Let's Get Busy in Hawaiian

100 Years of Ragged Beats and Cheap Tunes

The Beatles' native counterculture is long gone, of course, and with it, many old hippies would claim, rock's glory days. This smug lie was already taking shape 25 years ago, when it helped trigger the supposedly nihilistic but in fact stubbornly life-affirming love-hate of punk. Embracing marginality in a vacuum of imposed scarcity rather than the security of a boom, punk was the starting point for the revolving-door rock subculture called sometimes indie, sometimes alternative, sometimes late for chow. This subculture is the most articulate locus of a connoisseurship that is now a condition of pop life—although audiences have always been more discerning than professional discerners give them credit for, the self-conscious artiness and multimedia overkill now surrounding genres subterranean and nationwide informs shades of aesthetic discrimination it's reasonable to regard as a bit much. Alt's fling with the marketplace now officially flung, it endures much palaver about its own glory days, but shows no signs of going away either—the mean age of Sonic Youth is 42. As long as young people contradistinguish themselves from society and/or their elders by gathering in bars—or now also, to who knows what effect on the "local," on the Internet—it's a safe bet that there'll be music in the vicinity.

Pure populists will grouse that the musics of this subculture—these subcultures, really: some trad and some avant, some guitar and some synth, some shoegazing and some internationalist, some white and some multiculti and some black-identified and some black, some gay and some het and many feminist, some tethered to their record collections and some eager slaves of the disco round, with all combinations and possibilities left unmentioned also valid—are barely pop at all. And cultists who can be distracted from their Discmen may well agree. But they can't escape their debt to pop's history and assumptions. They are all children of the ragged beat, and acolytes of the easy and escapist no matter how abstract they get about it. It's pop at its massest that permeates—not even top-15 radio pap, but advertising jingles and soundtracks and the Microsoft fanfare and the stuff they make you listen to on hold. But what's propelled pop out of anyone's control is the heedless productivity of listeners turned musicmakers, of countless individuals, coteries, and congregations putting sounds in the air and on tape. We're often told that this has been the most horrific of centuries, and in some respects that's undeniable—technology and capital are inhumane by definition. But it's not as if there haven't been paybacks—or that some aren't happy to settle for the quid pro quo. Fact is, all this music has transformed culture and even bent power relations a little. And one reason it's succeeded is that that's not what it's for. It's not a way of changing the world, but of living in the world—sometimes by getting away from the world.

So let's do it. Let's get this party started quickly. Let's get physical. Let's get it on. Let's fall in love. Let's get together. Let's stick together. Let's work together. Let's dress up like cops, think of what we could do. Let's talk dirty in Hawaiian. Let's do the Freddie. Let's call the whole thing off. Let's go get stoned. Let's get lost. Let's take the long way home. Let's take a walk around the block. Let's have another cup of coffee. Let's have a tiddley at the milk bar. Let's put out the lights and go to sleep. Let's live for today. Let's wait awhile. Let's do it again. Let's go, let's go, let's go everybody. Let's all sing like the birdies sing. Let's face the music and dance.

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