Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Garage Rock: JEFF the Brotherhood and a Guide to Music Genres (Not Really)

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 at 9:10 AM

click to enlarge jeffgaragetweet.png

The other day, local duo JEFF the Brotherhood asked the world to stop referring to them as "garage rock." This was not long after Nashville's Dead went on the record as saying, "Sorry, but, we just have to say something. JEFF the Brotherhood is not a garage-rock band. Please, if you hear/see someone referring to them as 'garage-rock' give them the old one-two." Fighting words, then. So what's so bad about being called a garage-rock band? (In 2009, it's a lot better than being called emo!)

Let's get on the Internet machine and look at the Wikipedia--it's useful here because the tortured prose of the opening paragraph demonstrates pretty nicely how hard the whole genre thing gets even when people have the best intentions:

Garage rock is a raw form of rock and roll that was first popular in the United States and Canada from about 1963 to 1967.[1] During the 1960s, it was not recognized as a separate music genre and had no specific name. In the early 1970s, some rock critics retroactively labelled it as punk rock. However, the music style was later referred to as garage rock, protopunk, or 60s punk to avoid confusion with the music of late-1970s punk rock bands such as the The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Going down the list of bands most of us would agree fall under the garage-rock banner--The Seeds, The Sonics, The Remains--it's easy to see why JTB don't want to be called a garage-rock band: They aren't one. At least, not in the strictest sense of the term, though the strictness of all musical terms is dissolving--after all, there's a reason MySpace gives you three genre terms for your band.

The whole genre thing, on the one hand, is extremely problematic--in film and literature, to call something a "genre" work is to say it's kind of generic, color-by-numbers and predictable. Labels are for supermarkets--we want real art to transcend genre. In a way, genre is beside the point--music either moves you or it doesn't--except that it's useful as a way of understanding music, connecting music to other music and, in our computer-based world, indexing your music library. New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones grapples with genre issues in a recent post : "What makes a genre something and not another thing? Why are we calling it by one name and not another? Is the genre still entirely itself, or has it become something else?" I would argue that "garage rock" became something else during the early-2000s "revival," which netted a bunch of bands that would not be mistaken for The Wipers by anyone with ears. Musically, JEFF the Brotherhood have a lot more in common with punk and hard rock than what I consider garage rock. But (Frere-Jones again):

[O]nce you've defined something like "punk," you may find that the most punk thing in town is not any kind of music but the guy who fixes cars for free and writes "Bubble Chimp" on the sidewalk every four feet. Or maybe it's the iPhone app that changes one digit in all of your Address Book phone numbers.

Maybe we should just follow the advice of a NID commenter and call JEFF the Brotherhood "downstairs-rock." It's probably as descriptive as anything else. At least until the downstairs-rock revival in 2029.

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