I confess I’m not always comfortable with the popular.
I remember fondly (and sometimes not so fondly) my student days, particularly those productive parts of it that involved skipping the odd lecture here and there and heading with some friends to one of several local independent music stores to browse. I wasn’t so educated in the ‘dark arts’ of indie music back then but spent some very illuminating afternoons listening to my friends cd collection.
Until I went to college my music taste was largely mainstream, the kind of rock/pop music that could be heard on most popular radio stations and in the music charts. But there was always a part of me that yearned for something a little bit different, something that wasn’t quite so ‘samey’ as all the other music, something that wasn’t effectively a copy of everything else. I think that describes my character in life as well as music.
So one of my student friends was into indie music and had a collection of cd’s and vinyl by bands I had never heard of. There I was introduced to music that never, or rarely, made the dizzy heights (or depths) of the mainstream popular radio stations, let alone the charts. In fact, to many of those indie bands the very thought of being played on a popular radio station or being in the charts would have been tantamount to selling out to commercialism and a contradiction of what their music was about.
I was introduced to bands like Underworld, Sugar, Future Sound of London and Leftfield among many others. Some of these bands later became popular in mainstream music, indeed in later years indie itself was to become mainstream, but at that time they still inhabited the world of indie music. It was like a world inaccessible except to a chosen few. You felt like you had been accepted into an exclusive club when you were introduced to these bands.
Of course secretly you felt good when they became mainstream and commercially successful because as their audience grew, you were able to boast that you had been listening to their music for years, or at the very least months, before everyone else started listening to them.
But therein lay the problem, for part of the appeal, a big part of the appeal, of listening to that music was that you did feel part of an exclusive club and you were privy to a whole world of ‘underground’ music that most of the mainstream public had never heard of. In some ways it felt like being in your own personal Fight Club, it was underground, it was exclusive, it was limited, small in number, so when it grew and reached the ears of the general public, it didn’t feel so personal any more, it felt like that exclusive sense of belonging had been compromised by the curse of popularity.
I confess that when a previously indie band broke into the commercially lucrative mainstream (funny how some of the ‘die hard never sell out’ indie bands were so quick to embrace the mainstream when the money started flowing…) and my sister announced that she liked a song by this new band, I took great delight in telling her that this new band had in fact been around for years and I had their back catalogue at a time when their newly popular fourth album was hailed as their debut album.
I had a friend who I once worked in a book store with and he highlighted the same within the literary world. He said there were books that he might have liked to read but lost that desire when the book hit bestsellerdom status. There are times when I will enter a book store and work my way methodically through the shelves, studiously avoiding every bestseller and every author I recognise, popular or not, and only look at those authors I don’t recognise and just sometimes I will discover a gem, that book that’s been on the shelf since the book store was first built, written by an author who won’t even appear on a google search, yet its a gem of a book. Its like hunting for a book recommended by a friend as a little known author, you search in hundreds (at least tens) of book stores, phone others, with no luck, the book stores can’t even find the title or author on their computer search and finally your best bet is a prolonged search through the second hand stores until you finally secure a copy. Okay, maybe that’s a poor example as the exclusive club that book belongs to would have a membership of possibly one! But you get my point, its like the old UK television advert for the J R Hartley Fly Fishing book! Now that’s an exclusive club!
Its like the adventurer finding the treasure and only they have that knowledge before the wider world discovers it and some of the sheen, the magic, is taken from the experience. I confess I’m like that, not as much as I was in my youth but I still like finding that band or author who hasn’t yet broken through and has a limited readership/listenership. I still like that sense of hearing or reading something that the wider public hasn’t yet discovered. I sometimes think it might be like the feeling a reviewer gets when they are sent a pre-release copy of a book or cd before it hits the shelves. For that very reason I used to love working in the book store because if you were lucky enough and fast enough off the mark, you got to read the proof copy of a book before everyone else did.
I still like that feeling of getting there first, before it all becomes too popular.
Thanks for reading.