May 03, 2006

The Yummy Yummy Yummy Nation


So, to everyone's surprise, there has been quite a media-gasm surrounding my book.

I'm used to being covered not at all, not even slightly. Before the street date, I was going around saying "man, I hope Punk Planet runs something." Then there was Entertainment Weekly and USA Today, feelers by TV talk shows, a Hollywood feeding frenzy, and so forth. Even my local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, famous for its snootiness apparently, and having more or less refused categorically to cover me or my band for the last twenty years or so, ran a couple of pieces last week. It's still kind of freaking me out. As Oliver Stone once had Kevin Costner say, it's through the looking glass, people: black is white and white is weird. Or something like that.

But some things never change, and the mainstream music press is the exception that stubbornly insists on proving the rule no matter what, even, as it turns out, in the midst of a general press-gasm. I wrote a song about this situation years ago. And I've even written an essay about how eternal vigilance has kept my stuff completely out of Rolling Stone for the last twenty years: it seems that a review of Yesterday Rules almost made it in, but someone stepped in and killed it just in time. RS must be kept thoroughly Big Chill and boomer, with a sprinkling of Three Doors Down or Limp Bizkit now and then in a cute attempt to impress the kids, like your dad doing the Funky Chicken at your sister's wedding reception. That's the secret of the Rolling Stone magic. "I don't think [Rolling Stone] has lost its clout culturally," says Jann Wenner (a quote which Bookslut's Jessa Crispin describes as "adorable.") He then goes on to talk about how hard it is to get covered by his magazine if you're not, in effect, Bruce Springsteen or Mark Knopfler or some variation on Big Brother and the Holding Company: that's a kind of "weight and prestige" that even Time magazine can't confer, allegedly.

And then there's SPIN and AP, the "alternative." They are exactly the same as RS, except that instead of Big Brother and the Holding Company, the thing you're supposed to be exactly like in order to get in their good graces is Pavement. That's the standard. The Strokes are perfect. Merge Records can squeak by. But my band, my label, and my book, are nowhere near Pavement-y enough to make it in. Your band and book and label, too, probably. So I (and you) have never been in SPIN. And won't be, ever.

A ways back, Rolling Stone released one of its famously clueless lists, the 500 greatest songs of all time, otherwise known as the Big Chill Soundtrack, Volumes One through Thirty-Five. Joe Levy had this to say:

"Somewhere out there is someone whose life was changed by 'Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I've Got Love in My Tummy,' but I don't know if that would make anyone's list of the Top 500 songs."
As I remarked at the time, Joe Levy, I am that man. "Yummy Yummy Yummy" is definitely in my top five, anyway. And I am not alone. There are actually quite a few "Yummy Yummy Yummy" people out there. But Jefferson Starship/Dire Straits/Janis Joplin people like Joe Levy just can't see it. Same as it ever was. Speaking as a Yummy Yummy Yummy guy, I cannot even fathom what it would be like to utter a statement like the one quoted above. And I'm sure the feeling is mutual about the kinds of statements I utter. Maybe there can never be common ground between our tribes.

As for the Pavement People, SPIN recently published a "guide to pop punk" in which every Lookout band was conspicuous by its absence. Nary a Weasel in sight. Then, to my surprise, there was a brief moment where it seemed as though SPIN was going to run a review of King Dork. But the Pavement Police soon stepped in. Just like Rolling Stone, they killed it from on high. No Yummy Yummy Yummy content in SPIN. Not now, not ever. But if Stephen Malkmus ever writes a young adult novel called "Heaven is a Truck," get ready for some heavy-duty SPIN fellatio. Talk indie to me, baby... Even AP, with whom I have had a few brief, casual encounters, is sulking in the corner while my book flirts with Letterman, dances with Entertainment Weekly, and makes out with USA Today. Well, at least something's makin' time with somebody.

When I was in college it seemed like you couldn't turn around without tripping over a Foucault-worshipping faculty member. At the time I thought to myself, "one day all the Foucault people will die off, clearing the way for the non-Foucault people, and the dream of the Foucault-optional university education will finally be a reality." We're not quite there yet, though we have perhaps achieved the only slightly less impressive feat of the Adorno-optional university education. Will the Big Brother and the Holding Company People and the Pavement people eventually die off and retire or go to Newsweek, leaving a small bit of real estate for the Yummy Yummy Yummy People to squat on? Only time will tell.

As for the more general irresolvable existential conflict between the Yummy Yummy Yummy Nation, on the one hand, and the Big Brother and the Holding Company/Pavement/Burning Man axis on the other: I don't know if we'll win in the end. But we are, quite obviously, better than them. Wig wam bam, baby, wig wam bam.

UPDATE: A commenter has pointed out that the "Alternative" Press is not sulking in the corner dreaming of Pavement, but is in fact making out with Fallout Boy. It's so hard to keep track, but fair enough. So be it. The Fallout Boy Nation. We shall fight them on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender...

Posted by Dr. Frank at May 3, 2006 01:53 AM | TrackBack

The attention is a little weird (though deserved). I mean, it's strange for me, I can't imagine how you feel. See, I've been reading your blog for a couple of years and I've been buying your CD's and all. So this media rush makes me feel like someone I know just got famous. Except you already were kind of famous. And also I don't know you at all. But still.

And I finished the book. How sad was my life that Tom and Sam were still way more cool than I ever was. Gah.

Posted by: nancy at May 3, 2006 02:56 AM

If you want to get your band in AP, you've got to sound like Fall Out Boy ... so it's kinda surprising that they don't do young-adult book reviews.

Posted by: Hulka at May 3, 2006 03:47 AM

Well Frank what can I tell you? These magazines are just fucking wrong...maybe Rolling Stone was something back in the day but I'm too young to remember the context of the times.

And if Spin wasn't so hell bent on the "Pavement" sound then why did they ever have Green Day, Rancid and the Ramones on its cover? These editors have their heads up their asses instead of buried in the sand.

Posted by: Bill at May 3, 2006 04:13 AM

This attention IS weird. But very cool. We're rootin' for you!

Posted by: Matt Riggle at May 3, 2006 04:49 AM

One united unity, united for the people of tomorrow!

Posted by: matt at May 3, 2006 01:14 PM

I've always heard that persistence pays off, but just didn't realize that sometimes you have to change directions in order for it to (pay off). Nice Churchill quote btw...

Posted by: Zaphod at May 3, 2006 02:00 PM

::Well Frank what can I tell you? These magazines are just fucking wrong...maybe Rolling Stone was something back in the day but I'm too young to remember the context of the times.::

Well, I'm not too young to remember "back in the day," and in fact I remember distinctly the day in 1967 my roommate came home with the very first issue of Rolling Stone. Trust me, it was clueless from the start, and never ever was it "something."

Posted by: larry livermore at May 3, 2006 03:03 PM

The Political Economy of Rolling Stone and Spin

Pop music is in large part about identity associated with the music. Were it not, people would be more likely to buy great music from the thirties as new music. They aren't.

Of course, the associations people make with each individual piece of music are subject to a person's own bias and interpretation. That is why you see heterozygous, although not completely random, associations of musical preferences among different individuals. One CD from a person's case has some but not complete predictive power when it comes to identifying what else will be in the persons case. I have both Pavement and MTX myself. However, if you were to compile a large set of the musical preferences you would be able to note general "species" of music. That is large groups of music that seem to "inbreed" via their associations. Pavement and MTX would most likely be an example of "outbreeding".

Although there is outbreeding, associations are likely non-random enough to create non-arbitrary distinctions between "in" and "out" association. You could organize this information into species, genus, families of music likely continuing to make non-arbitrary associations. This is important in determining the nature of product differentiation in the market for cultural identity.

The other important factor is the level of competitiveness in the market. The expense of entry into the music magazine market as well as RS and Spins's ability to advertize and to present their selves as important by having interviews and exclusives with major celebrities, gives them substantial market power. The also have to compete with the continually growing internet music/indentity peddling publishing industry as well as "zine" publishing which is itself declining in entry costs thanks to Xerox, Kinkos, Microsoft Paint/Photo, etc.. Like all brands they have two competing incentives. First, generalize to incorporate the largest population of consumers. Second, differentiate to draw increase market power such that prices are not competed down to marginal cost. The nature of the market will determine the equilibrium level of differentiation with more competition leading to more differentiation.

To use my analogy, RS uses its market power to cover and entire family of music. SPIN covers more of a specific genus, while the more competitive online and Zine publications (more competitive due to low or non-existent entry costs) focus on species-specific music/identities.

The sad thing is, “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” is part of a family that, while not necessarily on the verge of extinction, has settled into an equilibrium population smaller than many of the species covered by many of the smaller publications. One can only hope that a small mutation or perhaps a shift in the general equilibrium conditions of the music world will allow its descendants to thrive.

Posted by: josh at May 3, 2006 03:16 PM

hey, i love the book.

in other news did you quit/get fired from the suicide girls gig? because that place has started to suck for music news lately. they called rancid pop-punk???

Posted by: ryan at May 3, 2006 03:38 PM

Well, what can I say? For me, this is a very heady topic. I have been working with these magazines for 10 years, and I am married to an editor of SPIN. So, I am biased, but no more biased, really, than anyone else with each our own stakes in what's cool and what deserves attention. A magazine, like everything else, is far more complicated and quixotic and dependent on the individuals involved than it may appear from the outside. There isn't really ever a hegemonic dictum being mindlessly carried out. But there are these strange consensuses which form among the groups of people who run these magazines. The problem for Lookout and for Frank is really Nirvana. Two bands broke through from the US underground to become huge million selling beasts in the 90s and change pop music forever. They both sold around 15 million albums. One was Nirvana / Nervermind and the other was Green Day / Dookie. Nirvana, with their drug induced art school lyrics and musical nods to all that is heavy and "rock" were seen as substantial. Green Day, with their nose-picking, album named after doo doo and generally clownish attitude, were not. And so began the critical pop punk ghetto which none of us have ever been able to climb out of. If Op IV had broken, instead of Green Day, with their politics and their world music influences, it would be a very different world today for all of us affliliated with Lookout. We would be the ultimate arbiters of American punk. But instead, everyone touched by the NW, from Bikini Kill, to Death Cab for Cutie, to the Foo Fighters, carries the Nirvana torch, and Bay Area pop punk has been forever written off as trite, childish, and silly. You all can sit around and gripe about what Rolling Stone, SPIN, Blender and AP cover, but none of you sound like you actually read any of them in anything remotely resembling a regular way. I do. It's my job, and my husband's job. And believe me, they are 4 very different magazines with different mentalities. And their failure to cover MTX is the leftover dookie that got smeared all over them by the brush of Billie Joe.

Posted by: Tristin at May 3, 2006 04:07 PM

p.s. - Several years ago, I went to the EMP museum in Seattle, the "Experience Music Project" museum. They had a huge, awesome full floor display of artifacts from American punk from all regions, Minneapolis, DC, So Cal. They had a giant SF punk area. They did not have one thing, not a single item, which made any reference to East Bay pop punk or Lookout. I emailed the curator and asked him about it. He said "I hate pop punk."

Posted by: Tristin at May 3, 2006 04:14 PM

I consider myself part of the Yummy yummy yummy nation. I received King Dork last friday and I felt a shiver through my backspin when I readed about one of my favourite songs ever: My baby loves lovin'!!! I'm loving the book, I can't wait to be out of work to finish it tonight.

Posted by: Guille at May 3, 2006 04:28 PM

and as far as Fallout Boy goes.... they've been on the covers of Spin, Rolling Stone, AP and EW -they would have been on the cover of Blender if they were naked girls. Their single, "Sugar, I'm Goin' Down" is the catchiest pop single of the last year. I listen to it every morning on my way to work. I love it. So where does that put them on the Yummy Yummy Yummy continuum?

Posted by: Tristin at May 3, 2006 04:48 PM

Are you sure about AP ignoring MTX, Dr Frank? Well, you'd probably know better than I would, but I first "discovered" MTX after reading a review of "Love Is Dead" in a magazine back in 1996, and I could have sworn the magazine was AP (I haven't picked up a copy of the magazine in years). Then again, maybe I'm wrong, but I can be positive it was a national magazine, rather than a Bay Area or California-centric publication, since I'm out here in the midwest. But anyway, that doesn't really change your point, which is reassuring to anyone who ever — with all the good will and earnestness in the world — put on a Pavement CD and found themselves wondering "now WHY am I supposed to like these guys?"

Posted by: mikes at May 3, 2006 07:43 PM

Unfortunately, I've had a subscription to Spin for many years now. Thank God it expires in July. I even had a subscription to Rolling Stone, but that ran out many years ago. So I guess that would classify me as a "regular reader" of these "fine" magazines. It was perfect for me when I listened to whatever "the mainstream" listened to, but as I got older (and wiser) I realized that the music these magazines covered was being force fed to me, and I was just too full from an MTX pizza with a side of Lookout fries. Fall Out Boy will never, EVER make a song as good (or as memorable) as "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" - most of their appeal is based on the fact that their bass player's Sidekick got hacked only to expose the Internet to his vain nudie pics. The point: it takes awhile for people to catch on the the good stuff, it just goes to show who has better taste. We're all happy for Frank that some recognition for his talent finally knocked on his door, even though recognition tends to be fashionably late. And I don't even sleep with an editor of Spin to figure that gem of info out.

Posted by: Beth at May 3, 2006 07:50 PM

Spin sucks. So does Rolling Stone. Yawn. Bring on the nose picking and doo doo.

Posted by: Mike LA at May 3, 2006 10:35 PM

I remember being semi-surprised in the public library one day in 1996 when I saw a full page devoted to the The Queers in Rolling Stone (a few years later - maybe 1999 - Screeching Weasel got some ink for "Thank you very...") (and the Groovie Ghoulies got an album review that year for "Fun in the Dark").

But at the time of the Queers article, I thought that it was kind of strange that in that full page article, neither Lookout nor Larry were mentioned at all.

Posted by: David Cummings at May 3, 2006 11:17 PM

Hey Beth, Fuck you.

Posted by: Tristin Laughter at May 4, 2006 01:01 AM

I informed the Alternative Press editor of this blog in what I guess was a not so nice manner and his response was for me and Dr. Frank to eat his shit.

Oh well, I've given up on Hawthorne Chemcial Boy Press magazine a long time ago.

Posted by: Jerry at May 4, 2006 04:43 AM

"Hey Beth, Fuck you."
Posted by Tristin Laughter at May 4, 2006 01:01 AM

If this is how you "work" with magazines I'm guessing you're buying your antacids with food stamps.

Posted by: Bugaboo at May 4, 2006 01:38 PM

Count me as a member of the YYYN! Those K & K Buddha Bubblegum records are fucking brilliant.

When I was a young single horndog, nothing worked better at winning over hot young nerd girls than a mix tape of vintage bubblegum! Kasenatz & Katz got me laid on more than one occasion!

Posted by: COOP at May 5, 2006 02:19 AM

Wow, I have to admit this whole conversation has me a little boggled, both the original post and the responses. Between the perception-reality gap of what people seem to think music rags are covering vs. what they actually cover, and the skewering of Fall Out Boy (by what are nominally a bunch of pro pop-punk/Lookout!/MTXers), I've got to wonder...

I assumed character of Little Big Tom was meant as a shot at Franks' parents' generation, but apparently he's captured his own generation quite nicely too.

Posted by: Jesse at May 14, 2006 02:29 AM