BY JON HOULON Indie rock. I never understood that. Independent of what? Commerce? I doubt it. Your Drag City is the Capitol of a state called Filthy Lucre. Songs? Yea, could be. I heard Tom Russell – one of the finest #OKboomer songwriters still plying his trade – say that the trouble with indie kids is that they don’t write songs but, rather, “soundscapes.” Ever try playing a Pavement ditty around a campfire? It falls flat. And, lord knows, don’t sing DCB over roasted marshmallows unless you want your pals propelled into a fiery furnace.
My best guess is that indie rock’s claim to fame is that it’s independent of the “roll.” Turgid rock, all intellect, no swing. And that doesn’t mean swing like R&B. Another kind of swing that involves stance. I’d say Pollard’s the only genuine rock’n’roller to emerge from the 90s scene. Other plausible candidates: Cole Alexander from the Black Lips and Anton Newcombe from the Brian Jonestown Massacre. They’ve got the roll. Cole adopted the Iggy stance: cock out, spit in the air, catch and swallow. Anton his namesake’s: side-stage facing the band, the audience an afterthought, likewise his bandmates.
Uncle Bob derived his roll from Daltrey: lips pursed, leg kicked out, mic twirled, knees bent in some sort of self-inflicted aerial nostalgia. But here’s the thing: Pollard also took in Townsend (hold your tongue back and say “Pete Townsend”; you’ll arrive at “bee thousand”). Lizards and ghouls respectively, Cole and Anton can’t hold Bob’s jock as a songwriter. And I do mean jock. The Coney Island Baby said “I wanna play football for the coach.” Bob really did. Quite well, actually, although brother Jimmy was the Man. It’s odd, tho. Athletics – with its exclusivity and ethos of victory — should be anathema to rock’n’roll, but, somehow, Bob is the deception that proves the fool.
Pollard is consubstantial and that’s why he is a party of one as far as bonafide indie rock ’n’ rollers go. Daltry/Townsend in one. Et unam sanctum catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam. James Greer took at a crack at unpacking this consubstantiality in Guided by Voices: A Brief History, Twenty One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll. The problem with Jim is that he actually played in GBV – not quite a hagiographer but too close to the flame. Still, he pulls some decent quotes from Bob’s associates: “I just can’t understand how a guy who can make you laugh until it fucking hurts, who talks about nothing but sports and shit when we’re home, just like us, can write songs so beautiful they make you cry.”
Well, crony, it’s called genius. “Singular genius” as Greer puts it. Coked out of his mind (atypically, according to the man himself) and behaving badly, Bob’s parents are summoned to his house by wife Kim. Asked what his problem is: “I’ll tell you what the fucking problem is. It’s that I’m a fucking genius and nobody gives me any credit for it.”
Yep. Never did the hoovering, Uncle B., but I can relate.
Matt Cutter’s got his fair share of interesting anecdotes but, boy, does he bury the lede. Or turd as the case may be.
Witness this: “R.E.M.’s Peter Buck was on hand for the Jabberjaw gig, and came out to the van after the show. Bob recalls Buck walking up with his wife just as Demos was changing his pants with the van door wide open. Greg struggled to complete the operation swiftly and hopped out. ‘Hey,’ Buck said to Bob, ‘that was a great show, man!’ But a stench wafted from the van, and Buck looked over to see Greg’s underwear, lying there like a dead animal. Bob says they had ‘a thick fucking stripe … visible to them!’ Buck and his wife recoiled visibly.”
This is IT! Cutter’s editor dropped the ball here. I mean, do you want to play football for the coach or not??? Get in the game, Matt!
Of course, Buck recoiled … as he did from all that is rock’n’roll when he joined forces with Mike Stipe. No brown stripe. Stipe. Stipulated. The opposite of roll. Get it?
I doubt you doo, but Greg Demos with his striped white pants and striped brown underwear gets as close to explaining Pollard’s genius as anything else in Cutter’s claim. The unlikeliest candidate of all: an attorney. Lawyers should simply not play music. Woody hated ‘em. Their stipulations overcome the soul. Stay away, counselor. But Demos, like Bob, is the rejection that pools the poo.
Footnote to Howl: Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
You won’t find it in Greer or Cutter and, lord knows, you won’t find it here.
Buck told Greer that “if it was me, I probably would have kept Guided By Voices.” Yea, but you’re not Uncle Bob, Pete.
The difference is vision (genius, whatever you want to call “it”). And when Bob rolls into town on Friday, he’ll have it in spades. No matter who’s up there with him: Bobby Bare’s kid, Gillard, whoever. It’s all about Bob and it always was.