Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How Could This Happen to ME?

When I was driving up to Syracuse two weekends ago with Andrei P in his mom's SCION (which is funny because Andrei is also his mom's scion), we listened to a bunch of radio. A few times I heard a song that really jarred my sensibilities. It had "punk"/emo vocals (of the whiny, auto-tuned variety) over SUPER-CHEEZY, TV MOVIE SOUNDTRACK pianos, strings and timpani swells.



I recently found out the song was "Untitled (How Could This Happen to Me?)" by Simple Plan. You might remember Simple Plan from hits like "Welcome to My Life" and "Perfect". The video for "Perfect" features the band performing on the roof of a suburban house. Check it out here. It's really funny when everyone jumps at the same time.



Try as I might to avoid HATERIZM, I find the recent crop of MTV Pop-Punk bands (Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, New Found Glory, etc.) VERY PROBLEMATIC . I don't want to say it but...THEY SUCK!! See? I'm no better than Christgau dissing BJ. OK, let me chill out for a second...

Look, I kind of like Blink-182 and Sum-41 and in middle school I was totally into a Fat Wreck Chords compilation but there's something really fucked up about this new Simple Plan song. Other pop-punk/emo bands will at least dress up their schlocky sentiments and melodies with a little bit of "edge". Simple Plan fans can't even pretend they're punk or edgy anymore. "Untitled" is basically a Barbara Streisand song.

Here, you listen to it:

Simple Plan -Untitled (How Could This Happen to Me?)

I find it helpful to think of this in terms of a Jon Spayde article I read for a class. The Spayde article is about authenticity aka "THE REAL". Spayde formulates a 4-stage progression from REAL to HYPERFAKE:

1. REAL (not bogus)

2. REAL FAKE (classically bogus)

3. FAKE (merely bogus)

4. HYPERFAKE (so bogus it threatens the idea of the real)



He gives a bunch of bad examples. The best one is probably "LATIN DANCE CRAZES":

1. REAL- SAMBA

2. REAL FAKE - CHA CHA

3. FAKE - LAMBADA

4. HYPERFAKE - MACARENA

Does this make sense to anyone? Let me try and place Simple Plan in this hierarchy. This will be sticky because defining PUNK can be very difficult and controversial. Rather than split hairs about what REAL PUNK is let's just talk about POP-PUNK which, in and of itself, is probably HYPERFAKE to some nerds.

1. REAL - The Ramones

2. REAL FAKE - Green Day

3. FAKE - Sum-41

4. HYPERFAKE - Simple Plan, especially "Untitled"

I'm not to attached to this, but I should probably try and defend it.:

The Ramones are OG punk. No one would deny this, right??? Well, Morrissey wrote a letter to NME as a teenager extolling the virtues of the New York Dolls and proclaiming "The Ramones are rubbish!" but we all know that dude is weird.



I picked Green Day as REAL FAKE because they came out of a legit punk scene but were still thought of as pop-punk KNOCKOFFS and thus not REAL. They are "classically bogus" in the sense that they were one of the first pop-punk bands to become mainstream and thus not punk. Therefore they are ORIGINAL FAKES.




Sum-41 clearly grew out of Green Day's success. They dress punky and play in a punk-style but are so far removed from the Ramones sphere that there's almost no debate as to whether or not they deserve any true punk props. They are "merely bogus"; a cutesy, silly caricature.




Now, Simple Plan is very similar to Sum-41 but boldy went where their peers hadn't gone. With "Untitled" they take Sum-41's FAKE into the HYPER REALM! They essentially turn pop-punk into the kind of CHEEZY MELODRAMATIC CRAP that the Ramones (and maybe even Green Day) stood in opposition to. I'm not defining "Untitled" as cheezy and melodramatic by my own standards (although it certainly is). It is cheezy and melodramatic in the context of any notion of "cool", "hip" or "edgy" from the past 40 years.

For Simple Plan to fly under the punk or pop-punk banner AT ALL threatens the entire notion of punk, pop-punk.

Why should I care that Simple Plan is wack? I can always listen to the Ramones or the Clash and feel like "I GET IT". Well, I'm just scared for the kids growing up listening to this. I feel like they're being bamboozled! They are being tricked and soon their entire worldview will collapse in on itself. This strikes me as perverse and subversive!!! OMG, SIMPLE PLAN IS PUNK!

18 Comments:

Anonymous your roommate said...

Ezra,
As one of the only people I know who has seen Kenny G perform live, I thought I should comment. It was the winter of 1999, and I was attending the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Center with my mother. Kenny G came out and stood next to Al Roker with his electric clarinet. At the end of his Christmas carol, he held one of the longest notes I've ever heard in my entire life. The power of that man's lungs shakes me to this day.
My point is that you are spending too much time blogging in your room. We hardly ever see you any more.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Rostam said...

Ezra

Where do our friends Blink 182 fall into all this?

I'd prolly say somewhere between REAL FAKE and FAKE.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous clint h said...

ezra,

This web-log post could definitely get you an honorary degree from wes and clint's college of fun.

The claims were well researched, challenges well refuted, and you added a twist at the end that leaves the reader wanting more.

ok see you later,


Clint

1:53 PM  
Anonymous a lake said...

it is probably worth applying the realness factor curve to the bands' career timeline...

i'd bet all of them (ramonese includred) were closer to the real around the time of their original inception

10:06 PM  
Anonymous monica said...

Ezra,
I liked your diary entry. Its sweet.
Love
Monica

11:25 AM  
Blogger Ezra said...

does Peter Weller teach at "wes and clint's college of fun"? i hope so.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous jack atkinson said...

I don't really have any evidence to base this on, but I think that maybe kids today that are into 'punk' are not looking for the same kind of 'punk' that kids were listening to back in the Ramones days. I mean they're probably not even the same as US (me?) back in the day when "Longview" came out, which I definitely remember as a pretty 'punk' song, esp relative to 'Untitled' (how LAME is it to call a song 'untitled' but then TITLE it in parenthesis?? or is it MIND-BLOWINGLY SUBVERSIVE?!).

but that's obviously not punk in the same way that the Ramones probably seemed to the kids back in '75! I definitely was no 'punk' by those standards.

I dunno I am kind of repeating what you said I guess, but basically I don't really know what kinds of socio-political feelings kids today have that they need to express through 'punk'-ish music but I bet the cool neo-'punk' kids know that Simple Plan is cheesy and they probably know all these better or at least more analogously 'punk' bands that might better represent the 'original' 'punk' ethos and not even be punk per se! ...? feelings are 'forever', genres are temporary!

12:31 PM  
Anonymous rostam said...

Take a look at this pic

This is the cover of the Ramones' sixth studio album, End of the Century.

Now check out their necks! Some shoddy airbrush work, right? Airbrush = the photographic analog to Auto-tune!

Now get this: End of the Century was produced by Phil Spector, whose biggest hit is definately "Be My Baby" by the Ronnettes: The chorus of that song features the class I-vi-IV-V chord progression in E major. But in fact, so does the chorus of Simple Plan's "Untitled"! And it's even in the same key, E major!

******>>>VIBE CIRCLE COMPLETE<<<******
ENTER REALM TWO: SUM NXT LVL SHIT

2:08 PM  
Blogger Ezra said...

>>'punk' bands that might better represent the 'original' 'punk' ethos and not even be punk per se<<

jack, i totally feel you on this point. once i was tutoring this 15-year old kid kid from Montclair (a town that has a punk record store on its Main Street) and he told me how all the "punks" at his high school are into Lightning Bolt. LB's virtuosity might seem kind of at odds with Ramones-style simplicity, but i guess sucking at your instruments isn't as important to the punk ethos as some posit. Bottom line, you're right; there's no way these kids think Simple Plan is cool. They probably HATE kids who like SP.

still, clearly part of SP's appeal is that they are "punk". i think the 14-year old kid getting into SP now is partially influenced by the coolness and originality of OG punk, perhaps on a completely sub-conscious level. the way they dress and maybe even the way Pierre Bouvier (HAHAHAHAHA) sings can be traced back to the Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc. at this point all the "punky" things about SP have become empty signifiers.

your comment raises the question: where are the eternal punk feelings or vibes now? where were they before punk?

way in the back of mind, i've always felt that i like the current wave of rap for the same reason i like late-70's punk. not sure what that reason is though.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Ezra said...

rostam, i was actually thinking about that Ramones record when I wrote this post. there's some myth about Phil Spector forcing the Ramones to let him add a string section to a song at gun point.

i think the Ramones got a lot of shit for that album, but to me they never approached the depths of "Untitled". I wonder why I feel that way. Is it because I can't wholeheartedly hate on original pranksters like the Ramones no matter how much they change or suck? Maybe I afford the Ramones more room to be ironic than Simple Plan, but who knows??

5:40 PM  
Anonymous a lake said...

the ramones wer almost peers of phil spector. they weren't even much younger than him.. they were teenagers when the girl groups were reigning supreme...
even on their first album the ramones were probably one of the poppiest punkk groups.. they might've even wanted to work with ps earlier but didn't have enough notoriety.. it took til the middle of their career to cover a phil spector song while he produced it... another of the og pop punk bands (blondie) covered a girl group song, but at the beginning of their carreeer...

i think 'end of the century' was a pretty calculated effordt to break into pop music. also i think it was their most succesful album. so maybe the gamble worked?.. besides, first wave punk was probabyl winding down and to resist change would mean to remain stagnant...

so while morrisey was preaching the merits of the new york dolls to nme and all the punks in new york were backlashing against glam rock you kno who was producing their second album? phil spector's arch nemesis and the force behind the shangri-las:: shadow morton..

you kno what's funny... most of the oringinal punk bands don't even sound that punky lots of the time!! it probably took until the next wave for things to get really shitty and dirty... maybe that's why lots of people considered the damned to be the first punk band.. they were pretty early but harsh too.. o man! but i just realized 'new rose' starts with an homage to the shangri-las: "is she really going out with him?" WHAT?!

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Steve Schroeder said...

ezra.

all i gotta say is totally killer. been playing deep catchup but totally enjoying the depths of internet vibes.

you know what mainstream sorta "punk" music i find redeeming?? my chemical romance.
seriously. such a stronger voice (not actual voice but voice meaning sincerity and whatnot) and their music and art is made with so much more care, i feel. "helena" video is really beautiful i think. lead singer dude is a graphic artist and does all the art work and stuff.

i won't even start to talk about how awesome system of a down is.

5:27 AM  
Blogger Ezra said...

Steve, i totally feel you on My Chemical Romance. i was pretty into their first single "I'm Not Okay" which features a sweet Queen-style guitar breakdown.

have you heard Coheed and Cambria? they have a vibe similar to MCR. a little classic rock influence plus that tim burton aesthetic.

anyway, good to hear from you dude! System is tight...

6:42 PM  
Anonymous alec said...

i think the bottom line is the systematic process for mainstreaming raw but overall music is

water down -->
imitate -->
water down again -->
fizzle out

rinse, repeat

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

I agree with you on your opinion on Simple Plan, but not all bands today that fit into the Pop Punk genre are whiny and super cheesy. For example Paramore is a Pop Punk band. What makes them different from the bands you've mentioned is that the band isn't just a short pop-punk girl with red hair and a spunky attitude. Their music is like them, it's aged differently. It's sped up, and slowed down. It's emo without being whiney, or bratty.

2:40 AM  
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The Ramones are OG punk rock. No one would refuse this, right??? Well, Morrissey had written a correspondence to NME as a youngster extolling the benefits of the New You are able to Baby dolls and stating "The Ramones are rubbish!" but we all know that guy is strange.

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3:59 AM  
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and punks who would laugh when they saw us together
well, they didn't know how to dress for the weather

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