As with the word "corporate," "independent" (or "indie" if you're under 30) is just a word describing a socioeconomic fact, not an idealization or a canonization of the band or record label it's applied to. As much as self-described "indie rockers" would like it to, the term doesn't guarantee that its subject adheres to the principles implied by it.
Case in point: Epitaph Records, in a recent press statement, billed itself as "the strongest truly independent rock label in the world."
True, in the late '80s, along with such labels as Dischord, Alternative Tentacles, SST and Lookout, Epitaph helped shape the mold which currently enables indie-label sales to account for 30 percent of the industry.
But all is not kosher these days at Epitaph. Punk and indie purists have derided the label for several years now as the prime perpetrator and trendmaker in the selling out of punk rock.
Owner Brett Gurewitz has become to punk what Puff Daddy is to hip-hop--a money-obsessed recycler of old standbys. Given Epitaph's earlier reputation, punk kids were left scratching their heads, wondering why a label with such a sterling past would suddenly mass-market mediocre clones of popular (though often mediocre themselves) punk bands and repackage reunions and comebacks of bands whose stars burned out long ago. (The Descendents and the Cramps immediately come to mind.)
The answer to these questions--junkies will do anything to get their fix.
In its November 27 issue, Rolling Stone reported that four months ago, Gurewitz announced his addiction to heroin and was leaving the label to enter rehab, expecting to return in January. In September, Epitaph employees found out that Gurewitz had unexpectedly left rehab before completing his treatment. Gurewitz has not yet returned to the label and has had little, if any, contact with it.
Epitaph reps aren't saying much (except that Gurewitz has taken a "temporary" leave of absence and longtime marketing exec Andy Kaulkin is acting president of the company), but won't refute the RS piece. A statement issued by Epitaph after the RS column appeared states that Kaulkin "has long shared Brett's vision for this company," but adds, "We also felt it necessary to go one step further and make some other changes--personnel and otherwise."
Sources tell Revolver that 15 of the 47 employees at the label have been laid off in recent weeks (although the source believes the layoffs are because of the "industry slump").
Epitaph employee Jeff Abarta says the cutbacks and Gurewitz's disappearance are "two totally separate things, except to say that the cutbacks wouldn't have happened if Brett was still here." Abarta compared the label's prelayoff structure to "living like a millionaire when you're not a millionaire."
Whether Epitaph is the shambles that Rolling Stone implied (Abarta says, "If there's one thing we're not, it's chaotic"), the heroin revelation explains a lot. Addiction Rule No. 1 is: Once a Junkie, Always a Junkie; the fine print to that rule is that a junkie's gotta have cash if he wants to score. It's just a shame that for Brett Gurewitz, getting the cash involved barreling a once exceptional label's reputation into the ground.
The moral to this week's little junkie story is that where you spend your money matters. This example goes to prove that, despite the liberal use of the word "independent," giving your hard-earned dough to a megalomaniac junkie millionaire is no better than giving it to Warner Bros.
In the music industry, the only way to vote the assholes out of office is with your money, so watch where your dollars are going.
Gettin' Down With the Get Up Kids
Kansas City's Get Up Kids just released their first full-length LP, Four Minute Mile, an 11-song monument to male-adolescent heartbreak. Ordinarily, Revolver doesn't approve of any album containing more than 50 percent mushy-lovey crap; this one's an exception. Hollow raw guitars meld with alternately screamed and hushed emo-boy vox to warm the hearts of the lovelorn kids.
Unabashedly rock and unapologetically tender, the Get Up Kids have busted out an extraordinary recording despite its production faults (anyone with a turntable is used to shitty production anyway). (Doghouse America Records, P.O. Box 8946, Toledo, OH 43263).
Blue Eye Shadow
On December 11, Metropophobobia in Phoenix will host the Phoenix tour date of James Schneider's film Blue Is Beautiful.
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The 32-minute film, whose tour is sponsored by Punk Planet (the king of all DIY punk 'zines), is a tour film/documentary of Gospel Yeh-Yeh messiahs the Make-Up. For only $4, you can check out the most elegantly coifed man in punk, Ian Svenonius, and company rocking, frolicking and seeking political asylum in Canada. Schneider will also be showing some of his other shorts.
Blue Is Beautiful is showing on Thursday, December 11, at Metropophobobia, 407 East Roosevelt, at 8 and 10 p.m.
Homo for the Holidays
Pansy Division, Revolver's favorite queer-core boys (except perhaps Behead the Prophet No Lord Shall Live), will be back in the Valley spouting their spoogin' all over the Tempe Bowl on Saturday. Which is fitting, because PD members are the only guys I know who refer to gutter balls as rim jobs. Pansy Division is a pride festival unto itself, and its frank and explicit but humorous pop-punk is a titillation even for breeders such as myself. Come and feel the love.
Pansy Division is scheduled to perform on Saturday, December 6, at Tempe Bowl. Call for showtime.