Thursday, November 29, 2007

Essay: Of Montreal frontman on why Punk/Indie elitists can go fuck themselves

Kevin Barnes, one of the most creative and interesting artists in the indie world, has written a brilliant article about how ridiculous the old-school-punk mentality is, especially when it comes to whiny indie elitists slamming bands for becoming commercially successful. I agree with every single word in this piece. After the ridiculously unfair backlashes against The Killers, Rilo Kiley, Against Me, and countless other indie bands lucky enough to discover mainstream success, it's good to see someone in the industry taking a stand against all the bullshit.

Here it is:

Selling Out Isn't Possible
by Kevin Barnes

Are you a sell out? Yes. Don't let it bother you though, cause apparently I
am also a sell out, and so are your parents and everyone you've ever known.
The only way to avoid selling out is to live like a savage all alone in the
wilderness. The moment you attempt to live within the confines of a social
order, you become a sell out. Once you attempt to coexist you sell out. If
that's true, then selling out is a good thing. It is an important thing. If
we didn't do it, we'd be fucked, quite literally, by everyone bigger than
us physically who found us fuckable.

The pseudo-nihilistic punk rockers of the 70's created an impossible
code in which no one can actually live by. It's such garbage. The idea that
anyone who attempts to do anything commercial is a sell out is completely
out of touch with reality. The punk rock manifesto is one of anarchy and
intolerance. The punk rockers polluted our minds. They offered a solution
that had no future. Of course, if the world would have ended before
Sandinista! was released then everything would have been alright. It
didn't. Now we have all of these half-conceived ideas and idiot
philosophies floating around to confuse and alienate us. I think it is
important to face reality. It is important to decide whether you are going
to completely rail against the system or find a way to make it work for
you. You cannot do both -- and if you attempt to do both you will only
become even more bitter and confused.

When I was younger, and supported my parents, I chose to float between
the two. A lot of people choose to do this. There are so many confused
young people running around now polluted by this alloyed version of the
tenets of the punk rock manifesto. Of course they're confused. It isn't
possible to be in chorus with capitalism and anarchy. You must pick one or
the other. Very few people are willing to do it, though. The worst kind of
person is the one who sucks the dick of the man during the daytime and then
draws pictures of themselves slitting his throat at night. Jesus Christ,
make up your mind! The thing is, there is a lack of balance. When
capitalism is working on a healthy level, everyone gets their dick sucked
from time to time and no one gets their throat slit. It's impossible to be
a sell out in a capitalist society. You're only a winner or a loser. Either
you've found a way to crack the code or you are struggling to do so. To
sell out in capitalism is basically to be too accommodating, to not get
what you think you deserve. In capitalism, you don't get what you think you
deserve though. You get what someone else thinks you deserve. So the trick
is to make them think you are worth what you feel you deserve. You deserve
a lot, but you'll only get it when you figure out how to manipulate the

Why commercialize yourself? In the art industry, it's extremely
difficult to be successful without turning yourself into a cartoon. Even
Hunter S. Thompson knew this. God knows Duchamp and Warhol knew it. Some
artists are turned into cartoons and others do it themselves. I prefer to
do it myself. at least then I can control how my cock is photographed. Why
should it be considered such an onerous thing to view the production of art
as a job? To me, the luckiest people are the ones who figure out a way to
earn a living doing what they love and gain fulfillment from. Like all
things in this life, you have to make certain sacrifices to get what you
want. At least most of us do. If you're not some trust-fund kid or lotto
winner, you've got to slave it out everyday. People who wanna be artists
have the hardest time of it 'cause we are held up to these impossible
standards. We're expected to die penniless and insane so that the people we
have moved and entertained over the years can keep us to themselves. So
that they can feel a personal and untarnished connection with our art. The
second we try to earn a living wage or, god forbid, promote our art in the
mainstream, we are placed under the knives of the sanctimonious indie
fascists. Unfortunately, there isn't some grand umbrella grant that
supports indie rockers financially and enables us to exist outside of the
trappings of capitalism.

The thing is, I like capitalism. I think it's an interesting challenge.
It's a system that rewards the imaginative and ambitious adults and
punishes the lazy adults. Our generation is insanely lazy. We're just as
smart as our parents but we are overwhelmed by contradicting ideas that
confuse us into paralysis. Maybe the punk rock ethos made sense for the "no
future" generation but it doesn't make sense for me. I like producing and
purchasing things. I'd much rather go to IKEA than to stand in some bread
line. That's because I don't have to stand in a bread line. Most people who
throw around terms like "sellout" don't have to stand in one either. They
don't have to stand in one because they are gainfully employed. The term
"sellout" only exists in the lexicon of the over-privileged. Almost every
non-homeless person in America is over-privileged, at least in a global

Obviously, I've struggled with the concept. I've struggled because of
the backlash following my songs placement in TV commercials. That is, until
I realized that the negative energy that was being directed towards me
really began to inspire my creativity. It has given me a sense of, "well,
I'll show them who is a sellout, I'm going to make the freakiest, most
interesting, record ever!!!" ... "I'm going to prove to them that my shit
is wild and unpolluted by the reach of some absurd connection to mainstream
corporate America."

I realized then that, for me, selling out is not possible. Selling out,
in an artistic sense, is to change one's creative output to fit in with the
commercial world. To create phony and insincere art in the hopes of
becoming commercially successful. I've never done this and I can't imagine
I ever will. I spent seven years not even existing at all in the mainstream
world. Now I am being supported and endorsed by it. I know this won't last
forever. No one's going to want to use one of my songs in a commercial five
years from now, so I've got to take the money while I can. It's the same
with pro athletes. You only get it while you're hot and no one stays
commercially viable for long. It's not like Michael Vick is going to be
receiving any big endorsement deals anytime soon. As sad as it may seem,
one of the few ways most indie bands can make any money whatsoever is by
selling a song to a commercial. Very very few bands make enough money from
album sales or tour revenue to enable themselves to quit their day job.

Next time you see a commercial with one of your favorite bands songs in
it, just tell yourself, "cool, a band I really like made some money and now
I can probably look forward to a few more records from them." It's as
simple as that. We all have to do certain things, from time to time, that
we might not be completely psyched about, in order to pay the bills. To me,
the TV is the world's asshole boss and if anyone can earn some extra bucks
from it and they're not Bill O'Reilly, it's a good thing.


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