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Threesome: “I liked them better before.”

February 9, 2009

elitismdiagram600

So, if you are music geek to any degree, at some point you’ve found yourself saying (or at least thinking) some variation on “I liked them before they were cool.” (“I liked their first album better.” “I saw them play this little club.” The permutations are endless.)

I heard a recent Modest Mouse song the other day, and it made me think about how much more I liked their early stuff, and why that would be. So here’s an argument for why it’s not just musical elitism: The early stuff – the first music that you heard by a given artist – is what you chose. It’s the music that spoke to you, that resonated with you in some way that led you to pluck it from the sounds around it and hold it close to your heart. The later music, on the other hand, is presented to you. (“It’s the new album by X.”) It doesn’t have to elevate itself from the background noise in the same way that the first music that you heard by the artist did. So, while it’s great when you like a band more and more as they release new music, that’s unlikely to be the norm.

In defense of the elitism aspect, though, sometimes artists make conscious decisions to be more accessible, musically or lyrically. For example, in the Dresden Dolls‘ first EP, A is for Accident, the live version of “Coin-Operated Boy,” contains the line, “I can’t even fuck him in the ass.” It was later changed, in their debut self-titled album, to the considerably more radio-friendly “I can’t even take him in the bath.” It’s hard to fault them for this, and I still love the new version, but I do prefer the uncompromised former version.

If you do happen to be a die-hard musical elitist, who stops listening to bands entirely once they go mainstream, may I recommend the lovely Diesel Sweeties t-shirt or hoody pictured above? (rstevens has a bunch of other cool music geek shirts, if that one is a bit too abrasive for you).

MP3: Spoon – Small Stakes [from Kill the Moonlight, 2002]

MP3: Modest Mouse – Tiny Cities Made of Ashes [from The Moon & Antarctica, 2000]

MP3: Death Cab for Cutie – Amputations [from Something About Airplanes, 1998]

10 comments

  1. I saw Ben Gibbard for the first time at the Roseland. Wasn’t exactly one of the early fans, but wasn’t a bandwagon jumper either.

    When I finally heard them, it was like “wow, someone out there still makes good music.”

    I wonder how many people (like me) loved DTFC and Postal Service, not knowing it was the same singer, until much later.


  2. This was a fantastic post. I like the take on how the first music you heard is what was the most meaningful. Haven’t heard that argument before but it makes complete sense.

    And that shirt is awesome.


  3. HWF, the scenario I ran into with The Postal Service was that half their fans (like me) knew Ben Gibbard and DCfC but didn’t know of Jimmy Tamborello and Dntel, and the converse was true for the other half. I had a very confused conversation with a friend of mine about this once.

    Justin, glad you liked the post! And I encourage you to check out the rest of the music nerd shirts at Diesel Sweeties – they are pretty fun.


  4. “It’s hard to fault them for this…”

    Perhaps, but don’t defend them for it either. Someone was chirping in their ear saying, this won’t get radio play and you won’t make as much money if you keep the original lyrics, so you better change it.

    And that’s fine, they can mess with their intellectual property in anyway they like, but given the choice was clearly motivated by other than artistic motivations, I will not defend their decision.

    Furthermore, one must understand that once music is documented and released in a given form it becomes everyone’s intellectual property insofar that a song filtered through my ears/brain/eyes/nose/feel is entirely different from the same song as understood by anyone else. And thus, they’ve diminished, or at least, altered the value of my intellectual property as well.

    So fuck that.


  5. ps. “so fuck that” was directed at the Dresden Dolls not the author, which I assume was Debcha.
    🙂

    Chairs,
    Aaron


  6. pss. I just pulled a Dresden Dolls.


  7. Those Diesel Sweeties shirts are awesome. I love the glow in the dark turtle one. It might be the best shirt I’ve ever seen.


  8. I’ve been mostly able to avoid this problem – bands I like tend to already be mainstream(ish) or have no mainstream potential whatsoever. If an artist I’ve “discovered” becomes more popular, I’m usually happy for them. However, this can lead to overexposure, which is a bigger issue for me. I don’t like to know too much about artists’ personal lives. A little mystery goes a long way.


  9. Aaron, I’ve been thinking a bit about what you wrote…

    I should make it clear that I have no idea if they Dresden Dolls changed the line to make “Coin-Operated Boy” more radio-friendly, or if they simply liked it better. And while I understand the idea of songs (or art, generally) becoming community property, I don’t know if I can really buy into the idea that releasing different versions of a song reduces its value. For one thing, I can usually choose to listen to, and support, my preferred version – I’ve never downloaded a ‘clean version’ of anything in my life. For another thing, your argument seems to suggest that remixes (which, presumably, are created to get exposure and make money), especially not very good ones, somehow diminish the value of the original version. I don’t know if that’s true. And finally, I’m also not sure that there is a bright shining line between ‘artistic motivations’ and other motivations.

    Am I misunderstanding your point? Anyone else want to chime in on this?


  10. Your comments are perfectly valid. However, the same songs that we’ve both listened to are entirely different.

    My experience with a song, or art in general, is intrinsically different than yours. Thus, although their change of lyrics does not alter/diminish the value of said song, but it may for me.

    We’re constantly digging up our own perceptions. I can’t speak to those of anyone else.



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