2003-06-12 - 1:56 p.m.
Become the beta to your own alpha, y'all
The Irrelevant Rant - The Unenviable Plight of the Alpha Band
by Mikel Jollet | 04.17.2003 (Filter Magazine)
There are certain artists within certain epochs of musical history that are decided by the Powers-That-Be (writers mostly, the cognoscenti who drink too much coffee and often smell of vapor rub) to be "important". Gaining the distinction seems to be an unpredictable, serendipitous event: capricious and not unlike the sighting of the reflection of the Virgin Mary in the wading pool of the local Holiday Inn. Crowds gather, scratch their heads, some believe and some doubt. The rest are converted.
And it is these people who become the devout followers of the anointed Alpha Band: buying imports, starting websites, obsessing over lyrics, writing 5,000-word internet posts on the importance of the guitar on Track 5 of album 2. The whole thing stinks of sanctimony, obsession, and yes, vapor rub. The band in question is generally an odd admixture of good music, an inventive (but never entirely original)sound, and a reluctance (real or imagined) to be mass-marketed.
These bands--henceforth referred to as "Alpha Bands"--don't generally enjoy a great deal of success within their lifetime, but often find themselves reincarnated in the form of better looking, poppier, whiter bands (more often than not from Orange County)--let's call them "Beta Bands"--that find a way to harness the raw energy of their predecessor in a form more palatable to the teeming masses. Elvis had his Alpha Band: Chuck Berry. Billy Idol had the Sex Pistols. Every punk band from Orange County had Social D. Nirvana had the Pixies. And so on.
There are five rules governing the phenomenon of Alpha and Beta bands. These rules are fixed in stone:
Rule #1 It is always more fun to be the Beta Band.
Rule #2 Members of the Alpha Band are often tragically unattractive. (see rule #1)
Rule #3 The Alpha Band is never rushed by hordes of nubile, drooling girls. (see rule #1)
Rule #4 The Alpha Band is often rushed by hordes of puerile, drooling critics. (see rule #1)
Rule #5 Members of the Alpha Band always die broke and alone, in a pool of their own piss and vomit.
There are a few notable instances in which Alpha Bands have, later in life, while drowning in a wash of loose women and debt, crossed the divide and become Beta Bands. It's generally an artistic compromise, but hey, they have to pay rent just like anybody else. Examples include: The Lemonheads, Fine Young Cannibals, Johnnie Rotten, and U2. It may be unfair to assail them for their economic choices, but then again they can take comfort in the air-conditioned haven of their new SUVs, while driving down Caheunga Blvd. (they usually end up in the valley) listening to their new sound system?and they don't even have to play the new album.
For the most part, the life of Alpha bandom is quite sad. Fans are note friends (imagine Leonard Nemoy at a Star Trek convention) and friends, though fans thought that whole schtick was a lot more charming at age 25 when the accolades were flowing than at age 45 when you had to borrow the car. The best you can hope for is that you end up, like Perry Farrel, humming "baruch atah adonai" in your own private version of the fifth circle of hell: spinning Jewish hymnal music over tribal dance beats to coked out rave kids in Venice Beach, California.
A Quick Glossary of Terms
"epoch" - a specific period of time.
"admixture" - a mixture (like menthol and vaseline)
"vapor rub" - menthol-scented Vaseline.
"Orange County" - Politically conservative county in Southern California where the climate, soil conditions, anonymous strip malls, and faceless, nameless, soul-less suburban track housing is suitable for both the growing of oranges and the fomentation of watered-down punk music.
"Beta Band" - Incidentally, the Beta Band is a Beta Band, and like all British citizens, owe their very livelihood to the Beatles and the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the Royal Imperial Navy in 1588.
"loose women" - also responsible for: the Crusades, the Renaissance, Shakespeare, Rock and Roll, MTV, and the Democratic party.
"cognoscenti" - elitist, agoraphobic, self-referential, intellectual narcissists with asthma and a tendency towards pasty skin and the use of words like "cognoscenti". (Oh wait, I fucked up).
"baruch atah adonai" - a Jewish blessing recited at important religious occasions.
"Perry Farrel" - the former front man of the Alpha Band Jane's Addiction who is also the only person in the history of the world ever to use the phrase "baruch atah adonai" to bless a crack pipe.