Beautiful Losers: Striving Towards Failure

I was watching Brian Fallon’s interview where he said something I found quite strikingly true and well put:

“A lot of people that come from a punk rock scene or anything like that, you’re always told that you can’t succeed; you’re not allowed to. It’s wrong to win, you can’t win. You’re suppose to be the beautiful losers; like the Replacements or one of those bands.”

Anyone who grew up listening to this shit would agree, it’s not encouraged to gain too much popularity within the boundaries of punk rock. There’s a sense that any kind of commercial gain, or amassing too wide of a following represents a decent into mass cultural decadence and artistic death. I think it’s worth noting that much of our potential audience might find this alienating and to a certain extent elitist. I often feel like the village idiot after reading Maximum Rock n Roll bash my favorite band, and praise some unlistenable power-violence band that has nothing to do with punk’s origin.

When punk first found me, I could not believe that bands like Lagwagon, Screeching Weasel, and Propagandhi weren’t on the radio. Why do crappier bands like Sum 41 or Greenday get constant rotation while these bands get silenced? The answer that was given to me by the scene was that the radio only plays major label bands, legal payola. To an extent this is of course true, economically major labels have sufficient capital to fund giant promotional campaigns and have the distribution channels big enough to get their records into Wal-Marts.

But why aren’t these bands on major labels? Many of them have received offers, which they dogmatically refuse. Turning down a major label offer is a badge of honour in the scene. Perhaps this is a good thing, bands accept the fact that they will remain a meaningful experience for the select few. Maintaining the artistic integrity of the music is of chief importance, and avoiding giant labels possibly helps with this. However, I think that a lot bands are secretly afraid that in trying to find a broad audience they will lose their loyal fans, gaining 15 minutes of ephemeral fame.

Increasingly we’re living in age where labels, radio, and television matter less. This is good news, bands can gain mass distribution at no to low costs. With changes in technology there should come changes in values, and I hope that good bands can find courage to reach an audience. I think the message is to not celebrate our failures, and not give up on winning at something.