On The Record: Long Live Happiness
Like most good ideas, this one was started over a case of beer.
I wasn't there, of course, but as far as I can tell, the story goes like this: On the night of November 2, in an apartment in Minneapolis, after a particularly rousing show by Bruce Springsteen — a show I rather inexplicably attended and wrote about in an edition of Bigger Than the Sound — and several bottles of Miller High Life, a group of friends unwittingly came up with a concept that could possibly change music forever.
As far as "concepts" go, it was a pretty simple one (in fact, even calling it a concept probably makes things sound more complicated than they need be), and the fact that no one has thought of it yet only sort of underscores just how screwed up the music industry is these days. But anyway, here it is, in its most basic terms: Starting right now, bands should write and play music that's aimed at positively everyone (or at least everyone who enjoys pumping their fists, shouting and partying hard). The goal of any piece of music should be to facilitate a sense of community, inasmuch as it should be awesome and make the listener want to hear it again, at very loud volumes, while surrounded by his or her friends (or even complete strangers) and should lead to gratuitous fist-pumping and shouting. In order to carry that communal vibe one step further, the performers of said music should consider themselves no better than those listening to it and, as such, should attempt to live the lifestyle they are singing/writing about (i.e. they should party or support unions or vote, etc.).
And really, that was about it. Having settled on the parameters, they then go about trying to name this new musical concept, and after much consternation (and more High Lifes), they decide to call it "Inclusion Rock." They then set out to name all the bands that play Inclusion Rock, and they come up with a list: first and foremost, Bruce Springsteen. The Arcade Fire. The Hold Steady. And, of course, their own band, the Plastic Constellations (there were probably others, but hey, everyone was too drunk to remember).
Now, as some of you know, I have spent much of this column's life talking about TPC (starting way back in May, when I rated them a 5.0 on the "Scale of Awesome"), particularly because I've always been a fan of their beery, cheery live sets and their criminally overlooked albums, which deal almost exclusively with topics like brotherhood, drinking in people's back yards and battling dragons. Little did I know, however, that they were also rock and roll philosophers of the highest degree. So when I spoke to them last week down in Austin, Texas, at South by Southwest — on the eve of their second-to-last show — I made sure to ask them about the idea of Inclusion Rock.
"Bruce Springsteen epitomizes what Inclusion Rock is — the idea that music is a force for community gathering and it's something that's intended to break down the wall between the listener and performer," TPC frontman Jeff Allen told me. "I was lucky enough to see Bruce Springsteen in St. Paul [Minnesota] a couple months ago, and it was the best show I've ever seen in my entire life. Hung out with some friends afterwards and we talked about what Bruce meant, and we decided that there was a kind of music called Inclusion Rock. You pump your fists a lot, but that's OK. It's OK to pump fists."
And, for a second, I think he's on to something. Perhaps Inclusion Rock can change everything. After all, the Boss, U2, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy ... they all played wholly inclusive rock and roll. The idea of inclusion led a bunch of bored kids from Queens to pick up guitars (even though they didn't know how to play them) and start the Ramones. Hard-core and punk were formed on the ideals of inclusion. Even alt-rock, in its truest form, was about including those who weren't included anywhere else. And now, a whole new generation of acts will carry the inclusion mantle into the 21st century and bring music to the masses. Who, it would seem, doesn't want to be included?
Well, as it turns out, lots of people. Seems most Inclusion Rock artists don't sell tons of records (aside from maybe the Arcade Fire), and the average music fan would be hard-pressed to pick them out of a lineup. The Hold Steady are loved by plenty, but you'll never see them top the Billboard charts. Andrew W.K., who is all about inclusion (and partying) has pretty much given up music and moved on to motivational speaking. And TPC — whose latest (and last) album, We Appreciate You, might just be the most inclusive record ever written — never broke six figures in sales for their entire career. If these are our nation's foremost purveyors of Inclusion Rock, well, most people aren't buying what they're selling.
Instead, we seem to be drawn to artists who are all about exclusion. Beyoncé cautions listeners that they "aren't ready" for her jelly. Fergie scored a hit last year with a song ("Glamorous") in which she spends roughly 75 percent of the track singing about private jets and expensive jewelry, all while insisting she's just a regular girl who eats Taco Bell. Nickelback's "Rockstar" is all about wanting girls and drugs and access to the VIP room and features a video loaded with cameos by millionaires like Gene Simmons and Wayne Gretzky. And 50 Cent's entire catalog is focused on status, material possessions and the flaunting of both.
As a matter of fact, there's not a whole lot of inclusion to be found anywhere on the Billboard charts or the radio dial (or in the blogsosphere), and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it's because we all hate ourselves or everyone around us, or that we all long to be told stories about the good life by those privileged enough to live it. Maybe it has something to do with the fractious ways in which we spend our days, interact with those around us and consume music. Perhaps we are afraid of our neighbors or of allowing our true selves to be seen. We're safer hiding, which means that the future will only be more and more exclusive.
But I'm hoping that's not the case. I think Inclusion Rock can win, if we're all willing to let it. So I'd encourage you all to go home tonight, open your windows and blast Bruce's Born to Run or the Ramones' debut or the Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America or even the Plastic Constellations' We Appreciate You. And then head out into the street and hug a complete stranger. You might get punched. Or you might just spread the Inclusion Rock message. Or you might just get drunk and totally rock out for a while. Either way, we all win. Together.
B-Sides: Other Stories I'm Following This Week.
Fall Out Boy aim for World Record with Antarctic show. I will be along with them for the ride. Seriously.
DMX claims to have no idea who Barack Obama is. Barack Obama breathes a sigh of relief.
Paramore aren't breaking up. Tell your younger sister to step back from the ledge.
Questions, concerns, Inclusion Rock acts I missed? Send 'em to me at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.