhu was working at the sacrificial chamber at MTVHQ that day decided to put some nothing band on television in a misplaced effort at hipness, or connecting with the common man. I watched, and I realized that all my dislike of the Mooney Suzuki was remarkably on the nose, and if anything I should have shaved my head, bought a rifle and a bowie knife, and tracked them down and skinned them alive the second I heard of their existence, because they are a blight on mankind.

If I told a member of the Mooney Suzuki that I had a quarter inside one of my nuts, they would crawl over each other like crabs in a barrel for the chance to suck my cock. After their first big dignity-free push at fame was met with resounding indifference, they jettisoned any contact with whatever little glimmer of humanity they had left and collaborated with Nazi War Criminals/Production Team The Matrix to make another shitty record. It failed too. Are they still around? Are they on the street, eating inedible unidentifiable scum they found in dumpsters? Because if they are, itís far better then they deserve. So is leprosy.

What about the Hives? I ignored them when they were around because they seemed boring. They were a rock band on Gearhead Records, which is like being a boxer who was trained in clown school. They had some hit on the radio I heard that sounded kind of like the Zeros. They had a big record that came out recently that apparently didnít do so hot. But fuck, they flew from Sweden to Memphis to see the Oblivians reunion. They toured extensively with Greg Cartwright, bringing that talented gentleman some much overdue recognition. They brought the underappreciated Deadly Snakes on tour, and any interview you read with them they are exposing their enthusiasm, often for bands I think are great.

Okay, what about the Von Bondies? To my shame, and in the interest of full disclosure, I saw those fuckers once. The songs were human shit, you could spot the stolen riffs from a country mile. Untold mountains of money were heaped on these mediocre star-fit prone chumps, all in the name of trying to manufacture a big, big hit act. You see the promo pictures of them on their fancy website, all tight clothes and windblown coifs? You see their lousy videos? You hear that fucking terrible song being repeated in every promo under the sun? Do you know one person that bought their record? Do you know one person that has a single nice thing to say about any of them personally? You ever read an interview with that asshole? People that are just, again, bad human beings, and worse, not despicable human beings that make good music, like Skip James or Johnny Thunders, just a Junior Stockbroker in a rock suit, digging for paydirt as fast they can.

But you know who acted even worse? The people in the periphery of otherís success. You want to bring out the worst in someone? Make their friend famous. Leave their band in the dust while yours becomes bigshit. Or what about the former flag wavers for the Stripes? Their early fans, who have abandoned them now that theyíve surpassed obscurity? Now you donít like Ďem? Honestly, what does that say about you? Think about it.

Thereís a lot of animosity in the wake of the White Stripes getting catapulted into the sky. Detroiters scrambled to bask in glory, and some picked up scraps, and some got caught in the massive current and achieved a small measure of trickle down push ouy of the minor leagues. After all the smoked cleared what was left? Is it better then before? Or is it worse?

When was the last time you heard about, with the exception of the White Stripes, whose poorly titled new record many finally get them the backlash theyíve been courting, any of the bands I listed earlier? Times are shifting back to the way they were before, and the threat of popularity is waning. Itís just as well.

I guess this all just a long winded way of saying that you shouldnít mind a bit if The Ponys get famous. Itís nobodyís fucking business what they choose to do with their band, or their careers. I hope for their sake that their Ďfriendsí donít react too adversely if bigger things come knocking.

- Phil Honululu, Letters Have No Arms