Each year around mid-December I receive an email that snowballs into a month-long chain of “Top Ten” lists tabulating the year’s best rock music. By “rock” I mean certain types of underground and indie music that my friends and I discovered together in college and continue to follow and discuss a decade later, often across great distances. This annual correspondence functions as a reunion of sorts, and similar to a real-time family gathering things get hairy: arguments threaten to overwhelm the party; personal attacks and vendettas spook the heard; the dialog strains with overripe wit and one-upsmanship. Do these Top Ten exchanges overheat because we care so much about the music or is the music merely an excuse to haze each other? In wondering why the hell we do this every year and rereading bits from years past, I’ve decided to compile a “Top Ten Quotes From Recent Top Ten Lists” to further inflate egos (plus I haven’t seen a list yet this year, so I’m sharpening my swords until one shows up in the inbox – any vet knows you don’t fire off the first list unless you’re feeling like getting reamed).
Full disclosure: the cradle of this ever-thickening web of critical insight was a club of poets and scholars based in a certain would-be ivy league school in the southeast that liked to refer to itself simply as “The University”. Neighboring organizations liked to refer to these poets and scholars simply as “fags and hippies,” though musically the hippie part was mostly without basis (the new longhairs were more likely to dig Mudhoney than the Dead). Suffice it to say that road tripping to Polvo shows and having The Interpreters play your parties seemed a bit pinko to the lax-and-Allmans set. We left the University for various metropoleis well-versed in the degrees and shades of mid-nineties indie rock, capable of starting a fight or scaring off a girl with equal ease.
Over the years and in the face of ever-increasing adultitudes and distractions, apparently our ears have remained firmly pressed to the ground, and for this I congratulate ourselves. Yea, happily we have entered the brave new millennium and traded our 7-inches for mp3s without falter. I must admit, though, that sometimes in the wee hours, when the blue screen reveals the bottle to be almost empty and Pitchfork starts to feel like porn, the ghost of my father’s album collection seeps under the door and into the study, whispering its horrible mantra: “Stones, Zappa, Who, Zeppelin / 1974 – what the hell happened?” The year I was born. The year my dad’s awesome record collection ends.
So I scribble leads on receipts every other day or so; I search and shuffle all year, but come November I’m getting nervous. Have I listened to enough albums? Is this year’s “best” not as good as usual? Am I missing something? Is my range narrowing? Does hip-hop really suck now or do I no longer “get it”? Why does more and more stuff sound retro? What the fuck use is Mountain Goats? Early December finds me buying, burning, and prescribing as gifts to myself a bunch of albums I had been meaning to get, mostly to my disappointment. By mid- or sometimes late-December I’m wondering if I’ve been dissed. Where are the emails? Was I left off the communiqué for calling Arcade Fire fans pussies? Was I not cc:ed for erupting into uncontrollable booing at that Destoryer show? Did my effervescent wit turn to plain shittiness after listening to almost nothing but Unwound for five straight years?
But then one day it arrives, subject line reading “Fire When Ready” or “The Dis Loops Back”, and its all OK. The constriction in my shoulders alights. The headache disappears. I am welcomed by the collegiality, warmed by the well-placed cut, and heartened by the fact that once again
My list is obviously the most best and that everyone else are a bunch of colossal pussies. “I’ve been meaning to raise my voice for years. What the fuck is he talking about? Can we get an official translator please.”
Without any more ado let me list The Top Ten Quotes From Recent Top Ten Lists, from #10 to #1 (the best comment), and point out that authors and subjects have been left out for decency’s sake. You know who you are, and like any good criticism, the form is way more important than the topic.
THE TOP TEN QUOTES FROM RECENT TOP TEN LISTS:
10) “This makes me feel just fine about hating U2.”
9) “Baudelaire pinched the 8th grade orchestra for a run through the Sondheim fakebook. It’s that good.”
) “plants flag of Baltimore in ass of guy @Other Music”
7) “I would go gay with guitarist.”
5) “If that fucking WHEAT cd you’ve been touting make the year’s best, I resign my post and gift [Mr. X] my camera-phone footage of a pancaked King Roeser doing the hip sway to “Smokehouse”. Currently “reserve not met yet” on eBay.”
4) “Please note that I have stricken [xxxx]@aol.com from the copy list, as this is an old family address that has fallen under the exclusive province of my father. He admitted to being both shocked and awed by the contents of these corresponders when we supped together last night. I had to diffuse the tension in the Strip Mall Sushi Joint with a “Pooping in Sin” punchline.”
3) “The thing you need to realize is that no amount of bum xtc (check), first-rate shrooms (check), hash (check), contraband vodka (check), sanctioned overpriced beer (check), or bubble-walking Wayne Coyne could alleviate the fear, right up until they walked on stage, that the whole thing was going to explode in a fireball of Chinese democracy before it even started.”
2) “Your yearnings are touching, but just like Dorothy, you’ve been home all along… you are surrounded by artists, right this very minute, in the act of creation (see Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist”). Even if you aren’t touched by each individual adjective-blip and verb-bleep, or at least touched enough to recall them a year from now, I’m sure you will remember a long time from now that at the end of each year, your friends, the artists, would gather round you to shower their personalities, their ultimate artistic creations, down on you. And you had front row orchestra seats.”
1) “I’m concerned about the myopic view that seems so perversely prevalent among my compatriots. Have we arrived at the point that our expression of musical individuality is reduced to shitting on band A over band B, given that we all own both cds? Should we not stretch our thinking beyond our self-imposed poseur borders and engage in discourse that is somewhat more expansive, cerebral, and ultimately novel?… Gentlemen, this is a call to arms. I confess that the holiday spirit has spurred me to reflect on the greater questions that life has thrust upon us, bursting lightly through my hazy alcohol induced cloud… art, creation, and essence. Seek it for yourselves gentlemen. If not in your own abilities, at least stretch out beyond your self-imposed borders.”