Lucio is the one on the left.
Care Bears on Fire
CMJ Day 1: October 16th
by Bret Gladstone
“There is something a bit disquieting about all this” my friend Ted whispers. Ted speaks in a clipped British accent, and as a result of this statements such as these tend to feel weightier, graver, and more ominous then they probably would otherwise. (I consider this assessment.)
Across the dimly-lit, vaguely pornographic barroom at Crash Mansion, the neo-punk trio Care Bears on Fire are horsing around beneath one of several flat-screen televisions showing the movie Big. They seem happily oblivious to the club owner’s cloying sense of irony. The dialogue of the film is in subtitles, because the volume is being drowned out by a pop song whose lyrics include the gem “All I wanna do is zooma-zoom-zoom-zoom in ya boom-boom.” If their parents have anything to say on the matter, Care Bears on Fire are still years off from “a zoom-zoom-zooming.” In fact, they haven’t really gone through puberty yet. They’re all eleven and-twelve-years-old.
Sophie (guitarist, singer) and Izzy (drummer) who probably weigh about 150 pounds combined, both wear mini-skirts over black spandex, zip-up boots, and vintage rock t-shirts (the Ramones for Sophie, who’s only slightly larger than the axe she plays). Lucio, the bassist and sole male member of the group, is a lanky Thurston Moore-type who sports a PiL shirt, skin-tight jeans, and curly black hair which falls well over his eyes.
All of the band’s parents are working a merchandise table, and Lucio’s mother comments worriedly on the fact that Sophie’s boots are still unzipped as she climbs onto the stage. “Oh, no she’s going to fall on her. . . bum,” she says. Sophie, whose red and black pinstriped skirt matches her guitar strap, does not fall on her bum. She plays well, even offering up a few pretty cleverly-sculpted solos in between pounding out power chords and yelping lyrics. Most impressively, she’s also apparently picked up an eerily veteran ability to add impressionistic drones to her band’s sound. For about forty-five minutes, Care Bears on Fire play songs from their new CD I Stole Your Animal—straightforward punk-tunes which draw transparently upon influences from their parent’s record collections—bands like the Ramones, the Clash, and Nirvana. Izzy’s clunky drum solos are totally endearing, and Lucio’s bass barely misses a thump. The kids are good. Not autistic-savant good, but really damn good for twelve-year-olds without any cerebral abnormalities. What’s most striking, though, is how completely and fluidly they understand the form of the music they play.
Last week, I wrote something for this blog which dealt partially with accelerated culture in rock and roll. I now kind of regret that. I jumped the gun.
Up your sodding bums Arctic Monkeys.
This is accelerated culture: a group of pubescent children dressed in indie-rock get-ups, singing proto-punk tunes called “Met You on MySpace (the song, oh thank God, is much less creepy than it sounds), and admonishing us to buy their newly released CD and merchandise after the show. Ted’s right. There is something kind of creepy about this, even if it’s just the fact that the gig is a strictly 21+ affair. But this new type of vicarious hipster parenting is much less grotesque than beauty pageantry, and the Care Bears souls seem to be sufficiently in tact. Mostly, it’s good, endearing fun. Possibly even more: After all, there’s an argument to be made that twelve-year-olds are the only musicians left who are under-saturated enough to play punk music with anything approaching its original spirit. For older bands (take Iggy Pop), a little knowledge has been a dangerous thing. And in this culture, no-one gets “a little” information. Kids like The Care Bears on Fire are in the cat-bird seat of unselfconscious stupidity. The real disturbing question is how long that will last.
“So hey, how’d you feel the gig went?”, I ask Sophie after the set. “Pretty good, I think,” she chirps. “The sound is good in here.” We talk about “cool” bands, and Sophie tells me that she’s currently “re-listening to the Sonic Youth catalogue.” “I go through phases where I get obsessed,” she says, giggling like she’s 12. Sophie is pretty adorable. She adds that her favorite Sonic Youth album at the moment is Rather Ripped, and that she also adores Bikini Kill, and that she “loves playing clubs.”
One by one, the parents bring the rest of the group over, wary of neglecting anyone and upsetting the democracy. Izzy wants to talk about consumer culture: “At first I didn’t understand the whole CMJ thing,” she says (Izzy, who wears little pink barrettes in her close-cut hair, is really into Patti Smith and Gang of Four). “I couldn’t get why people were walking out. I was like, ‘Why are they leaving? Don’t they like our music?’ Everyone had to explain to me how that’s just what people do here. They see a little of one thing, then they leave and see something else. Try a bit of everything. And I guess that’s kind of cool.”
Lucio, who’s the oldest and appears to be the most evolved hipster of the group, says he plans on catching Death by Audio at the end of the week, and stoically asks me if I’ve ever heard of them. I say yes. The funny part of this is that I later realize it’s a venue, not a band. We stare at one another carefully, then Lucio nods in approval and says that he’s “into noise right now.”
“Cool,” I say.
One thing I notice about the Care Bears on Fire is that they’ll always ask you if you’ve heard the band they’re talking about or are “into right now.” This is a dialogue inherent to “indie-rock” culture. And it makes me realize something: All of the Gen-X musicians who were re-thinking rock and roll in the previous decade—people like Thom Yorke, Jeff Tweedy, and Stephen Malkmus—are creeping into their 40’s now, and many of them have kids (Tweedy’s son Spencer is a talented drummer in a kid-band called the Blisters, who played Lollapalooza last year.) We’re looking at a new generational strain here.
Lucio sucks on the straw wedged into his water-on-the-rocks, making that grainy sucking sound depleted drinks make, and asks me if I’ve heard of about six other “noise” bands on that same bill. One of these groups is called Aids Wolf. I say yes, and I can tell by the look on his face that he knows I’m lying my ass off.
Fuck you too, Lucio.