Decemberists’ King Is Dead And The Rise Of The Ideal Society

What the band's #1 Billboard debut means for our Britney-loving nation, in Bigger Than the Sound

By the time you read this, [artist id="1228709"]the Decemberists[/artist] — the Pacific Northwest’s leading purveyors of bookish indie and songs with titles like “The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone” — will have the #1 album in the country. I would say this marks perhaps the whitest moment of the SoundScan era, but, then again, Cake had the #1 album on the Billboard chart just last week.

So instead, I’ll just call it the most hopeful moment. Because, quite frankly, I have been waiting for something like 15 years to live in a society where a group like the Decemberists can top the charts. It’s about as close as we’ll probably get to Utopia, after all, a beatific, egalitarian existence in which we debate issues, study great tomes, regale our young with folklore, meditate, take constitutionals, wear glasses, learn the bouzouki, engage in spontaneous bouts of song and interpretive dance, publish quarterly collections of short stories and prose, eat stuff made of seitan and tempeh, and celebrate the work of philosopher-kings with names like Colin Meloy and Chris Funk. It would be, in short, about as close as we’ll ever come to the Ideal Society. And the Decemberists have brought us to the precipice of it.

And sure, you could probably point to any number of reasons why The King Is Dead ended up at #1 — chief among them perhaps that the only other thing released this past week was Kidz Bop 19 — but I prefer to be optimistic. I see it as proof positive of an ongoing, society-wide recalibration, a move toward enlightenment and away from songs titled “Hold It Against Me.” It marks a tremendous step for mankind, out of the darkness and into the light, the death of the monster truck rally and the Shake Weight and beechwood-aged beer. From here, truly anything is possible.

Imagine, if you will, life re-imagined as a coffeehouse, complete with terrible artwork (from local artisans) hanging on the walls and kind, bandana-wearing baristas behind the counter. A “food not bombs” pamphlet tacked to the wall; Vashti Bunyan playing overhead. There would probably be some vegan Snickerdoodles too. Anyway, this is what our society is like with the Decemberists at #1. It is a place where the discourse is civil and the coffee is fair trade (and ground on premises), where twee, 12-minute folk ballads have replaced the three-minute pop ditty and Laura Veirs is like Britney Spears or something.

You might say this sounds awful, intolerable and downright un-American. But you would be wrong. This is the very society our Founding Fathers had in mind when they established this great nation more than 200 years ago (only, you know, without the slavery): a place where hopes and ideas flourish, a place where people read books and abstain from text-messaging. This is the best America, the smartest, the softest, the friendliest. The most ideal. And we have the Decemberists to thank for all of it.

And in keeping with that noble spirit, in the weeks ahead, I foresee an end to the blistering rhetoric and bold-face braggadocio that have dogged this society for far too long. The Super Bowl will not only end in a tie, but the Packers and Steelers will embrace at game’s end. Barack Obama will dine with the most fervent of Tea Partyers, and both sides will agree that the other has some interesting points. Britney Spears will release a recording of her reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” as her next single, and not only will it go to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it will stay there indefinitely. Welcome to the kinder, gentler America. Welcome to the Decemberists’ America.

Of course, I may be wrong about all of this. It is entirely possible that The King Is Dead‘s #1 debut has more to do with a lack of competition and sagging sales numbers than it does with societal shifts. And next week, when the 2011 Grammy Nominees: Various Artists disc tops the chart, all of this will probably be forgotten, and we’ll go back to being the same dumb old civilization we’ve always been. And if that’s the case, fine. But the fact remains that, for one week at least, a sorta-country album (featuring Peter Buck and Gillian Welch on a track) from perhaps the most upright band in rock music today sits atop the Billboard albums chart. The meek inherited the earth. We all got a little bit smarter. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take it.

Do you agree with BTTS that a win for the Decemberists is a win for mankind? Tell us in the comments!