Dissonant Notes

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hipster: A Short Rumination

"If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor, go home and take all your albums, tapes, cds...and burn them. Cause, you know what, all those musicians who made that great music that has enhanced your lives throughout the years...real fucking high on drugs"

Bill Hicks

 I've noticed that there's a group of people who all seem to hold in the lowest regard, and it's hipsters. Look at them, walking around thinking they're so much better than everyone, never realising that they're simply pathetic trend hoppers, slavishly following Pitchfork's recommendations and looking like an American Apparel advert or a vintage store freak. God, they take themselves so seriously. And if you live in Minneapolis, well Uptown is just filled with these creeps. You can't move without tripping over a hipster. Everyone HATES them. This overblown hatred seems to overlook two very salient facts:

1) Almost all great music is made by people who fit the description of hipster.

2) There's really no such thing as a hipster anymore.

Now, I know those points seem to contradict one another, but bear with me. There really did used to be such a thing as a Hipster. They emerged in the 40's and listened to bop (then the hippest thing around), smoked pot and generally lived bohemian lifestyles. It should also be noted that many hipsters were white and came from a privileged background, but saw the world of jazz and the musicians who made it as an escape from their uptight world. Hipsters begat Beats, Beats begat Hippies. Each subculture centered around music and, due to the Beats, also literature. The Beats' fascination with Eastern philosophy and religion flowered in the Hippie era. Rock and roll emerged around the same time as the Beats, and shared many of its most notable traits, which were an overt emphasis on sexuality and white society's fascination with black music. Hippies simply represented a new allegiance for the evolving subculture, with rock (with it's roots in blues, folk and country) replacing jazz as the musical lynchpin of the movement. Every rock and roller was hip to the core. They were drawn to blues and R & B and saw in them an authenticity and rawness missing from their own lifestyles. By the early sixties there had also emerged an achingly hip folk and blues collector's mentality, which spurned commercial product and reveled in obscurity. Records by previously unknown bluesmen were brandished with pride as marks of hipness.  Today we view this attitude as pitiable; the obvious product of an insecure, contemptible mindset, but without it there would be no jazz, no rock and roll, no folk revival, no psychedelica, no country rock, no electronica, no hip-hop, and no indie, in other words, nothing you listen to would exist.

Every major sixties band was made up of hipsters (in the sense that we use the word now). Jagger and Richards bonded over Chess records. Lennon was a teddy boy bruiser who openly mocked anyone whose tastes did not match his own. The Kinks, The Who, The Byrds; you name it, they were all hipsters. Even the Beach Boys stole riffs from Chuck Berry. (The Beach Boys are the closest thing that sixties music has to an unhip group of people, but when your main songwriter drops acid and writes songs with Van Dyke Parks, we're hardly in the realms of "Leave It To Beaver"). Gram Parsons was able to hook up with The Byrds and gab his way into the Rolling Stones' inner circle because he was hip, and he was rich, and he brought with him knowledge of obscure country music recordings.  Neil Young was the ultimate hipster, driving around LA in old western garb behind the wheel of a hearse. When I hear people talk with such venom about their hatred of hipsters I tend to think "Wow, you would have hated Neil Young if you met him in 1967". The fact that many of these same people own many Neil Young albums and see him as a benchmark for authenticity and unaffected "realness" gets to the heart of the problem. It would become boring to keep pointing out just how hip Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and David Bowie were. The list goes on and on, and we haven't even gotten to punk or post-punk, movements that were fueled by an epic rejection of everything deemed uncool. Hipsters, obscuritans and snobs have forever been the catalysts of modern culture, yet the hipster is the ultimate figure of ridicule. The problem is that the advancements of hipsters have become so prevalent that nobody imagines themselves to be in thrall of hipsterism. The other problem is that because hipster is such a dirty word and somehow indicative of a slavish, unthinking mindset, people have attempted to distance themselves from it by wanting to appear the exact opposite, but in doing so have become part of a modern mindset so strong and all encompassing among the young (and the not so young) that it resembles the popularity of hippiedom in the sixties. And what is the exact opposite of the hipster? The nerd.

What could be more helplessly uncool than a nerd? Well, as the term was originally used, nothing. A nerd was someone who knew computer languages or who studied quantum physics. Nobody wanted to know them. They joined the chess club and finished their math homework before everyone else. Something curious has happened though. With hipster now only a few steps above sex offender in terms of the disgust it brings about, people's need to define themselves as something so very uncool has led to the term nerd being synonymous with what are in truth everyday activities. "I watch that TV show all the time. I never miss it. I'm such a nerd", "I watch movies a lot. I'm just a complete nerd","I wear glasses. God, I'm so nerdy", "I wear clothes that are actually pretty fashionable, I like lots of musicians that many people have not heard of but who nevertheless are famous enough to people of college age, I have lots of friends, and I have a job. I AM A COMPLETE NERD". This overflow of supposed nerdiness, coupled with that other modern scourge ironic appreciation, has all but rendered the term hipster obsolete. Everyone from The Beatles to Phil Collins is now seen as equally cool/uncool. There does not exist a musical act that could be deemed thoroughly uncool (OK, maybe Reba McEntire). Listening to Garth Brooks is now a daring show of individuality ("I know it's not very cool......"). Want to talk about why "The Avatar" is your favourite movie? No problem. Simply frame your discussion in terms of your genuine love of this movie being a fuck you to ideas of what is cool and what is uncool. I mean, you love the highest grossing movie of all time, a product that almost everyone in the world knows about, and has been watched by millions. YOU ARE SUCH A NERD. You just don't care about what's considered cool. You live your life free of such hang-ups, not like those pathetic hipsters. A person can even invoke hipsterism to dismiss the tastes of others, whether the thing in question is hip or not ("I know Murakami is really hip right now, but it's really.......").

The hipster has become the elusive demon who represents all that is wrong with our world. Yet nobody believes themselves to be a hipster, even those who are able to pen withering put-downs of hipsters and seem to know all the latest trends that hipsters are sporting. Nope, they aren't hipsters. Uptown Minneapolis is overflowing with them, but all of Minneapolis hates them: Vita.MN, The City Pages, people buying the new Best Coast album. They all hate those fucking hipsters. But this person does not exist. They are a voodoo doll conjured up by the modern mind to ease our own capitulation to modern capitalist marketing. They are the doppelganger who likes all the same things we do, but for all the wrong reasons. The real hipster died off sometime in the early nineties, when loser culture got its major foothold and the rise of the everyday nerd began in earnest. But even this stemmed from hipsterism. (Remember how hip Beck and Pavement were?) At all times though the hipster must be invoked, tried, and thrown to the lions, as a sacrifice for our own fears of depersonalisation and to bolster our individuality. The next time you take a shot at a hipster though, do me this one favour. Go home and take all your albums, tapes, cds...and burn them. Cause, you know what, all those musicians who made that great music that has enhanced your lives throughout the years...real fucking hip

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