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September 22, 1994 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-09-22

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday,_September 22-5

Music turned nasty

MAGNAPOP

By JOSH HERRINGTON
When trying to contemplate our
current popular music culture, it seems
appropriate to take a good, long look
at the past-1964, to be exact. Four
young lads stepped off an airplane in
New York to the sound of screams
and bursting bladders; a popular cul-
ture sensation was born. And what
was their mantra? "I want to Hold
Your Hand." "Ticket to Ride." "She
Loves You." Thirty year ago, Ameri-
can youth, endowed with a combina-
tion of money, hormones and time to
kill, embraced the projection of an
ideal state where being young was a
luxury to be cherished.
With that image forever burned in
the rich past of our zeitgeist, it be-
comes possible to firm up the status of
our generation. Teenagers still have
money (but for how long). And those
dazzling hormones are still raging.
But something is drastically differ-
ent. The mantra of popular music
culture, the soundtrack of the times
has nothing to do with holding hands.
After spending only five minutes with
the demi-god of youth attitude, MTV,
we seem to have quite a mess on our
hands: anger, depression and entropy.
Johnny Rotten's 18 year-old brain-
children, now thunder across the air-
waves as teen consumers embrace
"Jeremy," "Black Hole Sun" and
"Loser." Kurt Cobain has extin-
guished himself in much the same
fashion as Sid Vicious (although they
chose different means to the same
end), but the public at large actually
cares now - a lot. Nihilism in pop
culture is no longer downplayed as it
had been for most of the eighties
("Natual Born Killers," anyone?), but
rather seized and exploited with aban-
don as people inflict communal pain
on one another in mosh pits. Those of
us whose teenage years just bypassed
the grunge envelope have been left
dizzied.
The temptation, as soon as this
question is posed, is to dive head-first
into the sticky, syrupy mess of Ameri-
can culture, spanning the evolution of
pop from Elvis Presley's famous pel-
vic contortions to Eddie Vedder's
bottomless, hollow gaze. In the end,
the lineage of pop's angst can perhaps
be viewed as what it is: a turn from the
promise of youthful glee to the ac-
knowledgment that much of the prom-
ise is, in reality, a sham.
First, consider Elvis Presley.
Along with other heartthrobs of the
time such as Sinatra and Jerry Lee
Lewis, he was the first to make teen-
agers go berserk. It is enough for us to
begin understanding what was going
on in the minds of Elvis devotees. He
reassured them of their fantasies and,
as he lived, stood as a kind of ener-
getic validation of youthful possibil-
ity. For the first time, American youths
had influence over their own con-
sumer market, and what they wanted
more than anything was a King to tell
them about loving and being cool.
The next twist in the tracks be-
longs to Mick Jagger. Full-tilt test-
osterone. He was dirty, foul and adored
-crazed women wet themselves and
threw underwear without shame. The
freedom to indulge in pleasure won
over a culture and uproariously pro-
claimed the '70s "me" mentality. The
sexual revolution was underway, and
the masses were united by the com-
mon belief that war sucked. But at
home,, it was time to have a ball, and

Mick wrote the soundtrack.
The next chapter belongs to a hero
abroad: Johnny Rotten. The fun is
now officially over ideologically. And
a new counter-culture is hunting down
everyone involved in the festivities of
'70s indifference and holding them
responsible for taking themselves and
their pleasure too seriously. Although
the Sex Pistols were not at first ac-
cepted by the youth of America, their
popularity in England was astonish-
ing in lieu of their failure to be signed
to any major label. Their influence on
today's music is so extraordinary that
it cannot be ignored. Rotten was out
to show the world how pathetic and
trite the '70s ideals of total freedom
and excess really were, and a motley
mass listened and believed. They
preached the new, post-Stooges/

Nihilistic beauty Johnny Rotten
Ramones/MC5 nihilism in the form
of a blazing, drooling blur of aggres-
sion. It may have been somewhat
playful at the time, but now that rock
has sobered up a bit, it's not so funny.
Finally the late Kurt Cobain (it
would seem as though Rotten and
Cobain are inseparable entities, or
rather that Cobain is Rotten embraced
as an archetype). After a segue in the
early to mid-'80s when Michael
Jackson's voice and dance steps were
so rad yet so hollow, a new voice
cried out in pain, and people listened.
The shift is clear enough, and yet so
fascinating. Drugs no longer made
life great; they killed close friends.
Sex was no longer an event free of all
responsibility; it was a grave risk.
From the depths of Seattle came a
new dogma of cosmic frustration, and
the teenage masses bought it. At con-
certs, they started to hit each other as
Kurt screamed through the P.A.s and
moshing became a teen standard. As
nihilism hates company, Kurt's time
as a rock star was duly short lived, but
over the course of his abrupt career
the attitude of a generation somer-
saulted. Perhaps more than any single
musician or band or time, Nirvana
brought the music industry into genres
never exploited and brought the frus-
trations of a grim reality to a boil.
Does this turn of events amaze
anyone else? The simple fact that the
pop music erection - a winding
morass of extremities and excess
which had been maintained for so
long - was diced on such a large
scale, is demanding of a double-take.
It is time to wonder what in the world
is next. Is there life for popular music
after the fancy-free dreams of youth
have been crushed? The answer to
that may have to do with "anti-agenda"
rock like the Pixies, but who knows
for how long that will be captivating.
Punk rock is a great thing, but one
can't help but wonder what is around
the next turn, what the next edition of
the communal box-set of popular
music will sound like.

Continued from page 3
were just sitting around, trying to
think up names and we thought up
Magnapop. It wasn't the sort of thing
where somebody would say, 'Oh, I
thought of it first,"'explained McNair.
"We actually had been thinking of the
word 'magpie' which Ruthie was lik-
ing, and 'Magnapop' was sort of built
around that," Hopper added.
But how did Magnapop get its
start? It can seem to the public that
bands just coalesce into being with-
out hardly any effort. Hopper recalled
how she got her band together: "It
started with Ruthie and me. I was
trying to get a band together, so we
decided to give writing songs a try.
David and Shannon I met through
mutual friends; it took about a year
and a half to finally get the band
together. But we've been around since
the beginning of 1990."
Since so few people actually know
what Magnapop really sounds like,
do they ever try to describe their sound
and attitude to anyone who hasn't yet
heard them? The band seemed some-
what upset by the question. "I just tell
people to come to our shows," Morris
said tersely. "Loud!" exclaimed
McNair. "Just good, loud music. It's
probably easier for someone else to
describe us." "Why describe your-
self?" said Hopper, looking puzzled.
"I don't want to be easily catego-
rized."
A band like Magnapop has an ap-
peal that is really timeless. Though
they hate to be categorized, their sound
is equal parts straightforward pop,
jittery, hyperactive punk and thought-
ful lyrics that reach beyond the work
of most songwriters working today.
One wonders what kinds of music
influenced the band to become what
they are today. "I like Sebadoh, Sugar,
Royal Trux. God, we like the Beatles,
the Stones, R.E.M., Black Flag -
you know, just everything," Hopper
said, smiling. "Just rock 'n' roll!"
enthused McNair.
The band seemed less enthusiastic
about how their new album "Hot Box-
ing" is doing commercially, however:
"It's not doing all that great. I mean,
it's not setting any records," McNair
chuckled ruefully.
"I'm really happy with the record,
though, with how it sounds, the whole
thing. I think it shows a lot of growth.
This is our real first album," Hopper
said, referring to their eponymous
debut album, which is a collection of
demos and b-sides produced by
Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Sugar's
Bob Mould.
Speaking of Mould, the band was
able to score the major coup in the

indie world of having Mould produce
"Hot Boxing." But his involvement
occured in a roundabout fashion. Ex-
plained McNair: "One of the first
times we played in New York,
(Mould) came down to see us play.
We ran into him again when we were
in Rotterdam, in August of 1991, and
we chatted with him.
"But when it finally came time to
do the album, we found someone else
we wanted to work with and started
recording. Meanwhile, we talked to
Bob later and found out he was a little
insulted that he was not asked to pro-
duce the album. When things didn't
work out with the other producer, we
called (Mould) up and asked him to
work with us, so we did."
"It was like within a month of
calling him that we were working and
recording with him. He took us from
a really low kind of state where we
were at loose ends, where nothing
was working out for anybody, and
Bob made it fun, made everything a
lot easier and better," said Hopper
admiringly. Indeed, the band hope to
work with Mould again soon, this
time as the opening act for Mould's
band Sugar, which is touring in the
fall.
So they're happy with their tour,
with their album, and with their pro-.
ducer, but one more thing needs ex-
plaining: the title of the album, "Hot
Boxing." Where did it come from?
What does it mean? "The term arose
during the Depression in the 1930's.
People would share cigarettes in the
soup lines and when one guy would
try and hog the cigarettes, they'd end
up being really hot because they didn't
have filters. So the guy at the end of
the line would say, 'Ow! Man, that's
some hot boxing!' Also, in baseball
'hot boxing' happens when a guy is
trying to run down all the bases," said
McNair.
"('Hot boxing') sort of ambigu-
ously addresses feelings of tension
and anxiety, but a lot of happy feel-
ings too, like work and smoking and
being nervous," Hopper added.
Magnapop have experienced
plenty of tension and anxiety in their
past; it'll be interesting to see what
the future brings them. The band isn't
placing any bets, though; in fact,
they're not really planning any sort of
career moves. "We're not about that,"
Hopper said politely, "we go with
more of what we feel; it's not calcu-
lated at all. I think it's much better for
us to work within how we write and
how we sound, with all of our inten-
tions of what we want intact."
"You can't just sit around plan-
ning the machinations of your career
- at least we can't," McNair quickly

added with a chuckle.
Well, whether they planned it or
not, Magnapop are a fantastic band,
both on record and especially live,
where there energy is best witnessed.
Hopper is one of the most charismatic
and attractive indie singers in recent
memory; her stage presence is com-
manding, but not overpowering.
Morris is a true guitar talent, with a
clean, powerful attack that fuels
Magnapop's explosive sound. McNair
is an expressive drummer, with a co-

hesive style that brings the band's
sound together while propelling it
along. Seeing Magnapop live, one
realizes that each person in the band
contributes equally to their special
sound. It's also cool that the men and
women in the band don't make an
issue of their genders, but just harmo-
niously balance each other out to make
their gigs and albums go snap, crackle,
Magnapop. Don't miss them when
(if) they open for Sugar this fall.

r-

'4

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