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I almost puked all over the purple silk section. It was knowing that I would have been thrown out of the classy women’s apparel store in about $200 debt that kept my churning stomach in check, but still I almost think the statement would have been worth it.
Let me back up a bit. Here’s me and my lovely girlfriend, strolling care-free through the mall when we decide to make a stop at a relatively trendy fashion boutique. We go into the store and meander among the creatively decorated displays. My mind is drifting complacently.
And that is when I am attacked, not by any flesh-and-blood assailant, but by the horrendous atrocity of sound coming out of the house speaker system. What the hell is this? Who would do this? I can’t understand as my gag reflex begins to quiver.
I’m hearing a song I recognize, no, a song I love. This is supposed to be Joy Division’s “Shadowplay,” but it is all wrong – the guitar is jangly and happy, the drums sound like fucking She Wants Revenge, the singing is nice, perfectly in key and so, so tepid. It is evidently some hipster-pop candy band inflicting their perverted interpretation of a classically awesome song on me, and I am not happy.
Call me crazy, but I believe that among musicians, there’s something of a level of respect due to past musicians who have earned their greatness – the ones who lived a martyr’s life, blazed a new trail through their art, or otherwise helped establish the status quo as the rest of us know it. Songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Ballad of a Thin Man” are like holy scripture: the rest of us can only ponder, study, and otherwise attempt to understand their greatness. When they are played, everybody in the room needs to stop what they’re doing and lift their head for a second in a silent, sober acknowledgment. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but at least in a just world, people would understand that some songs come from something other than human creativity. Sheltered teens don’t wake up in their peaceful suburban homes and write songs like “Guns of Brixton” on a Fender Squire. Those songs come from the weathered hands of the musical prophets. They’re sacred.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to cover a good tune. There are a million bands I’d love to see play “Love Song” or “Come Together.” Aerosmith’s cover of that one was good – if not really necessary, because they did it exactly like the Beatles – but the difference between them and some sissy punk-ass kid band in the mall is that Aerosmith is relatively respectable themselves. They have their own catalogue of songs people recognize, so they don’t need the attention. They just wanted to stroke it a little.
The problem comes when an unknown band thinks they can add something to the pool of musical greatness by re-recording a classically great song and releasing it to the public. It’s especially a problem when the new version appeals to the shallowest ranks of music listeners, because half the time they don’t even realize they’re hearing a cover. Thus it was pretty rude of Sixpence None the Richer to release the La’s “There She Goes” – though they stayed faithful to the original, so it could have been worse. What the world doesn’t need is some shithead DJ’s take on “Heart Shaped Box,” like I heard a few months ago in another store, or the Scrawny Bubble Gum Kids playing a song by a cripplingly depressed guy who hung himself. (I tried to ascertain whether the “Shadowplay” I heard was actually The Killers’ version, but it wasn’t the same, so I can’t be sure. Still, Killers, you guys are assholes, too.)
So it comes down to this. I hate to be the hall monitor, but I have to say something. Having been around bands, I know there is a set of rules regarding covers that is universally understood by most bands. So for any future bands hoping to cover a song and get famous off of it, you should refer to them, or I will personally descend on your crappy practice space with blow torch and hack saw.
Sissy hipster bands:
1) Are allowed to cover, record and release any unknown or almost-unknown song.
2) Are allowed to cover a known song, provided they are making it better.
3) Are allowed to cover a great song live, provided they don’t mangle it.
4) Are NOT allowed to record and release a great song in a hipster, poseur fashion. Such action is extraordinarily uncouth and pretentious, and I will destroy you and your sparkly green Jag-Stang.
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