YOU’RE IN THE GROCERY STORE, or you’re in your car surfing the stereo, or you’re shifting from channel to channel on your TV, and on comes a song by one of the titular bands.
You blanch. You pucker. You feel disgust, but is that it?
Be honest—uncomfortably honest—with yourself. Isn’t there something else going on before this spasm of revulsion takes hold? Isn’t there a just a sliver of something else? It’s so quick, this tiny slice of innocence right before the blackness descends and you mutter, “Jesus fucking Christ,” and turn off the TV/stereo (or run out of the grocery store with your hands over your ears screaming). The amount of time is almost unmeasurable, but it’s exactly the amount of time it takes for your intellect to understand “Hootie.”
This barely-perceptible sliver is called love. You love these songs by Hootie and the Blowfish, Alanis Morissette, Bush and the Dave Matthews Band. Why do you think that sliver is there? It’s there because, before all the garbage about these bands got into your head—the videos of dorky college guys; the pictures of poseurs far too concerned with their hairstyles; the grandiose quote you heard one of them say on MTV; or that fucking Dave Matthews’ fucking fuckhead voice—you found something about these bands, these songs, that you love with wild, reckless abandon.
The silent you is undoubtedly asking me, “Do you have to love the stuff you actually think you hate with a passion?” Yes. Because that’s where hate comes from: the clever duping of your intellect by something so insidiously seductive it obscures the wrongness it embodies. Think Hitler. Pretty impressive facade, pretty reprehensible back end.
Admittedly, these are 90s rock acts and not genocidal maniacs. Yet why do you continue to pursue such great lengths to tell yourself and everyone else for the past twenty years that you hate these bands when in fact the simplest part of you loves them? Let’s see what I can do to help you feel good about your deeply-seeded, unadulterated love for these acts.
You love Bush because they stand on the shoulders of giants.
When you listen to a classic cut off Bush’s Sixteen Stone, say “Glycerine,” you’re not actually listening to the song but instead to fellas like Jim Marshall, Leo Fender and Les Paul. These are people who invented guitars and amps that were eventually put into the hands of folks like Jimi Hendrix, who used them to create sounds never before heard, sounds both loud and soft, dirty and clean, and entirely appealing. When this equipment is dialed in and used by relatively competent musicians, you have something very close to perfect already.
Also, the album’s production—which is the process of recording these sonically pleasant tones and combining them with other sonically pleasant tones to create a sonically pleasant whole—is done extremely well. The producers of Sixteen Stone stand on the shoulders of other great rock producers, taking what they did well and at minimum not screwing it up. The result is an appealing whole that gets obscured by, in Bush’s case, these poser-y dillholes on the CD’s cover and in their music videos. You associate the song with these people, making you hate it, when you actually don’t hate it. You love it.
You love Hootie and the Blowfish because you want to live in a world where normal people can way overshoot the runway of expectation.
Hootie and the Blowfish are a competent batch of songwriters and musicians who made the pleasant-sounding Cracked Rear View in the 1990s. Such a CD would have been all but impossible to hate if it weren’t for one thing: They sold sixteen million copies of it. That’s almost as many as Rumours, and six million more than Nevermind, and easily more than all of the albums sold by the Pixies combined. Perhaps most shockingly, that’s over half as many as Thriller.
Should these Gap-wearing college Joes have made this exact CD, hit the road for eighteen months and managed in the end to have a gold record hanging in the living rooms of their three-bedroom tract homes, telling friends who came over, “Yes, I really was in a rock band before I became an insurance adjuster,” you wouldn’t have had a problem with it. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Hootie became bigger than Jesus, and Jesus, did you hate them for it. But the funny thing is, you don’t hate their music. You love it. Sometimes things can go way right for people, and that’s okay.
You love Alanis Morissette because you really fucked up your English usage in front of a bunch of people once, and you can relate.
Imagine you’re in junior high school, in the cafeteria, eating lunch. The lunch room is full of kids, and echoes of eating and gabbing abound. Imagine some kid, carrying his tray from the food line to a table, trips over his shoelaces and falls on his face, spilling food everywhere.
What do the other kids do? I know what we did at my junior high school—we mock applauded.
Ostensibly, this applause made fun of the poor sap who’d lost his lunch, but do you know what we were really doing? You see, we’d also carried trays from the lunch line to a table. We’d carried them many times over a school year, and sometimes we had untied shoelaces, and maybe once or twice we almost lost our food onto the floor but—thank God—caught it at the last second. When we applauded, we weren’t making fun of anyone. We were celebrating that it was that kid and not us.
Now, imagine that poor kid is a rock star who’d maybe acted a little cocky here and there, and had already sold, like, ten million records, and then mangled the correct usage of a certain word in one of her hit songs.
Yes, Alanis got caught not fully understanding the meaning of the word “ironic,”
and in front of the junior high cafeteria known as the world, and people reveled in pointing out the grammatical blunder in the singer’s otherwise perfect pop song. (That high harmony in the chorus? Come on. You love that.) What you love is that it was her and not you, because you’re not a walking Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and sometimes you make linguistic decisions that don’t quite hold up upon further review.
You love the Dave Matthews Band because you love the line “hike up your skirt a little more.”
Okay, this one is hard one, you admit, but you think this line is wonderful, especially when you consider the neutered milieu that Matthews’s tunes usually inhabit. There’s something anesthetic about everything Dave Matthews ever wrote or sang, as though all the goop-y stuff of life were sucked out of it, leaving nothing but the husk of acoustic guitar and little else. It’s amazes you hippies go the Gorge every year to hear this band play, no doubt spinning the whole time. You mean, what the fuck is that all about? It’s barely dance music. You fault the drummer somehow, always ting ting tinging on the cymbals.
But then there’s this line that defies everything the band is about. “Hike up your skirt a little more”? Christ, Dave actually said something. Not “Would you hike up your skirt a little more?” Or “Hike up your skirt a little more, if that’s okay with you?” Flat-out command. It’s like the guy has a penis.
You love the PG-13 boldness of it all, and you wonder how it got past the Clear Channel police, who are always on the lookout for anything that might actually resonate with an audience. “Aw, hell,” these corporate fundamentalists said. “It’s Dave Matthews. He couldn’t have meant anything.”
What would’ve happened if James Brown had featured the same line in one of his singles? I’ll tell you what would’ve happened—James Brown would’ve politely found himself with no radio play in 1995, but that wouldn’t have made the line any less great. People still would’ve been getting down to that new James Brown tune, finding mates, and hiking up their skirts a little more later that night.
So, everyone, pry your hands from your computer or iPhone or whatever device you’re reading this. That’s it. Now, stand up. I don’t care if you’re on the bus. Stand up. Now, stare straight ahead, smile like you’ve never smiled before, and yell, “I love you, Hootie and the Blowfish! And I love you, Bush! I love you too, Alanis Morissette! And I love you, Dave Matthews Band!” Your excitement is bound to be contagious.
But don’t say Nickelback. Because God, do they suck…
I was thinking of Nickelback the whole time I read this article. In my mind I was defending Hootie, Bush, and Alanis (never really got into DMB), but I kept thinking about how everybody hates Nickelback. I think it’s funny how they are universally disliked, yet somehow still manage to sell millions of CDs. Obviously, some people are just afraid to admit they like Nickelback because it’s not deemed as cool. Me, I’m not afraid to admit I like them.
I’ve said it a hundred times: I can defend any artist that’s sold 10,000,00 records. They’re obviously doing something right.
Me too. Nickleback was the first thing that popped into my head. So damned catchy, so lyrically stupid and so freaking ugly (and we should probably throw in that they are Canadian along with teen dream Alanis).
Nickelback is clearly in for a long, nasty ride, but at least they’re rich.
Reminds me of the last track on Bon Iver–Beth/Rest.
“Justin Vernon told Mojo: ‘Well it’s easy to take yourself too seriously and I didn’t want to dismiss sounds just because some people might not think they were cool. That’s like disliking somebody because they’re 40 – it doesn’t make any sense. I love Bruce Hornsby’s music and the way his records sound without thinking about whether they are very ’80s or not…'” (www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=23284)
So true, Patrick.
If there’s one non-snarky point to this essay, it’s that these bands are in our lives forever. We might as well enjoy them for what they’re worth.
wait! what? I wasn’t supposed to like them in the first place?
Brian, you didn’t get the memo!
It ain’t about being too cool to like, there is a certain blandness and cliche, cheesiness and boring-Ness that comes through the music. music that was made by a marketing team rather a real artist. And some folks can pick that up from listening. Not about being cool at all.