DIY for Dummies
by Scott Hefflon
image by Dave Dawson
(This rant and four or five other 1000 word spleen ruptures were written while trying to write a ‘zine review for Wonka Vision. I have a dozen or so “This Place is Fucked” tirades about how polite and pussified alternative culture has become, how commercials have cheapened the message of great music, and more teeth-gnashing lashings outs at a world that’s severely fucked up. Most of ’em I’ll have the good sense to never print, or even read again. The act of writing them kept the shotgun outta my mouth during another long haul ’til daybreak. Bitching about things you can’t change is the great American pastime. And it’s even more boring than baseball. If I didn’t think blogs were such a wank, I might post them as blogs.
Oh, and rather ironically, Alternative Press did a 10-page suck-up to D.I.Y. behind-the-scenes scenesters, everyone saying nice, polite things. The cover reads Two Decades of Breaking New Bands. Whatever. Excuse me for not toeing the line like other “rock mags,” but since when is doing your goddamn job praiseworthy? That’s setting the bar pretty low, but America has been doing that a lot lately. Anyway, I wrote my rant before I read AP, because I still haven’t been able to make it through most of the article without throwing the mag across the room.)
Alternative was meant to, ya know, be an alternative to the formulaic mainstream crap on the radio. Now alternative IS the formulaic mainstream crap on the radio. DIY (do it yourself, in case yer new here) used to mean taking what little talent you had and getting up on stage and pounding it out cuz you had to, man. Hopefully, thru sheer repetition of mistakes, you actually got better and learned your craft, or you got sick of being booed off stages and hit in the head with bottles cuz you sucked so badly. Now DIY is lobbed about like any other catch phrase, and the DIY ethic is now more like a training bra. Bear with me: As your boobs gets bigger, you grow out of it and into “the real thing,” and if you’re lucky, they’ll get nice and big, lots of people will notice and stare, doors will open to you, and you’ll spend the rest of your life whining that there’s a person inside, and that’s what’s important. Many will nod sympathetically (while waiting for you to shut up and look away so they can oogle your big, beautiful boobies some more: Those are called fans, and we care about your feelings as long as we get to watch you jump around), and the envious/hard-truthers will wish you’d quit complaining, because you got what you wanted and are living the dream, ya fuckin’ ingrate.
And speaking of catch phrases, if you haven’t noticed how quickly and effortlessly a DIY band can change their slogan to “show me the money,” well, you haven’t been paying attention for the last decade. That’s right, alternative has been around for a decade. Even nü metal had the good sense to call itself something else after a few years (not that it was ever really new anyway, it was basically ex-hardcore kids who got over straightedge when they realized they could meet more girls in bars, and they liked Pantera but couldn’t play the hard parts so the milked “the groove part” for all it was worth. And it turns out it was worth a lot, for a while at least). And don’t get me started on emo… Aside from how every tuneless howler (singers who can’t sing are as useless as printers that won’t print or CD players that won’t play: If you can’t hit the notes – aka sing – you’re not a singer, get it?) claimed their emo band was not an emo band, they were a rock band (just a really weak, whiny one, I guess), aren’t all bands emotional? Well, except cold, detached, industrial music (and I don’t mean Nine Inch Nails, cuz that’s pretty emotional, wouldn’t you say? I mean the real deal: Futuristic, noisy, chaotic, avante guarde stuff. Nearly unlistenable “art” that perceives a car starter as an instrument and dropping a drawer of silverware down a flight of stairs a sound worth sampling and repeating at odd intervals to scare the shit out of the cat, and then sampling that sound too.).
So why are phrases like emotional rock and DIY ethics even considered notable? Like alternative in general, what are these claims to be alternative to? I guess emotional rock is the opposite of mope rock, or shoegazer rock, or whatever people called it when “quiet is the new loud” was mentioned once or twice before people lost interest in it. (I ignored the “movement” altogether because any band not especially interested in doing much of anything doesn’t really engage me, and I figured if I ignored them like they ignore the audience, good songs, audible vocals, cool artwork, and any semblance of production values, sooner or later they’ll shuffle offstage and never get around to write more boring songs or record them or make the effort to call booking agents again and again, and then the genre wouldn’t be an issue. Now they make my coffee, they take forever and mumble through that job as well, and the sea of paying customers before them is irritated and doesn’t sway as much as the old days.)
And DIY… Why is doing it yourself noteworthy? You learned to tie your shoes and wipe your ass all by yourself cuz those are early signs of human development. Your parents bragged, sure, but you were young and cute and had taken one more step from being a drooling, pooping, bawling bundle of joy to being a stressed out, tax-paying, debt-ridden working stiff. Somewhere along the line, it stops being noteworthy that you did it yourself. You made your own crappy band flyers and your own crappy website and recorded your own crappy songs and booked your own crappy shows. And you want credit for that? Since when is making crap difficult? You did it as a baby, you do it now but you’re less cute, and your parents long ago grew tired of telling you how special you are, especially when you turned out to be such an expensive, needy little ingrate.
I simply don’t get why doing everything yourself when you suck at most of it is considered a good thing. A necessary thing, in the beginning, perhaps, sure, but something to try to work around quickly. I don’t mean selling out, I mean GETTING BETTER. If you’re doing it yourself and you suck, is it because no one will help you because you suck, you don’t know you suck, or you’re proudly doing to do it all yourself even though you suck? That’s masturbation, proud and public masturbation, in fact, and that too you’ve been doing since a child. And that too is not really anything to brag about. Any moron can wank, so what makes you an artist again?
Just cuz you’re in an awful band doesn’t mean you can make good flyers. Just cuz you own a guitar and figured out how to plug it in and whack at it so it makes noises doesn’t mean you can design a website. Just cuz you can make the really lame thoughts in your head rhyme if you rearrange the words long enough doesn’t mean you can hit the right notes, and there’s a big difference between being able to carry a tune (not that that’s even required in many circles anymore) and having a distinctive voice that people actually want to hear carry that tune, and how does that suddenly give you the managerial skills to be the band leader?
Doing it yourself and sucking is nothing to be proud of. Taking pride in the thing you’re kinda good at, working really hard to get better at it, and having the good sense to spot a friend who’s damn good at something you’re not, admitting it, and teaming up with them to make cool shit together, isn’t THAT more noteworthy?
All the hippy/sensitive parents didn’t do their kids any favors when they said they were special and that they could do anything in life they set their minds to. Not every kid is special. Most of them suck. Most of them are as creative as a doorknob. And that’s ok, cuz the world needs doorknobs.
All over-hyping the DIY ethic did was encourage a lot of not-very talented people to make a lot of crappy stuff, roll around in the shit of early development, and never follow up with the sterner “uh, great, now clean up and get better, cuz while it’s kinda cute now, it’s not gonna be cute for long.” Shit or get off the pot. Or, more accurately, shit, wipe, flush, and get on with it. Why are you asking me to come check out your shit?