A New Times Writer Fights "Aesthetic Atrophy" by Listening Only to New Music in 2010

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MC: Buzz is such a weird thing, and no one really knows where it starts. Everyone wants to write about the bands everyone else is writing about, and no one knows why or how. How is it that a band gets buzz and that people want to listen to it and write about it? It can't all come from Pitchfork.

JB: I think you need one key person to say, "Listen to this," and people will do it. If the right person sees Sleigh Bells at some Brooklyn venue where there are 14 people watching and says, "Sleigh Bells are the next big thing," then they're the next big thing.

MC: Can you think of a band that's doing something old — a style, a genre — better than anyone has ever done it before? Something that's been part of rock 'n' roll for a long time that's now being perfected? That's a thing that I think is a symptom of aesthetic atrophy: When people say, "Well, there's nothing now that's better than what there used to be, so why listen to it?"

JB: Well, that's almost impossible for me to answer because of the aesthetic atrophy. Because I'm so ingrained in my time — let's say 1985 through 1999, the 14 years between when I was 16 and 30 years old, when I was most active as a consumer of music. But the answer to your question would probably be no. There's no act today that's better than the originators — the biggest names in their genres, people like Elvis and the Stones and Ike Turner and Bo Diddley and Wanda Jackson and the Stooges — no one is doing anything today better than those people.

Now, are people today doing stuff better than the second tier of "rock greats"? Yeah, probably. Let's just say there's no record that I've heard this year that I would instantly put into my record collection as one of my favorites. I don't know if that's because of aesthetic atrophy or because that record is not out there.

What about you? Is Band of Horses really among your favorite records? Do you really think you'll be listening to that in 15 years?

MC: Probably.

JB: With Kanye West's new one, no one is going to be listening to it this time next year.

MC: I still listen to his first record, so I think I will. I don't think this record is head and shoulders better than his first records. So when you talk about that 15-year thing, I think that's an interesting way to put it. Will I still listen to Band of Horses? I think so.

JB: That's cool, but you're also just under the age where aesthetic atrophy really hits you.

MC: So you're saying it's hopeless. After age 30, you're never going to hear a new record that will become one of your all-time favorites?

JB: I'd say it's unlikely. It's possible, but you might really have to search. Like the new OFF! record — it's so great. But five years from now? Eh, I might just gravitate back to the old Circle Jerks records. We'll just have to see.

MC: What's the takeaway for people from your generation — people now in their 40s — what would you tell them you learned from this project?

JB: Don't discount modern music just because you think you've already heard everything — because you haven't. Though I will submit that there are no acts that are topping the originators — The Beatles, Chuck Berry, The Who, The Kinks, Jerry Lee Lewis — there are still a lot of very, very good bands out there. And I'm glad I heard them.

MC: But, for the typical person, if it's not going to be as good, why bother? Why get a fast-food breakfast sandwich that isn't a McMuffin? Why eat a fucking Croissan'Wich from Burger King when you can have the original, the best?

JB: That's a good point. If you're reading my column, you're a music fan. If you're even reading our blog, you're more than just a casual music fan who buys one record a year that happens to be Katy Perry or Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. The people who are looking at our blog are people who are truly interested in music. So that's how I look at it when I'm writing — I don't care about Joe Blow who only listens to Toys in the Attic over and over.

MC: But is Joe Blow right when he says, "I listen to Toys in the Attic over and over because there's nothing as good coming out now"?

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar