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Place and Music


As articles pour in marking the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, many focus on the Seattle scene of the early 1990s with its flannel and dark lyrics. Of course, Seattle’s changed a great deal over the past two decades with the rise of Microsoft and Starbucks, becoming yuppie central by the late 90s and a wealthy urbane city to the present. Articles note the contrast, such as this one from the Times.

Overall, the article was kind of a boilerplate discussion of the matter, but this bit rankled me:

When Mr. Cobain sang “I feel stupid and contagious/Here we are now, entertain us,” was it really emblematic of a new Seattle sound or was it just shrewdly packaged punk by some jaded dudes from a dreary old logging town, Aberdeen, Wash., more than 100 miles outside the city?

Does it matter?

Well, part of the question doesn’t matter–who cares if it was shrewdly packaged punk or not, but the issue of place matters a lot. And the bifurcation of Seattle and Aberdeen makes very little sense within the context of the time. While Seattle was transitioning in the early 1990s from a dreary little city in its own right to the bright city of tomorrow as it likes to define itself, the Pacific Northwest as a whole was going through rough times, with the spotted owl crisis shutting down the lumber industry. Although the overall effect on the regional economy was not nearly as great as predicted, due to the rise of the tech industry and tourism, in the small towns of Oregon and Washington, things were really tough. For a young person, there weren’t a lot of options, as I talked about the other day when discussing my home town of Springfield, Oregon. For musician kids in the Northwest, Seattle became a place to migrate. It wasn’t much nicer, but for Kurt Cobain, escaping Aberdeen for Seattle was no doubt pretty appealing. Similarly, the Melvins are from the very not nice town of Montesano, Washington and the Screaming Trees hail from Ellensburg, Washington.

More broadly, music has almost always been connected to place, with the cities and their hinterlands helping to create a particular music scene. The laid-back country-rock-folk of late 60s and early 70s Los Angeles, the punk scenes of depressed London and New York in the mid to late 70s, the hippie heaven of San Francisco in the 60s, the Sunset Strip and 80s glam metal. Grunge and Seatte are the same–music created by the depressed economic conditions and run-down logging towns of the Pacific Northwest by people who fled those places to the larger but equally rough dive neighborhoods of Seattle. Thus, when Nirvana did its interpretation of the Appalachian folk song “In the Pines” in its unplugged performance, it made a lot of sense. In the Firs might have been botanically accurate, but the loneliness and desolation of the impoverished forest came through in Cobain’s words:

What concerns me about popular music in the present is the lack of place. With the internet, we seem to have lost the need for particular places to inform and shape our music. The scene in Portland is basically the same as that of Austin and Brooklyn, with hipsters moving to different spots in the Hipster Triangle seemingly for reasons of new styles in asymmetrical hair. Austin is perhaps the prime example. Austin became a center of music in the 1960s and 1970s for a few reasons–the University of Texas meant a lot of clubs to play at, the city had cheap rent, a lot of hippies and therefore drugs. But that music was pure Texas–Willie Nelson on his return from Nashville came to a town already imbibing in Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Roky Erickson, Butch Hancock, and so many other amazing Texas musicians. Some of those guys are still around and there are a few younger Texans who are keeping up the spirit. But the Austin scene, like much of Austin itself, is today almost completely immune from Texas as a whole. No one is actually from Texas and outside of the greater Austin area, real Texas is to be mostly avoided.

That’s all fine I guess, but something is lost when we don’t have music that arises from place. You see this in rock and pop lyrics today–place hardly ever plays central roles in songs. For that matter, the songs rarely center narrative stories that would allow the songwriter to place a person in a place and time. I’m not really sure why this is, but I think we have an unfilled physic need for such songs. And I think that’s why there was such an overwhelming critical reaction to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois; for all its filler material (nearly half the album could be slashed), it told stories about a time and place that many of us could relate to, even if we’ve spent very little time in the Land of Lincoln. Yet while Stevens’ influence on sonic structures seems evident in pop and indie music, his lyrical contributions have been minimal and in fact, his own recent album seemed to shy away from telling those types of stories.

Maybe it’s just a musical phase. I hope so. I love exploring new music and the sounds of modern rock music are pretty remarkable. But the lyrical content is by and large underwhelming and I have to believe at least some of that is a result of losing contact with place.

I should also say that I don’t even really like grunge music, neither at the time nor today. It never much appealed to me aesthetically. At first, I assumed that it was because I wasn’t cool, then I realized it was because most of it wasn’t very interesting. I could go on, but doesn’t Mike Cooley really sum up the whole movement?

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  • seedeevee

    “the spotted owl crisis shutting down the lumber industry”

    I call “bullshit”.

    • You obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

      • Mark Centz

        That’s a disappointing response from my favorite of the second wave LGM crew in an otherwise stellar post. The Spotted Owl Crisis was an earlier example of corporate straw-manism, blaming those tree-hunging faggot liberal environmentalists for shutting down a productive industry. But the owl was, like a coal mine canary, simply an indicator of the true crisis looming, that of a clear-cut forest, which would have killed the industry just as dead and in much more of a devastating fashion to the region economically as well as environmentally and culturally , but having enriched the logging companies and their stockholders in the tried and true manner of plundering capitalists extracting wealth while despoiling entire countries. Better to blame a cutesy bird that does no one a particular good than the Masters of the Universe. Dammit Eric, Cascadia might well be telling similar tales as our West Virginian friends tell of the coal companies.

        And no mention of Green River? Or of the proto-grunge Sonics of my youth? Excellent work in any case.

        • Yes, the timber industry was in decline anyway. Overproduction, globalization, mechanization. And it is absolutely true that region-wide, the economic impact was not at disastrous as was predicted. But let’s also be clear about a couple of points. First, a whole lot environmentalists did not give a shit what happened to the loggers. There were exceptions, including Judi Bari. But many thought that trying to even talk to loggers was a waste of time. Second, the immediate shut-down of the timber industry through the courts did devastate local communities such as Oakridge, Oregon. These smaller communities were by and large dependent upon old-growth timber on federal lands. Other communities, particularly near the coast, were much less so because the privately owned lands were being managed through intensive forestry and there wasn’t any old-growth left. The combination of already existing changes within the timber industry and the spotted owl decisions really fucked up the region’s small towns. Not coincidentally, there is a great deal of meth and poverty in these places today. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it to protect the spotted owl, but the environmentalists could have handled it a whole lot better.

          • Mark Centz

            OK, mine safety regs aren’t placed to keep canaries singing. It’s not about the birds, pretty as they are.
            It’s also true that there’s a cultural divide between the urban enviros and the blue collar loggers, and that a fair number of them are jerks without diplomatic skills. Works both ways though, and when some kid from Bellevue rolls in to Forks telling the locals, ‘hey, you’re doing it wrong’ the reaction is predictable. Again, in West Virginia, where local coal mining families unhappy with the results of unregulated waste fouling their own backyards and more, neighbors revile them for interfering with the next paycheck. No cultural divide, but a perceptual one, and that’s enough. People are resistant to change, and messengers are rarely welcome no matter how they bring the news. But that change was coming, with or without the messenger. Now, where were the policy people on this? Listening to lobbyists telling them about owls, instead of thinking how to transition from one economic model to the next as if people mattered.

            • Well, it was hard for the policy people I think. Timber had been the backbone of the Northwestern economy for a century and no one really knew what was going to replace it. That’s a big scary change. Turned out OK on a regional level so with the exceptions of the timber communities and the politicians who represent them on the local level, no one has really looked back, but no one also knew if it would end well.

              • Mark Centz

                It’s never over, and that meth thing, like Boeing, Starbucks, Nordstrom, non-Canadian winning the Stanley Cup, microbrew, UPS, and especially like Nike and Microsoft is another Cascadian innovation that the entire country now experiences, but the impact of that plague is still unresolved here, largely out of sight since there’s no meth lobby.
                Please, rethink labeling this event after the bird. It’s a framing issue, and if I dare say so, you’re doing it wrong. You’re damned good at this pundit work, people no doubt listen to you. I hope so, anyway.

    • Bunion

      You obviously haven’t been hanging around the right bars listening to the right laid-off loggers.

      • GFW

        And the same loggers will probably vote for a Tea Party candidate who will reduce taxes on millionaires while reducing unemployment support. In other words, the laid-off logger who blames the spotted owl has been mislead by the industry.

        From the Wikipedia page “Northern Spotted Owl” (not that that means it’s incontrovertible, but …): “The decline in jobs was already in progress because of dwindling old-growth forest harvests and automation of the lumber industry.[7] Subsequent research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison by environmental scientists published in a sociology journal argued that logging jobs had been in a long decline and that environmental protection was not a significant factor in job loss.[8] From 1947 to 1964, the number of logging jobs declined 90%. Starting with the Wilderness Act of 1964, environmental protection saved 51,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest.[9]”

        • This is fundamentally accurate, though it doesn’t tell the whole story.

          • Quercus

            I’m confused: you say it’s ‘fundamentally accurate’ that “environmental protection was not a significant factor in job loss”, but when someone says it’s bullshit that ‘the spotted owl crisis shut down the timber industry’ you say they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. Seems like the ‘fundamentally accurate’ wiki backs up the BS call, right?

            (I mean, if you’re trying to use the spotted owl controversy as a way of identifying a time, sure, that’s valid. But being as how this is a policy blog, which –I think — holds that there is an objective reality separate from people’s perceptions and desires, I think you’d want to maybe characterize it as “the manufactured controversy blaming the spotted owl” or something.

            • No–it is fundamentally accurate that there were job losses already taking place. The spotted owl exacerbated this, defining the region during the 1980s and early 1990s. But the reality is that it was a very complicated time. But I would absolutely not say that it was a manufactured controversy blaming the owl or that environmental protection was not a significant factor in job losses on the local level, even if regionally, the decline of the timber industry did not have the intended effect.

              In other words, go visit Oakridge or Coquille or Forks. Those places are still screwed (even though Forks has the weird Twilight thing going on) and the closing of federally owned old-growth forests to logging has a good bit to do with that.

  • DivGuy

    I’m not sure I’m buying the thesis, but it’s interesting.

    You could draw a contrast to the pervasive to the point of self-satirizing representing of place in contemporary hip-hop.

    • I don’t listen to hip-hop enough to talk intelligently about that, but I’d be curious to see someone articulate that more. Certainly hip-hop has been deeply imbued by place throughout its history, from the earliest stuff to the Compton scene with NWA and those groups to the whole east coast vs. west coast thing to the rise of Southern rap. So I wonder how that is going within current hip-hop, of which I know almost nothing.

      • Hip hop has less “Compton” and “Inglewood” references than it did in the early and mid-90s, probably because it’s less about heated rivalries than it was then, but it’s still very place-based: you can usually tell, even in pop hip hop, where someone is from (Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, Brooklyn, Bronx, southern California, etc.). Plus, it was only a couple years ago that people were wearing t-shirts with their area codes on them.

        Did you never visit the New Orleans hip hop clubs that popped up in north central Austin (around 290 and I-35) after Katrina?

        • Again, I don’t really listen to hip-hop, so I didn’t even know they existed.

          • howard

            i have to say, i’m always curious when someone says “i don’t really listen to hiphop.”

            you mean: you’ve never heard jay-z? snoop? eminem? salt-n-pepa?

            and then i wonder how that’s even possible.

            alternatively, do you mean “i never consciously set out to listen to hip hop?”

            and then i wonder, why not? why would you deliberately cut yourself off from the most vital strand of popular music over the last 30+ years?

            i mean, speaking as both an old-timer and someone with a 7-year-old (for whom a lot of the lyrical content is a little too adult still), it would be a bit much for me to pretend that i listen to hip hop all the time, but i certainly listen to it and try to keep up.

            or do you mean “i haven’t kept up with hiphop and now it’s so vast i don’t know where to begin, and so i figure i’ll just leave it alone?”

            ’cause if that’s it, me and many others here will be glad to help out….

            • dangermouse

              and then i wonder, why not? why would you deliberately cut yourself off from the most vital strand of popular music over the last 30+ years?

              For the same reason anyone anywhere cuts themself off from any of a million things they aren’t particularly interested in.

              I don’t really follow sports. I’m sure – actually, no, I just objectively know – that many people will react to this by demanding to know what my problem is with sports (in extreme cases, demanding to know what my problem is with THEIR TEAM). The answer generally tends to be… that I don’t really follow sports.

              • dangermouse, i suppose your comment means i should have been a touch clearer.

                if erik didn’t care about popular music, there would indeed be no reason in particular for him to care about hiphop.

                but he does, which is why my “you,” in this case, was second person singular, directed at erik.

                • I listen to what I listen to. Not going to worry about it a whole lot if there are areas I am weak in.

            • I got freebies to go see Lil Wayne. It was like hip-hop Spinal Tap except the stagecraft operated properly.

          • Then you’re missing out.

            • yeah, i thought overnight about whether to comment further on this.

              i guess what it comes down to for me is if you’re going to make bold statements about popular music – janis joplin has no talent! bill monroe is the only individual inventor of a genre ever! a sense of place is in decline in music! – i think you should be trying to be broadly familiar with popular music.

              if you don’t want to – de gustibus non est disputandum – then maybe the statements shouldn’t be so bold.

              • Halloween Jack

                Me, I’m of the oldskool that believes that, if the paradigm that I’m supposed to be following is one where I have to treat my entertainment as another job (or even some semi-structured course of self-improvement with required listening lists), then there’s something wrong with that.

      • marijane

        Seattle has always featured prominently as a place in the hip-hop that comes out of that city, as far back as Sir Mix-A-Lot (Posse’s on Broadway) to the work of contemporary artists like Blue Scholars and Macklemore, especially in the music produced roughly between 2002-2008. I would say it has lost some emphasis in recent years, but it still shows up in tracks like Macklemore’s The Town or My Oh My.

        I happen to have some YouTube playlists that are a good introduction to Seattle’s contribution to the genre. For example, Erik, you may appreciate the themes in The Chronological Seattle Hip-Hop, Volume 2. In addition to Seattle, they like to rap about things like the working class struggle, feminism, and the post-racial society.

        • Sir Mix-a-Lot was actually the first show I ever saw by myself. This was before “Baby Got Back.” It was after Swass came out.

          • marijane

            Nice. =)

  • Colin

    I just listened to Illinois again recently with your comment that much of it could go, but I wonder what specifically you’d get rid of. It’s not hard to make the argument of filler (though I think it “fills” well), but those fillers are of the 30-90 second (or, in one instance, 9-second) variety. Even if you toss out any song less than 2:30, you still have a 62-minute album, and I’m just not sure which of the longer songs you get rid of without destroying the entire dynamic of the album as a single piece.

    • I’d say most of the second half of the album outside of They Are Zombies is negligible.

      • Predatory wasps? There’s a lot of good stuff in the second half. Our neglect has more to do with a kind of mental fatigue that sets in listening to any lengthy, complicated album.

        • I’d agree with this. I think the issue is that the first half is a bunch of individual songs that are great, and the second half is really one great block (rather than individual songs jumping out the way “Chicago” or “John Wayne Gacy” do). Treating the second half exactly like the first is a disservice to both, and to me, paying attention to the flow of that half only reinforces the fact that it stands up with the first half on its own terms.

          • Charlie

            I’m a big fan of Illinois and for that matter, a fan of Erik. But this post is incredibly half-baked. Critics loved Illinois because it was gorgeous, grand, and literate. The place-centered aspect was certainly a draw, but Stevens’ whole project (making an album about every state) makes him exactly the wrong example to make your point. Nothing about the album really spoke to Illinois’s particular music history, it was simply lyrics about Illinois history and landscape. Stevens’ approach was more like the Coen Brothers’ interest in American regionalism; he’s interested in touring the whole nation and explicitly did not want to root himself only in one place.

            Meanwhile, I can think of lots of modern artists that are both lyrically and musically linked to a place. Just to name of some my favorites: Bon Iver and Wisconsin, The Weakerthans and Winnipeg, Fleet Foxes/Blitzen Trapper/Say Hi and the Pacific Northwest, Lucinda Williams and the Delta/Gulf Coast, PJ Harvey and England, Ra Ra Riot and upstate NY, Frightened Rabbit and Scotland, Best Coast and LA. I could go on, but note I’m leaving out NYC bands, and I’m leaving out bands that explicitly sing about placenessless, even though they also refute your thesis.

            Yes I realize my favorites are a predictable bunch of indie rockers, but you really have to start arbitrarily redrawing the lines of what you meant by “modern rock music” to claim that it is “losing contact with place.”

            • mark f

              Anyway, Michigan is both a better album and more organically connected to its subject.

  • Tangent alert!: While Nirvana’s earlier material was decidedly punk-leaning (Bleach), with the exception of “Stay Away” and “Territorial Pissings”, the vast majority of Nevermind (certainly the hits) were decidedly more classic-rock or metal in musical style. (Sabbath-esque metal, not hair metal.) I remember reading an interview where Chris Cornell said he was never a Sabbath or Zeppelin fan and was more influenced by the Ramones. This was a sentiment echoed by many of the grunge rockers, but I never quite believed it. Or more accurately, it never seemed to tell the whole story. From a musical perspective, grunge sounds far more similar to the heavier side of classic rock, than punk. The attitude of rebellion from punk is there certainly (especially in the lyrics) but unlike Green Day, Offspring etc. the grunge acts got huge with albums that were very far removed from the punk beat and pace (Nevermind, Badmotorfinger, Ten). This was probably why I loved it. I feel about punk much the way Erik does about grunge: yawn. I love the spirit and energy of punk, but the sloppiness and semi-regular inattention to details like tuning their guitars always drove me batty. Anyways, my overall point would be that while the punk-ish early material got Nirvana and Soundgarden to the precipice of the big-time, it was actually when they moved away from punk standards by slowing down tempos, altering the drumbeats etc. that they crafted something truly unique and interesting. Pearl Jam is a tougher story since they basically became Crazy Horse after one album :)

    • mark f
    • ralphdibny

      Indeed–“Smells Like Teen Spirit” borrows the guitar riff from Boston’s “More Than A Feeling,” and you can’t get more classic rock than that. It’s actually one of the things I like about the band–how it wears its influences on its sleeve, from Boston to The Replacements to The Ramones.

      • Kurt Cobain told an interviewer that Smells Like Teen Spirit was his attempt to write a Pixies song.

        The chord progression is hardly unique.

        • mark f

          And “About a Girl” was an attempt at Meet the Beatles, which is especially clear in early live versions.

          • Wow.

            You don’t get that out of the later versions.

            • mark f

              No, not at all. And it’s not even that different.

        • DocAmazing

          The guitar work also borrows from Fang and from Flipper, which Cobain & Co. were good enough to credit.

      • Kurzleg

        Really? I don’t hear it.

    • rea

      they basically became Crazy Horse after one album

      That’s not a particularly bad thing to become.

      (And the Young/Cobain influence, of course, is more notorious)

    • Seattle grunge does seem to incorporate more metal, or at least 70s guitar rock, than grunge from other places.

      I think your observation is more true of a lot of other Seattle grunge bands than of Nirvana in particular. Certainly Soundgarden, the Melvins, and Alice in Chains show a lot of metal influence.

  • mark f

    Nirvana MTV Unplugged was the first cassette I usually cop to having owned, but it was actually the second one. You think you weren’t cool? This was the first.

    • Walt

      The first album I ever bought was Toto IV, which probably everyone now is too young to know how embarrassing that is.

      • ralphdibny

        “As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” has to be the awkwardest lyric in rock history.

        My first tape purchase was Mr. Mister, BTW.

        • Anonymous

          My aunt bought me Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl and Air Supply’s Greatest Hits

          I win

          • Western Dave

            Chipmunk Punk on vinyl ftw.

      • I think almost everyone has a story like this. I’m not totally sure what my first purchase was, but it might have been a Phil Collins album. I’d say there’s a good 20% chance of this. If your first purchase was Husker Du, would anyone believe you?

        • rkd

          My first was Led Zeppelin II. Crap, I must be getting old…

          • You want old? My first album was The Rolling Stones Now! which I bought at Woolworth’s for, I think, two bucks. The Beatles were still in charge of the world, but my big sister liked the Beatles so fuck them! Plus the Stones were clearly bad ass.

            • howard

              i’m not sure why lyrics are all that relevant to the point.

              there is a set of riffs and rhythms that says “new orleans,” whether the band is singing about bourbon street or not.

              there’s a certain swing style that says “kansas city,” whether the band is talking about 18th and vine.

              there’s “texas tenor” style for jazz and r+b; there’s a certain kind of funk that says “memphis,” and there is a heritage from the velvet underground through the strokes that says “manhattan art band.”

              to some degree, music has been homogenizing ever since first sheet music, then 78s, and then radio brought distant sounds home (after all, kurt cobain loved the vaselines), and for certain kinds of sounds (dance/club music in particular), the audience is global nowadays, which has its own impact.

              i personally think it’s wisest to avoid overly broad generalizations about something the extent to which localism is waxing or waning or whatever, but as i say, my real point is, you don’t need lyrics to recognize a point of origin.

              • howard

                sorry, somehow this point, which i wanted to make its own comment at the bottom, ended up here, and the point i wanted to make here disappeared, so let me repeat that one:

                speaking as an old-timer, my first vinyl was a 45 of “california girls;” my first lp (where erik at 2:15 believes it or not) was “rubber soul,” still my favorite beatles album.

              • Richard

                Amen. You can tell Chicago blues in a second but very few songs are about Chicago. The same with the styles you mention, Howard.

                In my view, its always a mistake to focus on lyrics when you are talking about pop/folk/vernacular music because more information is contained in the notes than in the words.

              • There’s no doubt that lyrics don’t have to be the defining factor here. Jazz being the obvious example of this not being necessary, whether New Orleans in the 1920s or the experimental jazz of recent years in New York.

        • djw

          I’m pretty sure my first two albums were some sort of atrocious Paul McCartney live thing collection, followed by “Pride” by White Lion.

          The weird thing is I didn’t particularly like hair metal, and didn’t listen to any of the rest of them–just White Lion.

          • Awesome. I had Pride on casette. Solely for “When the Children Cry.”

            “No more Presidents…and all the wars will end.” So subtle.

            The first piece of music I remember owning (not stolen from parents collection) was ELO’s “Discovery” on vinyl. Not the worst first album, but that admission definitely never got me laid.

            • djw

              I loved that terrible song, but actually preferred the b-side, Lady of the Valley. Ugh.

              I watched the official video for When the Children Cry on youtube a couple of years ago. One of the funniest goddamn things I’ve ever seen.

        • I started with a couple of Neil Diamond records, and then bought “King of Rock” by Run-DMC.

          It took me months to realize there was a scratch in that record.

      • rea

        Yes, Close to the Edge for me. And, I am not ashamed.

        • Walt

          That’s currently not embarrassing. Prog rock is cool now, believe it or not.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          I cut my musical teeth on Yes and Genesis, then threw it all aside circa 1981 in favor of various flavors of post-punk and new wave. I’ve gone back to those early Yes albums in the past year or so and found a lot of it, but especially Close to the Edge, to be nothing short of breathtaking.

          A great upside to middle age is no longer having to give a shit about what anyone thinks of my musical tastes.

      • I’m a bit younger, so I’d like to say my first tape wasn’t nearly as embarassing as Toto or Phil Collins. Unfortunately, my first tape was MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em,” so I too have no room to judge.

        • Sean

          Ha! Me too! Though actually, my first tape was the single of “you can’t touch this.” I don’t remember what was on the B-side. My first tape would have been George Harrison’s “I’ve got my mind set on you” if I could have afforded it, but instead, my taste and affluence did not meet up until Hammer reigned. But my second tape, I’m proud to say, was the Dead Milkmen, the one with “big lizard in my backyard” on it.

          • Marek

            The name of the album was in fact “Big Lizard In My Backyard.”

      • MikeJake

        Vanilla Ice!

        Ugh. It should be illegal for kids to buy music before they’re 14.

      • Walt, tell people you played drums at the time, and Toto will be forgiven (for all the cheesiness, Porcaro was/is a legend among drummers, with Rosanna being one of the most renowned shuffle beats ever played on a rock album.)

        • Marek

          I saw Toto “play” in Poland in 1992. The singer was lip synching; the other musicians may have been too.

    • pete

      First music I bought was the 45 of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” (I’m quite proud of that). First LP was Cliff Richard’s first (Cliff) which is still his best; by the time I bought it, he had several worse ones out. Second was Please Please Me. I’ve still got both albums, in glorious mono, though I play the digital versions. And what are you kids doing on my lawn anyway?

      • Richard

        First 45i bought was by Ricky Nelson First lp was Loving You soundtrack by Elvis Presley

        • Richard

          And, of course, I win not only the oldest codger on the block award but the one with the best taste even at the tender age of ten.

          • pete

            I presume you meant a James Burton record with vocals by young Mr Nelson, and bow to your ancient wisdom.

            • Richard

              Thats what I meant (although I have to confess that my first Ricky 45 was Poor Little Fool which has precious little Burton but bought Believe What I Say shortly thereafter where Burton tears up the joint)

    • Kurzleg

      The Alarm – Strength

    • Halloween Jack

      Endless Flight by Leo Sayer, an album that you’ll find on exactly nobody’s shortlist of great albums, including mine. (What can I say? I was twelve.) The next two albums that I owned, both Christmas presents, were The Stones’ Hot Rocks 1964-1971 and KISS’Alive II were improvements, even if the former was a product of Allen Klein’s shameless theft of the Stones’ 60s catalog and the latter was 100% pure butt rock.

  • Aaron

    Shorter Erik Loomis: Back in my day, music was actually from somewhere!

    I think the claim that today’s indie scenes have no connection to place is extremely suspect and bears further scrutiny. Being from Portland, it seems fairly obvious to me that the music scene here is deeply connected to the “Portland ethos”: Keep Portland weird!

    As an example, take the Decemberists, whose last pre-hiatus show I just attended at Edgefield. I could connect Colin Meloy’s deep literary sensibilities to Powell’s City of Books, a center of Portland life, or to the Wordstock book festival (Portland thinks of itself as a literate and literary city). An even more direct piece of evidence might be Wildwood, the book that he and his wife just wrote, which is set in Portland’s Forest Park and named after the Wildwood Trail.

    What I really think is going on is that Loomis doesn’t know very much about Portland. Or perhaps, in classic hipster fashion, he thinks it’s just “too mainstream.”

    • It’s true. I know nothing about Portland. I was only born there and lived in Oregon for 22 years, and am a historian of the Pacific Northwest and still get back there a couple of times a year, sometimes for weeks at a time.

      Also, the Keep Portland Weird thing was stolen straight from Austin. And neither place is any longer weird. Instead, both places are just very young and white. Once you start producing bumper stickers saying “Keep X City Weird,” it’s safe to say that you are no longer “weird,” if you ever were and instead people are finding ways to capitalize on a city’s own idealized self-image.

      • Aaron

        You’re being far too cynical. Portland is obviously young and white, but how does that mean its inhabitants can’t be weird? They have deeply-felt convictions: environmentalism, localism, the importance of creativity and authenticity. As to the original point of my post, these influences are obvious in their music. But I think they’re also obvious in the city’s self-image and lived values. Take Portlandia: the only reason why it’s so hilarious to poke fun at Portland culture is because it’s so damn earnest.

        • I’d say rather you have bought into the Portland Kool-Aid.

          I love Portland but the Portland I know is Drugstore Cowboy. That’s been lost, as has any vestige of actual work in the city, particularly with the tearing down of the Henry Weinhard’s Brewery.

          But to your point, what is weird? Being a hipster with the same beliefs as all the other hipsters around? I mean, maybe that’s no different than other scene in history but there’s a self-consciousness to it that is grating.

          It’s at least possible that all of this is indeed manifested in the music of Portland bands. I’d like to see some evidence of that though. Meloy’s artsy-fartsy lyrics aren’t really enough for me–I understand that he’s comfortable in Portland with other people who have similar outlooks and that can be part of it, but are there any songs by these bands that are actually about Portland? Surely there must be some examples, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Moreover, indie rock as a whole really lacks this kind of thing, or often a whole lot of attention paid to lyrical narrative in general.

          • mark f

            Moreover, indie rock as a whole really lacks this kind of thing, or often a whole lot of attention paid to lyrical narrative in general.


            • brandon

              Yeah, Titus Andronicus really really really wears “place” on their sleeve don’t they? Pretty good band though.

          • Aaron

            First of all, in Portland, you wouldn’t drink Kool-Aid, you’d drink organically sweetened Kombucha. Second, perhaps I just have more faith in people than you.

            True, “weird” is a bit of a shifty word. I could do conceptual analysis but I won’t bother. I just took it to mean something like “unique and interesting.” Obviously to some extent there is a community with similar values and similar beliefs. But, first of all, how is this any different than the Haight? Second, as you point out, this is a requirement of basically any “scene” to exist ever – some commonality of values and attitudes.

            As to your last point, see below about how you’re shifting the goalposts.

          • rea

            Name one Nirvana/Soundgarden/Pearl Jam/Screaming Trees/Etc. song about Seattle or any other place in the Pacific Northwest.

            • mark f

              Pearl Jam’s fourth album has a song about hanging out at Mudhoney’s bassist’s house. That’s all I got.

            • OmerosPeanut

              Name one Nirvana song about Seattle? Uh, do you know who Frances Farmer was? Listen to In Utero sometime.

          • Although one other band does not a rule make, James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem (prior to his retirement of the moniker/band) was also heavily steeped in New York City culture and life (see: “Yr City’s a Sucker,” “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” and random lyrical references like “I played Daft Punk for the rock kids, I played it at CBGBs”). And Murphy had been a resident of the greater NYC area most of his life (unlike many of the “I’ll move to Williamsburg in my 20s” bands).

            • kate

              James Murphy is also a generational talent. He’s one of the songwriters today who I think is doing really good work, not only musically, but lyrically.

          • Henry’s, yeah, but what about when we lost Quality Pies and XL Donuts?! To be fair, I don’t know that the Wipers or the Sonics or Paul Revere and the Raiders (or even Ray Charles, who was a sensation in Seattle in the late 40’s before he was known anywhere else) had much Pacific Northwest content to their music. There is something– maybe the overwhelmingly white demographic, maybe the large number of ports/railyards which make getting out easy– that keeps the gepgraphic area out of its musician’s music.

            • Hey, let’s not forget Queensryche’s “Jet City Woman” here…..

          • Malaclypse

            But to your point, what is weird? Being a hipster with the same beliefs as all the other hipsters around

            I want to be different, like everybody else I want to be like. I want to be just like all the different people. I have no further interest in being the same, because I have seen difference all around, and now I know that that’s what I want. I don’t want to blend in and be indistinguishable. I want to be part of the different crowd, and assert my individuality along with others who are different like me. – King Missile

      • pete

        See also Santa Cruz, CA, where the people who nicked the idea from Austin and sell the T-shirts in their family bookstore are literally the same people who promoted and passed ordinances to “clean up downtown” etc etc. Weird is OK on T-shirts, not on the street. Might discourage the paying customers.

        • DocAmazing

          San Francisco’s got the same thing going on, especially in the Haight. You have respectable bourgeois merchants selling pseudo-hippie culture by the pound on Haight Street while pushing through laws against homelessness and loitering. It is as though Joe Jackson’s “I’m the Man” were made flesh–not only has dissent been commodified, it’s now on the two-for-five-dollar shelf.

          By the way, Portland’s best band has a strong sense of place: March Fourth Marching Band, whom you should see live at all costs.

    • Also, Colin Meloy is from Montana and your argument would be stronger if he would sing about it. It would be stronger if he wrote a song about Portland or that took place in Portland or that was grounded in something other that arcane lyrics about books. And I actually kind of like The Decemberists. But while the book he and his wife wrote is interesting, I’m not exactly hearing a lot about place in his songs.

      • Aaron

        You’re shifting the goalposts. San Francisco “hippie paradise” songs weren’t all about how beautiful the sunrise over Haight-Ashbury is. The way I took your argument originally was “is there some kind of connection between the ethos and conditions of a place and its music scene?” Nirvana certainly didn’t write about how economically depressed Washington was; instead they just had “dark lyrics.”

        • When Cobain is singing In the Pines, it’s quite clear that he is singing about Washington, not Kentucky.

          And look at the Grateful Dead. They may not be singing about the Haight, but they are signing and writing songs about the scene and about the back to the land ethos that the whole hippie movement embodied. Their songs, particularly in the early years before Garcia started in on the heroin, are a bittersweet examination of the America that hippies reacted against and that they traveled around establishing countercultural communities, whether in San Francisco or in the rural West or wherever. This as opposed to a band like Phish who took the worst part of the Dead and combined it with lyrics that were generally about nothing at all. A lot of those San Francisco band references may be obscure and lost to modern listeners who don’t have deep knowledge of the counterculture, but they were clearly referring to things, people, and places that were common knowledge among denizens of the counterculture.

          In the end, you may have a point about the Decemberists (even though Meloy is still from Montana, which you are not addressing), but I’d like to see a bit more from other bands to believe this is more than an isolated case. Does Portland music have a more literary aspect to it than Austin or Brooklyn bands? What would be some evidence to support this? How is Portland different than Austin and Brooklyn in the minds of its particular brand of hipsters?

          • Aaron

            I’d buy “in music scenes some artists have a deep sense of connection to place while others do not” – since it seems like the most logical conclusion of your Grateful Dead/Phish comparison. But the broader claim you’re making about the disconnectedness of modern indie music seems more driven by disillusionment and nostalgia. That’s fine with me; you can keep your disillusionment and I’ll keep my youthful idealism.

            And what’s relevant is not where Meloy is from but where he lived and what place he identifies with. All grunge artists were not from Seattle, all hippies were not from San Francisco. Someone moving to Portland because it’s the kind of place they want to live is more than enough for me to claim them as a member of my community.

            • Not disillusionment or nostalgia at all–just a concern about recent trends in lyricism.

              And I probably overstated the point about writing songs that are obviously about particular places. Yes, you are right that moving around to be part of a community does make one part of a particular place and time. I sort of narrowed my own argument unnecessarily.

          • cooperstreet

            How about the Wrens and Titus Adronicus? How do they not address the malaise of growing up in Jersey? HMMMM?

            • Aaron

              I’ll give you Titus Andronicus. I’ve never listened to The Wrens. Should I have?

              • The Meadowlands is one of my favorite albums of the last decade.

          • This as opposed to a band like Phish who took the worst part of the Dead and combined it with lyrics that were generally about nothing at all.

            This part I would argue (admitted Phish fan here.) To me they took the BEST part of the Dead (improv, musical exploration, combination of multi-genres) and took it to a whole new level with even better musical proficiency (old Dead tapes are often unlistenably sloppy) and incorporated real back-beats (which for all the Dead did accomplish, was always something that eluded their music.)

            I don’t care nearly so much about lyrics (where I think the Dead have a clear edge, even if they rarely said anything profound to my ears.) In fairness, Phish’s lyrics (as silly as they are) do have alot of direct references to Vermont and their immediate group of friends. They may not include any grand sociological statements about conditions of the Northeast, but they do keep things pretty local.

        • Aaron

          The only example you’ve presented of someone actually literally writing songs about a place is Sufjan Stevens – a member of the modern indie community. Or, for another example, the Fleet Foxes. Or Acorn. Or Beirut.

          Examples not from modern indie music that I can think of include John Mellencamp and traditional folk musics (which probably influenced a lot of the above artists). But to claim glam rockers had a deep sense of connection to place in the sense that you’re using to evaluate Portland, Austin and Brooklyn is transparently wrong.

          • kate

            If we are using Fleet Foxes as an example of intelligent lyricism, I’ve already won this debate.

            Talk about a derivative, overrated band.

            • That was actually me. On the woman’s computer.

              • I agree with Erik about Fleet Foxes. Most people of taste I know adore them, but I hear, I dunno, late period CSN (definitely no Y) or something.

            • Aaron

              I was using them as an example of lyrics connected to place. Since, you know, all of their lyrics are about places.

              I’ll stick up for their music, though, even though it’s irrelevant to my point. Ever heard “Helplessness Blues?”

              • I have their first album. I listened to it several times. I have no idea what the fuss is about.

                • Aaron

                  Well, I love folk music and choral-style vocals. I’ve also seen them live and they’re great musicians. You might try their second album; it’s both lyrically and musically a substantial departure from the first.

                • So if you love folk music, don’t you see the massive difference between the lyrical stylings of folk musicians of the past and what a lot of indie rockers use the term “folk music” to describe now, even though I feel it is often an inaccurate term. But then I wouldn’t call Fleet Foxes folk music in any conceivable way, nor particularly influenced by folk music, except perhaps the vocal stylings of some of the 60s folk movement bands, but most of that was really crappy music.

      • trashdog

        I was under the impression that this song was about teenage runaways in Portland.


        • mark f

          I thought all the nautical songs were inspired by Portlandia as well.

    • Haha… can you really call a slogan the ethos of a city if it was stolen from an advertising campaign for local businesses from another city?

  • Aaron


  • But the Austin scene, like much of Austin itself, is today almost completely immune from Texas as a whole. No one is actually from Texas and outside of the greater Austin area, real Texas is to be mostly avoided.

    Nice Marcotte bait.

  • km

    Shorter Erik Loomis: “In this post I will pick an arbitrary reason for condemning contemporary rock music. I will then pick an equally arbitrary metric by which to determine exactly how any particular band measures up to my arbitrary standards.”

    Even if we accept the idea that “place” is something that should float near the top of a list or things that makes music good, the idea that “inspiration” from “place” primarily manifests more or less explicitly in the referential content of lyrics — and nowhere else — is pretty silly.

    Also, so what that Colin Meloy is originally from Montana? Does the fact that someone moves to live in a new location mean they can’t relate to the new place, and be inspired by it musically? I guess Henry Rollins-era Black Flag really isn’t an LA band, since Hank is from DC. Nor are the Pixies from Boston, since Kim Deal was born in Ohio. And I seem to remember Dylan coming from Minneapolis.

    • Bunion

      Hibbing. But he was really just a musical carpetbagger from Duluth.

    • Who is condemning contemporary rock music? Clearly, you didn’t read the original post. From a sonic perspective, modern rock is amazing. The soundscapes of modern rock songs are superior to probably any other era in rock and roll. The use of electronics and influences around the world have created some really spectacular music.

      What I am arguing here is that the lyrics of much modern rock music are quite poor (even if the voice is being used as instrumentation in interesting ways) and that some of the problem is the general placelessness of the music. And possibly a placelessness within America itself.

      • km

        No I read the post and your subsequent comments. I’ll revise the critique, but I still think you’re using an arbitrary standard to judge what counts as good lyrics. What I suspect your actual gripe is — one I share — is toward an over-corporatization of indie rock that pushes lowest-common-denominator music over originality — though to be fair, the grunge era was the start of this trend (ahem Stone Temple Pilots ahem). That the lyrics seem worse today than they were back in the day, if that’s even true, is more likely a byproduct of that process rather than “the internet” or “lack of place” or whatever.

        • No, I don’t think it’s about corportaization. That’s always been a part of music. Look at country music for example. It’s been corporatized since the 1950s, but it always had a side that produced fantastic lyrics, at least through the 1970s. Moreover, I don’t really think it is in corporate music’s interest to dumb down lyrics in indie rock. It’s still pretty easy for an indie band to at least get noticed on KEXP or some other similar station without a big contract, but I don’t see any particular lyrical genius that is then getting crushed by corporate beancounters.

          What I really think is bands don’t focus on lyrics to the extent that they used to. It’s the Sonic Youth effect I guess–a band that’s a hero to many modern acts who were phenomenally successful on their own terms by producing great music with utterly dispensable lyrics. And it seems to me, and I’ve had more than one of their fans tell me this–that a lot of music people, people with really good taste by and large, don’t really care about lyrics. And I see this as unfortunate. The story is now told almost exclusively through the music and the words are usually secondary.

          • km

            Maybe this is a difference in terminology. Indie doesn’t really refer to “independent” anymore (if it ever did). Some of the bands that pass as indie these days — Deathcab, the Shins, Wilco — did the whole kicking around the scene thing, but nowadays are pretty much beholden to the majors. But plenty of other bands also skip a lot of the rites of passage and get scooped up by majors or mini-majors right away. Absolutely this has been going on for a long time, but the grunge explosion initiated a world where “indie” cred in particular was taken up, repackaged, and marketed by record companies in unprecedented ways. Look at Subpop now. This is absolutely the filtering of creativity (Steve Albini’s classic rant on the soul suckingness of majors is a must read). But it’s not only that. I think that public radio “curation” of “intelligent” rock (I’m looking at you, KCRW) has a similar effect — make the indie rock palatable to the liberal elite, who, despite pretentions, don’t want overly complicated lyrics just like everyone else in the world (I’ve heard plenty of my friends and colleagues joke about running to the dictionary when they listen to the Decemberists, revealing a low-level anxiety for pop lyrics that are too far afield). Pop music like the Backstreet Boys is disposable crap so banal that anyone could, in theory, relate to it. Most of what I hear on the local public radio station is the exact same thing, only dressed up in an indie rock outfit (long beard, tight pants) so that the NPR listeners can feel a little different. Possibly better.

            OK, a little cynical, but still…

            Also, all this talk of good, influential music from the Pacific Northwest and not one mention of K Records in Olympia. Priorities, people.

            • Most of what I hear on the local public radio station is the exact same thing, only dressed up in an indie rock outfit (long beard, tight pants) so that the NPR listeners can feel a little different. Possibly better.

              Bravo, KM. KCRW has really lost it’s edge in recent years.

              I do give them credit for playing some interesting world music and jazz, here and there.

        • Waingro

          (ahem Stone Temple Pilots ahem)

          I still don’t entirely get the hate for that band. Their first album is a bit derivative, but it’s competent. Their subsequent work is very solid to excellent hard rock, far superior to the lazy shit that Pearl Jam has done since Ten. I can see being annoyed that they were (are?) considered “alternative”, but I think the musicianship is actually pretty impressive.

          I also share Eric’s assessment of current modern rock – sonically very interesting, but I find most of the vocals to be shit.

          • I was a big hater of STP when they first came out – they sounded like a Pearl Jam knockoff. I think a lot of people got the image of that band as the first “grunge clone,” and it stuck.

            But they demonstrated remarkable musical versatility over their career.

          • I had the same response to STP initially. Then I started trying to learn some of their songs on guitar and realized that their material was far more advanced in terms of chord structures and phrasings. Not that that trumps the importance of songwriting, but they were a band that had more depth than at first it seemed. And if the timing was only slightly different, everyone would consider Pearl Jam to be just another STP ripoff (first album at least.) When you think about the time that it takes to get a major label deal, it seems very unlikely to me that STP was influenced by Pearl jam at all. Ten came out in 1992 and Core in ’93 IIRC. STP must have already been out playing their stuff before PJ became really known to the masses.

            On a(nother) tangent, i saw Brad Mehldau do a solo piano show here in LA about a year ago and he played an amazing rendition of Interstate Love Affair. I’ve always felt that you can tell a great deal about rock music by which material catches the ears of jazz musicians. Mehldau also played Bittersweet Symphony, Dream Brother by Jeff Buckly, Still crazy by Paul Simon and a Beatles tune or two. He also does an amazing version of Black Hole Sun. And Niravana too.

      • brandon

        From a sonic perspective, modern rock is amazing… What I am arguing here is that the lyrics of much modern rock music are quite poor

        I actually sort of think it’s vice versa. Lyrics generally better, or more carefully chosen, sound boring. It depends though, in the last couple years things have started to suck less. People are finally slowly starting to get bored of synths, for example.

      • Ian

        From a sonic perspective, modern rock is amazing. The soundscapes of modern rock songs are superior to probably any other era in rock and roll.

        Where do you find this? I’m serious, not just grouchy. My impression is that if you’re not into hip hop, and you can’t stand the crap played on the radio (If I hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers one more time, someone’s gonna pay), then you’re pretty much left with the indiepop scene, which with rare exception, has always been bland and boring.

        Ok, that’s a fair bit of grouchy there.

  • I thought everyone knew that grunge music was invented in Amherst, Massachusetts, by J. Mascis and Lou Barlow.

    While Seattle was transitioning in the early 1990s from a dreary little city in its own right to the bright city of tomorrow as it likes to define itself, the Pacific Northwest as a whole was going through rough times, with the spotted owl crisis shutting down the lumber industry.

    Lots of trees and industrial collapse in western Mass. I think Erik is onto something.

    • km

      No, they were even older school. They invented punk rock. DEEP WOUND!

      • I’d say 1982 is a bit late to be inventing punk rock. But, yes, you take punk out the woods, where towing logs behind a skid counts as a good job, and what do you get?

        You get grunge, that’s what. Red plaid flannel shirts will keep you from freezing and from getting mistaken for a deer when when you duck out “where the sun don’t ever shine” to blow a joint.

        • km

          Der, I was kidding about inventing punk rock. That was another Massachusetts band, the Modern Lovers. And DON’T even argue.

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  • Matt T.

    Apropos on nothing, it just struck me as funny that in a post about the importance of places in modern rock music, you use a Mike Cooley tune. Cooley’s pretty well known for having almost no love whatsoever, and that’s being generous, for Athens, the Truckers’ “home town”. Really, get him drunk one night and ask him what he thinks of the Classic City.

  • Jim Morison

    The laid-back country-rock-folk of late 60s and early 70s Los Angeles

    Like, um, what the fuck are you talking about?

    • It would have been funnier if this was posted under the name of some famous person from an LA band.

      • Malaclypse

        It would have been funnier if this was posted under the name of some famous person from an LA band.

        That person should also at least spell his/her name correctly.

        • Brian Wilson

          Okay then. What the fuck?

    • Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, The Eagles, etc., etc.

      • Greg Ginn

        Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, The Eagles, etc., etc.

        Of those 4, only the Eagles are from LA.

        • OMG! Greg Ginn!

          I loved your music.

          Jeopardy, baaa-beeeee!

          • Greg Ginn

            TV Party and Jeopardy. Go figure. Kinda hard to wrap one’s mind around that, but neither one is country/folk.

          • Thlayli

            They don’t write ’em like that anymore.

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    Santa Cruz still has lots of weird, but it’s getting yuppuefied. Still a nice place to visit when I can.

    • DocAmazing

      It’s only the Loma Prieta quake and the damage from the tsunami that kept it from being yupped up completely before now. Santa Cruz, the city saved by disasters.

      • pete

        There was also the flood of ’55, which washed out the downtown and I think was one of the reasons the business community lobbied so hard for the UCSC campus, awarded in ’60, opened in ’65 and the basic source of weirdness to this day, much to the horror of that same business community, who eventually lost control of the council (be careful what you wish for) … but now there is a new generation of, um, post-idealists.

        • Col Bat Guano

          I think UCSC’s contribution to the weirdness quotient of Santa Cruz has decreased as the campus grew to the monstrosity that it is today.

          Oakes ’81

  • Mike

    You see this in rock and pop lyrics today–place hardly ever plays central roles in songs. For that matter, the songs rarely center narrative stories that would allow the songwriter to place a person in a place and time.

    I guess I’m confused about what you’re listening to, especially given that you post a Truckers song at the end. Cooley doesn’t like Athens, as someone pointed out above, but the Truckers are inseparable from the South and their music reflects that. Isbell’s solo work is even more tied into where he’s from. There are groups like Titus Andronicus (who I’m not terribly fond of) and the Gaslight Anthem (who I’m totally crazy about) who have Jersey etched into their souls. You could go on and on listing groups and singers whose music is tied in to where they’re from. Is there a fair amount of placeless music? Yes, of course, but that’s not exactly a new development. Lots of popular music has been pretty interchangeable in terms of where it’s from for at least the last few decades. There’s always been music that reflects where it’s from, and there’s always been music that’s deliberately made to not necessarily be from one specific place or another.

    • Me thinks you didn’t listen to the lyrics of “Self-Destructive Zones”

      • Mike

        According to the iTunes playcount, I’ve listened to it around 60 times since I last migrated my music library. I think I’ve got a pretty decent handle on it. And while Cooley might feel as though the evil corporate overlords had coopted something pure, I’d just point the finger back at the people in every single generation of musicians who feel that way, and point out that, were there not still a thriving culture of non-mainstream music, he wouldn’t have spent the last 20 years making a solid career out of playing a guitar.

  • DocAmazing

    By the way, Erik, you mention Joe Ely twice.

    I know, I know: you like Joe Ely.

    • I meant one of those Joe Elys to say Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

  • thefxc

    This might support your point: in the 80s and 90s, there were a lot of local scene compilations: albums or CDs of local bands in a particular region (think Sub Pop 100 or This Is Boston Not LA or I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia and so on.) These were essential for connecting music to place, and they often collected the best work from groups who never made it big outside of their city’s borders.

    Does anyone do these anymore? With the internet it’s so easy to immediately aim for a national audience that local ‘scenes’ don’t seem to matter as much. This isn’t to say that there aren’t cool local scenes (at least I hope there are), but it seems harder for a local scene to develop while out of the national radar.

    • Richard

      There are lots of local music scenes. check out the current music scene in New Orleans – incredibly vibrant and infused with all the great New Orleans traditions – brass band, traditional jazz, rhythm and blues, Creole etc. As far as compilations go, check out Frenchmen Street on Mystery Street Records for some of the great new stuff coming out of the Crescent City (or spend an evening on Frenchmen Street where there are over a half dozen clubs featuring great music nightly)

      Or check out the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette where you’ll hear great music every weekend with the emphasis on cajun and zydeco roots.

      And there are still plenty of recording artists who write songs about specific locales – John Hiatt, Dave Alvin, Tom Russell come to mind immediately (all of whom have excellent new albums). Yeah, the top selling artists now don’t seem to be tied to any one locale (then again, I hardly ever listen to the most popular music) but thats been the case for a long long time. And while I have a fondness for lyrics about specific locales, thats surely not the only type of music I like

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  • Pith Helmet

    As for musicians and place, James McMurtry sings a lot about Texas. But that’s not grunge, and therefore not cool. Also, Steve Earle.

    • Jaime

      Ray Wylie Hubbard! tho’ he does cover, to my knowledge, rather a lot of Jim McMurtry’s songs.

  • Dogs

    An important meditation on the theme: Nevermind, whatever, who cares.

  • el donaldo

    Odds are pretty good that Cobain knew “In the Pines” not as an Appalachian folksong, but from the Leadbelly catalog as blues. He and Mark Lanegan apparently were both avid Leadbelly fans, and Lanegan supposedly taught him the song. As least that’s what the Wikipedia on the song claims.

  • norbizness

    I think the best place-related singer is/was Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, who recreates what it’s like to have one foot in East Texas and one in Louisiana.

    I guess Houston/East Texas doesn’t count, even though it produced Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Winter brothers, ZZ Top, Billy Preston, Archie Bell and is where Townes Van Zandt actually got his start. Also, I think the Flatlanders probably consider themselves of West Texas, not Austin, despite the barrage of Armadillo World Headquarters propaganda.

  • Western Dave

    Ok, even if we concede the point that somehow the largest selling popular genre (r and b) somehow shouldn’t count for this exercise, you gotta be kidding me that pop music (not just indy rock) has a sense of placelessness (or is just abstractly spatial – that is having no particular place). Gaga isn’t the suburban girl who discovers New York in all it’s energy and perversity? Kesha isn’t LA? Katy Perry didn’t have a top hit with Caifornia Girls where somebody put Snoop Dogg on it for authenticity? Miley Cyrus whose every song is about the tensions between LA and Nashville? What exactly is this popular music of which you speak? Other than, you know, stuff you happen to listen to. In the top 20 right now there is an LA song (Tonight, Tonight by Hot Chille Rae) that’s been everywhere this summer. Yet you somehow missed Dancing on the top of the Hollywood sign and all the other ways the Hollywood ethos influenced that song?

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