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Kaya Oakes’ Slanted and Enchanted (The Evolution Of Indie Culture[Holt, 2009]), like the album from which it takes its name, is out just in time for a summer romance of a possible cultural opening like a Sheela-Na-Gig trigger cut riptooth in the sky’s aceyalone, and the white-noise dreamy swirly slacker-lush distortions.
(The “hope” of 2009 gonna party like it’s 1992, or maybe a new dancestep in Healthcare, as if we can learn from the pasts (even if you don’t feel them as mistakes).
Don’t worry, Oakes doesn’t idolize 1992!
Nor make any claim about “history repeating itself.”
In subject matter, Slanted and Enchanted is about 70% Upper Middle Class, 30% Percent Lower-Middle (white). Narratively, there’s two zig-zag time-place-lines: one starts with Oakes as a player in Oakland’s Mama Buzz Cafe/Kitchen Sink Magazine scene/locus during the years of Bush II. The other comes into focus around a poet/art-critic in New York 50 years earlier, and goes into hiding alot. Generically, it stands between its often detached sociological tone and its “personal history” scope. At its thematic core is the debate over the meaning of “independent” (while some conceive of it as individual autonomy, “indie” independence, Oakes shows again and again, more often means “interdependence, smart-ass”).
Even if no particular “independent” self-sustaining art scene Oakes mentions has managed to survive for more than a decade, the ones who managed to succeed, at least as a neighborhood force, had to navigate the ‘conflict between scale and idealism,’ usually by having both a ‘virtual’ as well as a physical locus. Hence, straddling the specialized worlds of “writing” and “music,” or of “arts” and “crafts” (which in Oakland has become a hot topic since the latter has been banished to “town” by a local “Gown-factory”), and even academic and (white) street.
Oakes’ attempt to make sense of the very productive social scene she was involved in goes beyond “wound licking” into subtly, yet insistently, forging a more national network with others left standing in, sometimes among the ruins of, the scenes Oakes portrays here. What else can one who believes in the possibilities of local independent culture do? Should one abandon the idea of “indie culture,” so often associated with youth, as one approaches 40? Would Frank O’Hara, or D.Boon have turned into Seymour from Ghost World had they lived past 40?
So many ‘self-sustaining’ (TAZ) communities end up being based on credit cards, or sleeping on dirty floors many find less sexy at 40. Change the Words of “Pancho And Lefty” to “D.Boon and Mike Watt.” Do you remember Walter?
Like so many of us who “came of age” in the US 80s/90s indie scenes, Oakes tends to handle the louder spokesmen for the millennials with kid gloves; even though she interviews David Berman, she avoids his most barbed critiques of the Bush-era “indie” music scene as a roped-off theme park (for instance). Oakes does kind of leave “indie-rock” stranded not long after the breakup of Pavement, or Bright FLight (9/11). But I think the real reason for this is because it’s around this time that Oakes really came into her own as an actor on the scene (I’m trying not to sound like a “90s snob” about “00s” indie-rock; I’m very grateful actually—the feeling of that void is what got me into being an actor in it….).
So Slanted & Enchanted is not exactly “A tragedy of epic proportions!” More of a problem comedy—too realistic to offer the patriarchal cathartic moneyshot. Or, as Kathleen Hanna puts the wait for the Next Big Indie Thing—“It’s almost like this pregnancy where the baby never gets born. I feel like it’s been as if ‘The baby’s coming! The baby’s coming! And it’s five years later. And the woman weights three hundred pounds…and is not having the kid.”
Above all, this author of the seminal “Why Poetry Readings Suck,” argues, the notion of independent culture as a safe-haven for Ghost World grrrrlll and the shoegazing guys who hold their coats, the quirky geeks and freaks, the “Hi-Fidelity” crowd, who love the glamour of solitude and move to the city largely for the glamour of solitude, of curiosity and wild reflection (it’s all permitted here; and if you don’t permit it, Jen Loy’s gonna throw your ass out on the street). And yeah, around the corner you brighten is always another Ego Park and arguments out in the open. Like this one, overheard, by entertaining poseurs!
“The problem is the word independent itself”
“What do you mean; should we say “corporate?” instead…
“I don’t care about that; I still can’t see much of a difference
between a collective and a corporation; certainly no inherent moral difference.”
“I think some of the kids these days don’t even realize “indie” comes from the
“but the bigger problem is that “independent” has two meanings…”
“so, independent as like “us” vs. “them,” as having control over what we do;
never mind what they’re sellin, it’s what you’re buyin…”
“but it can also turn into “me”
“what’s wrong with that? You can’t be altruistic unless you’re selfish, even Dr. Bronner’s soup knows that.”
“yeah, but ‘me’ in room making little demos and not doing anything with them;
man, after awhile, what a waste? i mean, if that’s what’s become of independent culture, well, no wonder talk of American Idol has crept way too much into the casual conversations of friends…”
“ah, there you go on your high horse again…”
“yeah, but it’s kind of fun, no?…”
“shut up and play the drums…”
“One thing I’d like to see done more is actually someone talking about the intensity of the music Riot Grrlll made; rather than its alleged point being that it’s an empty signifier in a strictly conceptual art….” to “I know you’re all patting yourselves on the back for seeing the PITCHFORK-approved indie weirdos, but WTF, no love for De La Soul? I guess the sneering bearded hipsters were afraid they might be forced to, like conform, to some ‘urban hand waving’ or something equally frightening,” Oakes’ book is exceedingly entertaining; its strength? Precisely in its failure to be definitive…and that’s why allegedly more hierarchical “poetry workshops” end up being more entertaining/democratic than poetry readings…
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