Dearest Family and Friends,
I have something I’d like to share with you. I plan to tell the rest of the world shortly but I wanted to confide in my closest relationships first. I’m Twee. Yes, after 43 wonderful but often confusing years, I now clearly see who I am and how I want to be.
Funny thing is, I didn’t realize it until coming across the funny little book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion, and Film.
With the exception of fashion, a book title has never had a better target audience than yours truly.
In fact, this very blog is dedicated to intelligent new music, books and film, which includes the golden age of television we’re living in – Fargo and True Detective head and shoulders above any cinema film I’ve seen in a long time. At least since The Grand Budapest Hotel (more on Twee icon Wes Anderson later).
So when a friend sent me a baby blue copy with a petite bird cage on the cover, I cautiously entered in to “the first strong, diverse, and wildly influential youth movement since Punk in the ’70s and Hip Hop in the ’80s—showing how awkward glamour and fierce independence has become part of the zeitgeist.” – Amazon’s words.
Like Morrissey, Wes Anderson films or anything emanating from Brooklyn (Twee epicentre), you’ll probably either really like or really dislike this book.
One of the things I liked so much about it is how it links particular Twee things with particular Twee locations (bubble-gum indie pop & Glasgow, beards & Brooklyn). It took me back to a time when statements like: “I was living in London in ’66” or “I spent a lot of time at CBGB’s back in ‘76?” could trigger an instant association of Beatle Boots and Bee Hives or black jackets and white sneakers up against a dirty brick wall.
Coming of age in a sleepy town in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980’s, I missed out on the explosive Minneapolis scene led by true grunge grandfathers Hüsker Dü and The Replacements. I was too young to experience the drunken high jinks of Paul Westerberg and the 3-chord anger of sexually confused Bob Mould, but I did grow up a few short hours south of Seattle (Grunge epicentre).
Other than one cool record store downtown, Salem, Oregon didn’t offer much in terms of an authentic music scene. Any music scene, in fact. What it did have a surplus of however was the ubiquitous “head banger” in black t-shirt under jeans jacket full of kick-ass rock patches – required dress for any true Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne or Def Leppard fan.
Other than Grand Records down by the river, it was slim pickings if you wanted to get a hold of anything more obscure than Winger, Warrant or aforementioned metal trail blazers.
And then one day in the summer of 1983, my friend Matt Halferty and I came across a copy of Depeche Mode’s Speak and Spell, the Twee gods smiling down upon us. I now know that the electronic pops and buzzes that blew us away upon first listen weren’t all that cutting edge when they appeared on the European scene in 1981. Gary Numan, OMD and a handful of Teutonic man-machines had been tinkering with computerized synths for half a decade. I can’t speak for Matt, but this just may have been my Twee Damascene event. Keep in mind, we’d just witnessed the heavy metal coming-out party courtesy of Van Halen, Quiet Riot and the glam metal hybrid of Ratt – massive radio staples in the 7th grade.
Matt ended up going to a different high school but I went on to buy the next few Depeche Mode albums in addition to The Smiths debut and a handful of other second wave British invaders that I now realize are very Twee.
With puberty firmly setting by the mid-80’s, I then moved on to the testosterone-fuelled music of the Doors, Led Zeppelin and the Who – a language I understood much better. “The queen is dead. What was Morrissey on about? I just saw her on TV.”
By the fall of 1990, my sophomore year of college and another musical sea change or two, my top 5 bands went something like this:
The Violent Femmes, The Cult , Social Distortion, REM, The Smithereens
In keeping with the full disclosure of the post, I probably would have left off that last one had I not read the review of Nirvana’s 20th anniversary re-issue of Bleach. Urban legend has it that while driving from their hick town of Aberdeen to Seattle to record their debut album for $600 in 1989, the Smithereens were one of 2 bands Nirvana listened to on the 100-mile drive over.
Listening recently to “Losing my Edge” from post-punk (Twee’s edgy cousin) revival band LCD Soundsystem in which an aging DJ who “was there in 1968 at the first Can show in Cologne” and again he “was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City”, I got to thinking – Have I ever experienced a scene? And when “was I there”?
I’d discovered The Beatles through The Chipmunks sing the Beatles hits. However, I still think it’s one of the best collections of Beatles covers ever. Listen to those harmonies! And I’d been much more interested in Luke Skywalker’s true family history than the real story behind The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.
But I had been at an outdoor concert once while at the University of Oregon in 1992 where a very mediocre band claimed to have played right alongside Nirvana in Seattle before they exploded. It was more of a fraternity event than a concert, actually. I even made two trips to Seattle the year grunge broke big – once to see our lowly Ducks get destroyed by the mighty Washington Huskies and again at Christmas break with a Seattleite I was dating. I never did make it to any of those cool, grungy music venues I saw later in Cameron Crowe’s Ode to Grunge, Singles. I did visit the original Starbucks café on one of my trips, however. I later found out it wasn’t in fact the original, original (automatic Twee disqualification).
And that’s probably how it is with “scenes”. They’re over before you know they’ve started. By the time I caught up with Sid Vicious, I quickly recognized Billy Idol’s bankable bad-boy snarl – one of the original hangers-on from London’s punk scene circa ’77, but not the snarl’s rightful owner.
And I suppose the true origin of every “scene” can be traced back to its original place and people. Weren’t the Sex Pistols just a lucrative creation of image-savvy Malcom McLaren?
A few years prior to year zero, Mr. McLaren had in fact tried to give the proto-punk New York Dolls a style make-over. The matching red leather Dolls with massive Soviet hammer and sickle backdrop didn’t go over too well on their tour of the Bible Belt, evidentially.
I suppose if you’re going to be one of those guys who “was there”, you’re inevitably going to end up sounding like James Murphy in “Losing My Edge”:
I was there.
I’ve never been wrong.
I used to work in the record store.
I had everything before anyone.
When I come across like-minded music lovers they tend to get big eyes when they find out I went to college in the Pacific Northwest in the early 90’s. I usually just smile and tell them I visited the original Starbucks. I might also happen to mention I was a huge Smithereens fan.
But coming back to the intelligent new media at hand, the fact that I loved the Smiths and REM – the two reigning Twee bands of the 80’s, am geographically connected to Twee icon Kurt Cobain and am a card-carrying fan of the wonderfully Twee world of Wes Anderson, I have come to the indisputable and inconvenient conclusion that I am Twee and have probably always been Twee.
For those of you who find this news hard to swallow, I would strongly recommend reading this entertaining little book – if not to gain a better understanding of me and my world, then perhaps for the pure enjoyment of learning what drove Walt Disney to create the Mouse and his Magical World – light years away from that brutal world he’d experienced driving an ambulance as a high school drop-out on streets of blood and rubble at the end of WWI.
In addition to many more entertaining stories like this one and the creative weaving together of seemingly unconnected people, places and movements (e.g. Mickey Mouse & Nirvana), you might not agree with me and Morrissey that “Meat is Murder”, but you might just discover that you’re not so different from us after all.
Thanks for letting me share with you. I’d love to hear “where you were” and what movements you’re connected to – wittingly or un. Thanks for sharing your story with me!