so i recently finished perfect from now on: how indie rock saved my life, john sellers's paean to guided by voices and catalogue of a life of musical crushes. i've been predisposed to sneer at rockcriticboys since chuck klosterman took a cheap shot at a friend of mine in sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs, and i generally have little or no patience for books that read, at first glance, like extended music blog posts. that said, this one is sticking with me* - particularly because of this passage:
Why is it, by the way, that few men get whopping crushes on female musicians and ramp up their interest in the music as a result? There's rarely any swoon factor, at least in the circles I've hung out in. I'm sure you can find countless guys who'd say that Harriet Wheeler was a chipmunk-cheeked cutie, or discuss their inexplicable attraction to Kim Deal, or utter the unspeakably dumb words "Liz Phair? I'd fuck her." But not one of these dudes would say that looks factored into their assessment of the music; music is either worth listening to or it is not. And they certainly wouldn't stoop, as one breathless female Village Voice critic did, to opening a review of a Decemberists album with four hundred words about her attraction to the band's frontman and other indie darlings just like him. Holy shit, that sucked.
eight different feminist steam pockets exploded in my head when i first read it, but damn it, he's right. except for a kid i knew in high school who, when asked about why he dug kristin hersh's music, would start mumbling incoherently about her blue eyes, i've never met a guy who favored a hot chick's music because she was hot. plenty of female artists are marketed for their looks - your gwen stefanis, your britneys, your pussycat dolls [shudder] - and yet their consumer base is overwhelmingly female, too. you can't really compare acts like those (in terms of hetero sex appeal and how it translates to sales) to, say, justin timberlake, a decent musician whose squee! factor made him a superstar. what gives, man?

my theory, or the only theory i've got thus far that doesn't make me ashamed to be a lady, is that fangirls are a byproduct of mainstream (sometimes aggressive, sometimes subliminal) sexual repression. they crop up in periods like the '50s, when shrieking and swooning and gettin' all flushed was acceptable at a concert but a no-no on a date, and the '80s, ten of the unsexiest years in modern history; boys and men don't need to squee! because they get away with more (a guy with a playboy is normal; a girl with a playgirl is...do girls even buy playgirl?). this doesn't sound quite right, though, and it certainly doesn't explain why i had a door poster of jon bon jovi on my wall in sixth grade. any theories, folks?

*my verdict on sellers and the book is still out, pending additional explanation of this passage in appendix a:


1. Elvis Costello
"Alison" ruined everything else for me.


uncle paul said...

I deny the gender dichotomy, at least in my own case (I give you Neko Case as Exhibit A and have a much longer list if you want it). I also very much doubt that my feelings about my most favorite male rock stars are wholly asexual.

lauren said...

ah, but are neko's looks the tipping point for her? same with, like, tanya donnelly: gorgeous, and her looks inform the universe's appreciation of her, but most of the fans i know would love her anyway. i think i want this longer list.

tom said...

1. Squee? I think that the first time that somebody has put words to the shrieking. Well played. But this answers your question:

"...boys and men don't need to squee! because they get away with more..."

No. It's because we are physically unable to squee. Can you imagine me trying to squee? It would look and sound just dreadful--like an eggplant with steam rising off of it like a train whistle.

2. The kid who "...would start mumbling incoherently about her blue eyes?"

Well, I just don't know how the kid would have figured that out--I have no clue whether that's true, or if there were videos around circa 1993 that prove it. Whatever--your high school pal was fumbling for a cool answer because he didn't know. It is a product, surely, of the limited abilities of high schoolers to stay out for shows. All I can tell you is the first time I saw Kristin Hersh in concert, the thing that struck me is the fact that she looks possessed when she's on stage. (Yes: she's probably medicated on account of her illness. But the crazy peeks through every so often, to good effect.) The color of her eyes didn't enter into it. What you said about Tanya is just as true here--if you never saw her face, you would still dig the sound of her.

3. "I've never met a guy who favored a hot chick's music because she was hot...."

In the indie-rock world of fanboys/fangirls, at least, it's not about that, of course. Hotness is secondary; fans are in it for the jangle and the hooks and the good writing and the i-know-something-you-don't-knowness of it all.

If you go to a show and come to the sudden conclusion that the woman (or, as the case may be, man) has, er, got it goin' on? It's pleasant enough, sure, but you are still there for the tunes. (And it's not like you're going home with her / him anyway. So there's that bit of realism.)

4. "...it certainly doesn't explain why i had a door poster of jon bon jovi on my wall in sixth grade. any theories, folks?"

I'm blanking. You were drawn to his devil-may-care attitude? You studied the history of New Jersey for a report in U.S. History and suddenly craved everything related to the Garden State?

No. The hair. That's it.

uncle paul said...

Mmrr, maybe it's that in many cases the music takes people who would be neither hot nor otherwise, and makes them hot. I would accept that.

uncle paul said...

Oh, and in re Neko and Tanya et al., it's not just looks; voices are sexy, and that can't be factored out from what makes the music good.

lauren said...

paul: i think that's true (makes them hot) for all genders and orientations; this is why pj harvey is known in many circles as the hottest ugly woman in town. i think the idea that voices are sexy is somewhat tangential; i'm just talking about how visual appeal can be a premise for appreciation of the music, which still strikes me as true for hetero girls in re male stars almost exclusively, especially in pop.

re 1): squee is, i think, a television without pity thing; i can't take credit for it.

re 3): this isn't always true, though i'm not proud of it. i confess that i got into jens lekman (whose music i now love period, but that's neither here nor there) because he was smokin' hot in the video for "you are the light." the song was pretty good, but ol' jens in a suit of armor made it EXCELLENT. i also bought an andrew bird album because he was so very striking in concert a few years ago. i know he's talented, but his style wouldn't be my cup of tea if i didn't have the excellent visual to go with it.

re 4): that's the weird thing - i never really got into the long hair. i remember girls in junior high whose treacly love poems always featured dudes with the crazy locks, but i thought they were insane. my big crush in elementary / middle school was richard butler, who - well, he supports paul's point that music makes folks hot.

pica said...

lmo, you're moving too quickly from "indie" to "all music" in your discussion. I don't know about the village voice critic, who does sound like a big idiot, but sex appeal has rarely played into the interest of women I know in specifically indie bands. seriously. does sellers really think most women have crushes on the decembrists? that seems crazy to me.

however, I heartily second paul's "it's not just looks."

tom said...

On Pica's point (and also Paul's): there is a difference, perhaps. Man in geeky glasses playing a guitar (e.g., Colin Meloy): decidedly unhot, almost on purpose. Girl in geeky glasses playing a guitar (one does not readily come to mind, but there must be an example): unmistakable sense of cool, steadily approaching flammability. Same girl with a whale of a voice: fire extinguisher bait.

Is this a double-standard? Yes. Yes it is. But it's mine, dammit.

sara said...

tom: girl in geeky glasses playing guitar = lisa loeb, though i attest not to any degree of greatness on her part, i've had a soft spot for her since high school (ah, the nineties...)

lauren said...

pica, i disagree: sellers's original question was general, and he went indie from there. i'm interested in both versions.

anonymous said...

Right! What I was trying to say earlier - and PJ Harvey is a good example - that for some but not all performers, their general magnetism (including sex appeal) can't be factored out from their virtues as musicians - thus PJ writes fine songs and has fronted fine bands, but she wouldn't be PJ without the ability to project that je ne sais quoi, mais je veux plus, s'il vous plait.

But your point, lmo, seems to be the different one of looks putting the special stamp on an otherwise run-of-the-mill performer. That, I admit, I probably haven't felt since (er) my high school crush on Veruca Salt. My first stab at explaining that phenomenon would be "marketing," but that's no explanation at all, I know.

uncle paul said...

Oh, and that was me of course.

pica said...

lauren: yeah, you're right, sorry. i take it back.

g said...

a) lmo, you stole my pj harvey "hottest ugly woman ever" comment, which has now derailed all other points that i was about to make.

b) "squee" is, i think, a jhonen vasquez (of invader zim, johnny the homicidal maniac, and squee) thing. been around since television without pity was better known as telectroscope without quarter. screw those punks.

jmk said...

i have met enough men who are into sarah mclachlan for non-obvious reasons that, even if they may not admit it, i think her looks cannot be disfactored. (is that a word?) (could it be?)

is that a reasonable counter-example? now they may not admit to it... is that the issue? they might admit going to these shows to pick up the hot girls who will be there, but i think they secretly wish to be sarah's drummer, if you will.

(full disclosure: i have been known to enjoy sarah mclachlan's music)

jmk said...

oh i think i just understood your point. i think paul is right: "marketing." someone more skilled in feminist studies and the music business will have to make the point.

though i still stand by my argument that the female singer-songwriter genre is a place where you can find men drawn in by looks... but it doesn't overcome your point about the market ultimately being majority female.