R.I.P. Indie Rock, 1990-1996

various artists
What's Up Matador

SAYS MY EDITOR: "No one will ever give a fig about indie rock again, mark my words. Zero figs. It's all gonna be black or electronic, or both, or Jewel or all three. The whole honky lot will return to the patchouli-sodden earth that bore it. Dust Brothers to Dust Brothers, Ash to Ash."

And I shake my head and pace around his office. "Yeah but," I offer, in yeah-but intonation, "but what about this?" And I hand him this week's record-review fetish object, a two CD compilation of bands on Matador, the once-proud arbiter of indie cant.

"That's what I'm talking about. What you're holding in your hand is an oldies record, a greatest hits for a music that never had any--a Big Chill, for people who had their '60s two-and-a-half months ago. Jesus."

"What about all those Radio K bands? Dwindle. Obscura. Built to Spill."


"I heard this one--"

"I'm sure you did. And Radio K can keep on playing good bands that no one is ever gonna hear, because the zeitgeist has shifted."

And I look at my Chuck Taylors and see them spin. Woozy, I'm gettin'. And I hate my editor because his case of acne in high school was worse than my case, a dermatological happenstance that allowed him more time, time to geek, geek hard, time to do pop culture the way others of his ilk did physics. I know he's right about the music I once loved. We are both egghead assholes, but his egg is harder-boiled, his asshole tighter-clenched. Why fight him.

BUT I REMEMBER a different time. A time when we scraped the shiny white flakes off our skinny white asses and piled flake on top of flake and made ourselves a church, a church to the shiniest, whitest, skinniest music we could find. The hallowed church of Indie Rock.

I remember this: My beloved and I back in...god, it must have been 1994, she wearing a T-shirt with the silk-screened Matador band name "SUPERCHUNK" and me wearing a T-shirt with the silk-screened Matador band name "SILKWORM," standing in a college cafeteria, watching our new favorite new Matador band Railroad Jerk. Dylan it was to us. Boom! Boom! went drums. Boomer! Boomer! went guitars. "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah," went singer. And I shook the heel of my one foot up and down while the other foot remained stationary. And her arms were folded across her chest. And mine were folded across mine. And we were FREE dammit! Free.

And we slept together that night, covering ourselves not in silk-screen T-shirts but in the silkier screen of our new favorite Matador band Bettie Serveert, who played a song called "Tomboy," with guitars, so oh so pretty, topped by a woman's voice, so oh so prettier, it damn near made me wanna...wanna want something.

Then, in 1995 (decades ago, if memory serves), we once stood in the rain with thousands of kids so different from us that their silk-screened T-shirts said "NIRVANA."(Some even said "PEARL JAM.") This was the day of our other new favorite new Matador band Pavement. They had a singer, and that singer sang about "electricity and lust," and he did it in a voice that knew neither. But the song ended, and when their blue guitars finished buzzing through the outdoor amphitheater we didn't feel changed. I looked at my beloved, and her arms were folded on her chest, and my arms were folded on my chest. And we knew that our favorite Matador band hadn't been very favorite Matador band-worthy. "That totally sucked, I'm so pissed" she said. Back in the car in the parking lot, we heard Vanilla Ice on the radio. It was ironic to us and made us glad.

AND THE MEMORY jolts me out of my chair. So I scroll through my Microsoft Outlook files and find her new phone number.

"Preferred Life Planning, this is Heather."

"It's Jon."


"Yeah, Jon. Electricity and lust. Remember?"

"Oh yeah. And we knew neither. How are you?"

"You have to tell me something. Who's your favorite band, right now? This Matador thing just came out, and it sort of made me think about, you know, us."

"What's Matador?"

And that made me sad. Really sad. Liz Phair-level sad.

"Listen Jon," she said. "I haven't had a favorite band since, god, it must be 1996 or so. I went and saw the Lilith Fair. My company underwrote the show in Chapel Hill. They gave us rows H through K. It was fun. Brian, this guy in our quality-management team brought pot. I hadn't smoked pot for, god, months."

"But you don't, I dunno, you don't listen to, like, any bands?"

"No, I haven't listened to a band since that one we liked in college, the guitar band. You remember. Why do you ask? Hey, by the way, are you still trying to learn to write?"

[exit: voiceover, fade: What's Up Matador soundtrack]

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