So Many White People
The late '94/early '95 issue of Sonic Death(No. 6) summed up Sebadoh's Local Band Feel: "god, i used to be so into these guys. I just can't deal with 'em anymore." One music mailing list I read spent a recent week talking about Sebadoh; people I never, ever would have suspected of liking the band turned out to have passionate feelings about which single, which album and which tour was the best. The e-mails were overwhelmingly adulatory, but most of them seemed to agree on two things: that Sebadoh's later output was not of the highest quality, and that to see the band live was to heckle the band. A fan, I went to see the 1996 version of Sebadoh in Hollywood and was too bored by their quiet introspections even to heckle; I left in the middle of the set.
Sebadoh existed as Lou Barlow's homemade cassette side project while he was the bassist in Dinosaur Jr, and it came to include Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein around the time Barlow was ejected from the Jr. In the early '90s, Sebadoh was adored by musicians and critics alike. The music press wrote about them, and continues to write about them, in a peculiar way: "The naked honesty of Sebadoh's lyrics were key," Stevie Chick writes in his notes on last year's expanded reissue of Sebadoh III,"There was no pose or posture involved." The Trouser Press entry on Sebadoh agrees that "Brand New Love" from Weed Forestin and Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock"might be the most guileless, genuine love song produced in indie-rock's post-post-modern times."
Now, I love "Brand New Love" just like you do. It was a fabulous wash of noise that was one of the few American records of the time that had a sense of drama comparable to the strongest English shoegaze music. And I have nothing but respect for rock critics, but were these writers dropped repeatedly on their fucking heads, or what? "Guileless"? You have got to be kidding. What, did they grow up in Eden before the Fall? I suppose that's not an electric guitar Barlow's playing, but a rude instrument made out of bamboo and mud, strapped around his shoulder with a dried vine? Is there one skeptical bone left in this country of 300 million souls?
On the contrary, the ascendancy of Sebadoh and its ilk was the emergence of guilelessness as a pose par excellence, Jim, and that pose has been awfully pervasive and has made a lot of money for some people, though Sebadoh is probably not among that happy number. From the middle '90s unto this very day we have been spared few whines from the anguished sinuses of the white and sensitive, so that the music in bank commercials is no longer distinguishable from the product of the most critically acclaimed confessional singer-songwriter.
That is not Sebadoh's fault, and the music from the first part of Sebadoh's career does not belong on the same shelf as the music of the bands that copied them. Early Sebadoh was distinguished by a chaotic, heedless joy, a stoned sense of humor and some great, loud rock songs. The context in which that music appears, though, has changed, and time has not been kind to the piety with which Barlow has regarded his own emotions. In 1995, contemplating the idea of listening to Lou Barlow's solo project Sentridoh (described in the Trouser Press entry as "essentially Barlow's compost heap—an outlet for him to release the type of half-finished discards most artists would tape over") would have suffused my veins with warmth and comfort. Today, it plunges me into a black, bottomless void of dread, despair, and claustrophobia. Again, this says far less about Barlow's records themselves, which I'm sure are quite good and have obviously not changed at all over the last decade, than it says about me, who has not changed very much, either, and about the culture, which I believe and hope has been absolutely maximally saturated to the bone with the pose of guilelessness, with the claims of artists who believe their emotions are the same thing as the world.
That said, this is the first time the original line-up of Sebadoh has toured in 14 years, and perhaps they are still capable of smoking a bowl, turning an audience's flange up and getting stupid. Let us hope they have seen Comets on Fire and are jealous of that band's ability to shred the beautiful and sublime into Day-Glo confetti, and that they will crush our ears with SST pain jams and heartsick shoegaze yearning. Now is not the time for gentle comforts.
SEBADOH AT DETROIT BAR, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-0600; WWW.DETROITBAR.COM. TUES., 9 P.M. $10. 21+.
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