Gym Class Zeroes: Point/Counterpoint on The Decemberists


There are few musical acts on this Earth who inspire my active scorn, rather than smug dismissal – The Decemberists being first and foremost on that list. To give credit where credit is due, to make a career writing songs about always having been picked last at dodgeball is an impressive feat, in the same way that shut-ins who cover the walls of their parents’ basement with pictures of anime characters show a staggering dedication to embodying moral blankness through the depraved poetry of their lives and actions.

To defend the band against charges of being the musical equivalent of a shitty cup of coffee in the worst “local writers” section of a terrible community bookstore in the dorkiest part of town, my long-suffering wife will stand as public defendant of one of her favorite bands.

P: I’ve heard that live performances by the band are often a collection of all sorts of genetic dead-ends, sandwiched by sweaty sweaters and social anxiety disorder; is it important for society to provide these “safe havens” for people who should otherwise not dance – in public or otherwise?

CP: Well if what you really want to discuss is a collection of socially awkward misfits all gathered together doing a collective chin stroke, we should be discussing one of your highly esteemed shitty metal bands like Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Discordance Axis, or even Today is the Day. But that’s not what I signed up for.

But The Decemberists live is, as cheesy as this sounds, one great party. And yes there are some sweaters and yes there are some dorks but everybody is very happy and enjoying themselves. And yes there is bad dancing, but what is so bad about that? Last time i checked you are the Captain Extraordinaire of bad dancing so don’t be calling your own out. You just can’t appreciate unchecked exuberance in a collective form.

P: Do you think The Decemberists write so many songs about the sea because deep down they realize they should be lost at sea, preferably in a burlap sack?

CP: I really do think your hatred of the Decemberists has more to do with your own self esteem issues and unresolved childhood hangups.

However, to misquote Fredric Jameson the sea is the site of the production of modernity. Really for someone who lives on an island you have very little appreciation for songs about water. What is so great about “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” or one of their other sea-themed ditties is that they are, at heart, great stories. They combine fear and pathos, humor and the macabre all in one pretty little package which even has an accordion accompaniment.

P: It’s funny you’d bring up Marxists because using the metric of the labor theory of value the band’s work is quite intensive and valuable, dragging all manner of mandolins and elfin picolos and whatnot, but by contemporary – i.e. real-world – standards of valuation, they actual exist in a mathematically-impossible, non-Euclidean space of negative value.

The closest modern example would be pollution, a Union-Carbide for the soul.

I will applaud the live DVD they released a few years back; it’s quite a feat to fit so many people who have never been socked in the face in one spot and somehow keep all of their natural predators at bay.

CP: At root what you really hate about The Decemberists is that they make toe-tapping, mostly happy story songs with somewhat unconventional accompaniments. What is so bad about that? It seems like you are mostly afraid of embracing joy. Pollution of the soul be damned.

P: In our culture of eternal adolescence, don’t bands like The Decemberists provide a “safe space” of further pussification? In lieu of the sexist critique of the “feminization of American culture” are we not truly seeing an invertebrated cultural current for those poor souls who love the escapism of a Harry Potter but only wished there were more catchy choruses and less pedophillic carnage?

CP: At heart, the catalyst of your hatred lies in the time, several years ago now, when I first played “The Sporting Life” for you. And, yes, for the uninitiated it is about trying and largely failing to excel at sports – in this case it is soccer. My beloved husband – erstwhile jock that he is – cannot move past a high school mentality that necessitates such expressions of less than stellar physical prowess should be squashed wholesale. Furthermore, those who dare to sing about such things are just giving in to the lowest and most demeaning elements in society – what he terms society’s “pussification” and “feminization” – must be publicly humiliated. This seems to be the product of a whole host of issues with both a varied expression of masculinity and the feminine as an independent principle that is worth celebrating. But at heart it just means you are a bully who likes to beat up on those who you think are weaker than you.

P: The next time a “scary man” follows you home from the train, are you going to call some McSweeneys-reading Decemberist fan or this erstwhile half-man, half-beast, all-bully?

CP: Well maybe i’ll just call no one and jack the volume up to high on the “Shankhill Butchers” and face whatever confronts me head on.

P: Have fun limping home, woman.

CP: This has devolved so far from a futile attempt to convince you that The Decemberists are an extremely talented collection of songwriters and musicians that it isn’t even funny. And why do you think would be assailants are lurking around every corner anyway – maybe it’s a result of all that violent “kick your mother” music you listen to?

P: The proper guido phrasing is “kill yer mother music.” Next time you need a pickle jar opened, call a poet; though I must warn you in advance that concepts like “torque” are far too penile for that sensitive bunch.

CP: With my little non-slip mat I can open my own pickle jars, thank you very much. I think the root is that you just have a problem with males (musicians or otherwise) who are in touch with their “feminine” side. This doesn’t bode well for our future children.

P: Ok, that’s reasonable. Next time you need something opened, killed, beaten, smashed or fixed, I’ll engage my feminine side and run around the house wailing like a chickadee because “The computer isn’t doing that thing I want it to!!!” rather than actually accomplishing something.

CP: It is more about letting the little feminine flower inside of you bud forth.

P: But I already took a crap today.



Filed under music

5 responses to “Gym Class Zeroes: Point/Counterpoint on The Decemberists

  1. simplicio

    dhex, I would very much like to see your take on Oxbow.

    also, I’d like to say that any island with a permanent bridge to mainland no longer qualifies as such. and beyond that, I’ve never met a place as mentally isolated from its own shores as NYC. I’m not sure if either of these fit into any sailor arguments, however.

  2. Your wife sounds like a pretty awesome person.

  3. she is. shame about the music, though. :)

    simplico – i’ve heard some oxbow but i can’t say i remember much one way or the other. they’re on hydrahead, right?

  4. simplicio

    They are for their most recent album. Eugene Robinson is pretty captivating; he’s a MMA fighter (which he wrote a book about) and probably gives the most physically commanding performances since GG Allin, but at the same time he’s really intimate and vulnerable vocally (they’ve got an album called Let Me Be a Woman, and I think he did some duets with Marianne Faithful on one album). Musically it’s a bit Melvins, but with a little more art/noise rock. And all of the above is probably racially amplified too, to a certain extent.

  5. Pingback: A Completely Convenient Truth « here there be rodents

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