The Back Page: Generation Ecch

When I decided I wanted to write something about millennial bands, the first thing I realized was that no one in millennial bands will read it. They also won’t give a ripe shit what I have to say.

That’s kind of liberating for a writer. But it’s also kind of depressing, since it leads to the main point I want make about millennial bands.

We should define terms here, I guess. By “millennial bands,” I don’t mean bands that were relevant and addressing important issues at the turn of the century. Wilco, Radiohead, even U2—plenty of bands would fit into that category (although, honestly, not as many as I would’ve thought five minutes ago.) But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

This is about bands that are made up of millennials, meaning people who have come of age since the year 2000. This generation is as widely discussed and as self-involved as the dreaded Baby Boomer generation. That is especially galling to people like me, who were born to boomers and who gave birth to millennials. We were known as Generation X for about 10 minutes, but no one ever talks about that anymore. We’re tweeners, caught between the two most self-involved generations in human history.

For us, rock ’n’ roll was important. It meant something. It was culturally defining. Disco and hip hop were seen as threats to its pre-eminence, which led to all kinds of weird pop cultural friction. By the rise of the millennials, those culture battles were long over with. Rock ’n’ roll didn’t mean a goddamn thing to the average millennial. It was just one current flowing into a culture that they decided they invented.

And that’s fine. For the first time in 50 years, the electric guitar was not a major cultural force for our millennial friends. They’re more moved by keyboards, the kind with 88 musical notes or 60-some alphanumeric figures on it. Give them pop, give them light hip hop. Give them EDM—please.

The classic lineup of four skinny guys with guitars lined up in front of one maniac with a drum kit—the building blocks of music for 50 years—looks silly to them. Like the Beets on the old Doug cartoons: a useless representation of a useless era.

If the rock band, with all of its inherent cool and powerful iconography, means nothing, what use can the rock critic have for a 28-year-old musician? And why would he or she even bother forming one of those silly rock bands in the first place?

Not to continue the fight in an ongoing cultural war between Us (rock ’n’ roll!!!) and Them (our parents, music contrived to be popular). It’s more like an expression of personal quirkiness. Some young folks devote themselves to fermenting foodstuffs, some to building apps, some to playing guitars and drums and bass in a band. They’re more like Civil War re-enactors than they’re a continuation of the rock tradition. And believe me, they don’t give a damn about the rock tradition. Or any other tradition, frankly.

That’s kind of what’s liberating about being a critic in these times. I’ve always been ambivalent about the title. Critic. It implies a kind of mean-spiritedness that I only occasionally feel toward musicians and songwriters. I enjoy sharing things I’m enthusiastic about more than I enjoy skewering people who I think are falling short. And if I hate it but someone else loves it, who am I to say they shouldn’t be listening to it?

I’ve occasionally pissed off or annoyed artists, sometimes artists I really enjoy or admire. It happens. I don’t particularly enjoy doing that, and I certainly don’t seek to do it. But it only happens because the artist buys into a paradigm where other people’s opinions mean something. And I just don’t think millennials buy into that paradigm, or any other paradigm.

What would the term “critic” mean to your average millennial? When has that millennial ever been subject to anything as harsh as criticism? This is a generation defined by participation trophies, by “Good job!” pats on the back. Why would they accept a kick in the ass from a stranger in a magazine or website? How would they even recognize one?

My sense of millennial bands is that they are formed by talented kids from the high-school band with supportive parents. And by supportive, I mean financially as well as artistically.

“You want to start a band? How nice! You need a nice new Gibson electric guitar and a Marshall amp and how about a nice drum machine until you make some friends with talent?! This’ll be fun. I’ll clear out the rec room so you can set up!”

Three days later, the kid is posting home-recorded songs on his or her Bandcamp page. A week after that, offers are coming in from indie labels run by doddering Gen Xers who haven’t heard or played a good song in 20 years. You think any of those people are concerned what a review might say? And who’s reviewing them, anyway? Some other millennial making a nickel a word from some shitty website, that’s who.

I think we’ve already pretty much established that what we think of as “rock music” is no longer living or breathing. It’s safe to say the idea of rock criticism died right along with it. Along come our millennial friends, making mostly shitty music in the same criticism-free environment they do everything else.

Lucky for them, I guess.

Phil Sheridan

Listening To The Best Show: 3/17/09 Episode

bestshowlogobA weekly review of The Best Show On WFMU, Tom Scharpling’s call-in/comedy/music show broadcast every Tuesday night from Jersey City. The three-hour program is available for free download at iTunes.

It’s the marathon hangover show. Tom is tired from raising so much money for WFMU. Still, there are some highlights worth mentioning:

Around the 36-minute mark, a caller explains how a recent Paul F. Tompkins stand-up performance seemed to borrow one a Best Show meme; the caller is promptly ambushed on the other line by Tompkins himself. Apologies are demanded, given … then not accepted.

Here’s a new (possibly one-time) feature I’m going to call Anatomy Of A Call. Let’s break down the emotional rollercoaster of Tom’s exchange with the intriguing newcomer, Pastor Josh:

Josh calls to ask Tom, “Is Ted Leo always as awesome as he sounded on your show last week?” This is the kind of question one would find in the hallowed pages of Parade magazine. Why is Justin Timberlake so darn talented? How did the Ewoks get so cute? Infuriating.

It gets worse. Josh asks how to look for Ted Leo’s albums in the record store. Is it under T or L or P for Pharmacists? How did this guy manage to dial the phone number for the radio station?

After some bowing and scraping to Tom, Josh asks if it’s OK for podcast listeners to call the show. This is turning into the worst type of exchange: the sycophant and the master.

Can’t go on with this. Turns out that Josh is a United Methodist pastor and probably an all-around good guy who could prove to be a valuable addition to the show, provided the program takes a heady theological turn or needs marital counseling.

Tom to Fredericks from New Port Richey, who was nominated in several Best Show Awards categories a few weeks back: “You’re like the Slumdog Millionaire of creeps.”

Listening To The Best Show: The Marathon Episodes

bestshowlogobA weekly review of The Best Show On WFMU, Tom Scharpling’s call-in/comedy/music show broadcast every Tuesday night from Jersey City. The three-hour program is available for free download at iTunes.

As previously mentioned, WFMU is a listener-sponsored station, and two weeks a year are dedicated to the fundraising marathon. So the past two episodes of The Best Show (3/3/09 and 3/10/09) are completely dedicated to that effort and consist largely of reading off pledges and trying to keep the phone lines busy with donations. Why bother downloading these podcasts? A few things come to mind:

Philly Boy Roy returns! Whenever PBR has an extended absence from the show, we like to start rumors of a new Superchunk album. Turns out we’re almost correct—there’s a new EP and some live dates happening next month.

Comedy guests include Paul F. Tompkins (host of VH-1’s Best Week Ever) and John Hodgman (the PC in the Apple commercials). Musical guests include Ted Leo and Aimee Mann. I was going to complain about Leo being a little too omnipresent on The Best Show, but he proved his worth by composing a Mike Show theme (Mike is the call screener whose antics threaten to usurp Tom) and a really solid version of “Timorous Me.” Tompkins joined Mann for a jokey version of Magnolia hit “Wise Up,” which went off the rails early and often. The show should’ve closed with Mann revisiting the song by her lonesome because, you know, it’s not going to stop. (The second show actually ended with a kinda-terrible group singalong of Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” apropos of nothing except that it uses the term of endearment “sugar bear,” which is funny.)

Worth visualizing: Tom commandeered the phone room in a yachting outfit inspired by Ted Knight’s Judge Smails character from Caddyshack.

And finally, you have to be the cynic of the century not to appreciate the ideas behind WFMU and the need for the fundraising marathon. Hearing Tom thank each and every caller who pledged money as their names are read is a nice touch. Let me know when he’s done stirring the Kool-Aid.

Listening To The Best Show: WFMU Marathon Tonight!

bestshowlogobA weekly review of The Best Show On WFMU, Tom Scharpling’s call-in/comedy/music show broadcast every Tuesday night from Jersey City. The three-hour program is available for free download at iTunes.

Our take on the 2/24/09 episode of The Best Show after the jump, but an important announcement pre-empts the peanut gallery babbling: Tonight is your last chance to pledge your support of listener-funded, free-form radio station WFMU during Best Show hours. Call in if you’re listening live or donate online by March 15 to support the program.

Last week’s conjecturing proved true: For a $75 pledge, part of your premium includes a tribute to Paul & Linda McCartney’s Ram, with Death Cab For Cutie, Aimee Mann, Portastatic, Ted Leo, Dump (a.k.a. Yo La Tengo’s James McNew) and others covering the album’s songs. You also get a tote bag and an all-new Scharpling and Wurster CD—all this stuff is exclusive to the pledge drive.

Continue reading “Listening To The Best Show: WFMU Marathon Tonight!”

Listening To “The Best Show”: 2/17/09 Episode

bestshowlogobA weekly review of The Best Show On WFMU, Tom Scharpling’s call-in/comedy/music show broadcast every Tuesday night from Jersey City. The three-hour program is available for free download at iTunes.

It’s The Best Show Awards show! Scharpling announces the winners in various categories, including Saddest Caller, Most Delusional Caller, Worst Caller, Best Guest, Lifetime Achievement Awards and Best Scrivener. As to the last category, Tom declared that “the dude from MAGNET, who hasn’t done a recap in a while” placed second! What a thrill!

Second place is an honor, except there were only two nominees: me and Omar, who recaps the show at This has my blood up a little bit. I have to do better. Dig deeper. Show up for work once in a while. Tom brings it for three hours every week; I was too busy converting MAGNET’s library of Chokebore vinyl to microcassette. (Really, you wouldn’t believe how much Chokebore product we have around here.)

Regarding awards that were actually won, Ted Leo was honored for “The World Is In The Turlet,” a composition penned during a Best Show episode, with lyrics contributed by callers. Laurie from Miami won Best Caller, inexplicably. And no awards show is complete without someone crying; Tom broke down in remorse and ended the show abruptly without presenting the final trophy for Best Call.

We also have some catching up to do. Without further a dude [sic], here are the (mostly music-oriented humor) highlights from the past few weeks:

Continue reading “Listening To “The Best Show”: 2/17/09 Episode”