“In the music community, it’s perceived as being a very negative thing,” says [Sunset Tavern owner Max] Genereaux of his frat alum status. “I’d much rather talk about being in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Because [fraternity life] is so misunderstood, I just don’t bring it up.”
Well, duh. To some indie-rock types, being an alcoholic is much cooler than being in a fraternity, right? Not sure we agree with this thesis, but it’s hard not to feel a twinge of righteous indie wrath when knuckleheads like this ruin Fall Out Boy for the rest of us. Wait, terrible example (although you know what we mean). But while we know more indie rockers than Greek lettermen, we agree that there’s more overlap than some partisans would like to admit — in both taste and behavior. Right? Anybody?
“Especially in this town,” adds [Barsuk Records publicist Ever] Kipp, “people in indie rock want you to think they sit around drinking pinot noir and talking about Chaucer.”
Some of the time they do, says Kipp. But more often, they act like frat boys…
Wait a second. We were all set to work this thing out, but pinot noir? Chaucer? No offense to our friend Ever, but what kind of indie rock stereotype is that? This sounds like some kind of insult. Don’t they have PBR and well gin in Seattle?
“Everybody joins a clique or group — even indie-rock hipsters,” says Jason Crume, who, like [the reporter], was a member of Alpha Delta Phi at the University of Washington in the mid-’90s, and who now sells fine wine for a living.
Oh no you don’t, fratboys. You can’t accuse the indie rockers of being effete wine-drinkers and then cop to selling fine wine for a living. It’s this kind of bullshit that makes us want to divide up the music cabinet along strict indie rock/frat rock lines. You can keep Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, OAR, and everything Moby has released since 2000. We’ll even throw in Rage Against the Machine in case you need to get fired up to haze some pledges or something. But we’re taking back Radiohead, Death Cab, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket. Please delete “I Turn My Camera On” from “Todd’s Awesome Alternative Rock Playlist.” We also want every single song Morrissey has ever been a part of — especially the two that you’d recognize ?- “Tubthumping,” and full ironic usage rights to Journey’s Greatest Hits.
But is that it? Are we destined to live in the either-or world of our frat rock/indie rock ghettos? Can’t we all just get a bong? Enter Long Winters frontman (and indie patron saint) John Roderick, who tells a long but revealing anecdote about the evils of stereotyping.
“A couple years ago, I was at a party in a nearby town celebrating the completion of a new record by an up-and-coming Northwest band,” says Roderick. “The party was an informal gathering of friends-all indie rockers-in the singer’s backyard. The producer of the record, a well-known musician himself, was in a celebratory mood and became quite tipsy, eventually retiring to the upstairs bedroom to ‘rest’ while the party soldiered on.
“Looking for fun,” Roderick continues, “I said, ‘I’m going to go upstairs and draw a big dick on his forehead [with a] Sharpie marker.’ I made a show of marching off in the direction of the house, but I was immediately swarmed by three or four concerned indie girls who grabbed my arms and shrieked, ‘Don’t you dare!’ This doubled my resolve, and there commenced several minutes of drunken grab-ass as I tried to get up the stairs. When it became clear that they would never let me pass, I went instead to the rest room, where I discovered 15 rolls of unattended toilet paper. Where I grew up, leaving 15 rolls of toilet paper unguarded was like setting a tuna casserole on the floor to cool in a house of five dogs. It goes without saying that I immediately smuggled a dozen rolls out of the house and proceeded to TP the trees and bushes all across the front yard while the party noisily raged on behind the fence. I was discovered only when I threw the last roll of toilet paper high up into a tree. The singer-guitarist of the band in question looked me up and down when I returned to the backyard and said, with some effort to sound withering, ‘John, you’re such a…a…frat boy!’
“The insult was the equivalent of slapping my face with a white calfskin glove,” Roderick goes on. “The term ‘frat boy,’ as he intended it, had all the connotations of beer-swilling, date-raping, jock, macho crap. I laughed, because to me, a fraternity boy was someone who sneered insults at people with sarcastic WASPy smugness. His knotted-sweater, white-collar disapproval was everything I associated with the Greeks.
“So here we stood, two indie rockers, faced off across a gaping cavern of American culture as defined by the term ‘frat boy.’ He dismissed my car-wreckin’, prank-pullin’, fire-startin’, gun-shootin’, whoop-it-up, call-the-cops American party-makin’ with one word: frat. And I saw his sniffing, eye-rolling, weak-assed, big-vocabulary-but-not-quite-used-correctly tsk-tsking as more or less the same thing: fraternity boy. But in fact, we were both limp-wristed, lit-major indie rockers.”
See, we do have common ground — beyond the Hold Steady, anyway. A party is a party, right? According to Andrew WK, at least. Whiskey is whiskey. And if you’re up for drunken hijinks, who cares if you know the difference between James Murphy and James Blunt? Maybe there’s hope for the indie/frat alliance after all.
But don’t you dare think about turning Arcade Fire into frat rock. Because if we hear that you’re going to Montreal for anything other than strip clubs and gambling, we will toilet paper the shit out of your house. And then we will wait until you pass out and John Roderick will draw big dicks on your heads in indelible black ink.