Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Listeria: The Top Ten Bands I Would Most Like to Be a Member Of

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 11, 2007

Life is more interesting in list form.

Unlike many young music fans, I don’t think there was ever really a time when I fantasized about being in any of my favorite bands. This is partly because I never played a rock instrument with much dedication–two or three years of fun, but probably misguided, acoustic guitar lessons is about as far as I got–and because I have basically zero interest in songwriting or musical collaboration. Some say that rock critics are all just failed and/or untalented musicians, and that’s probablytrue to an extent, but being in a band myself was never a thought I entertained with any seriousness.

However, the main reason I never dreamed about being in one of my favorite bands is because I’m too much of a pragmatist–I can’t picture being in any of these groups without picturing all the potential problems and conflicts that would arise from being a member. Sure, I’d probably have loved to have been part of the Beach Boys in ’66 when they were crafting Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations,” or a member of Motley Crue in ’87 when they were selling out arenas and having sex with more chicks in a week than most males will in their entire lifetime, or a member of Nirvana in ’91 when they were starting to sell like crazy and getting hailed from all corners as the second coming. But actually being a permanent member in those bands would eventually become disastrous–I would never want to deal with the trauma of the inner-group and innner-family conflict of The Beach Boys, the rampant-even-by-Hair-Metal- standards substance abuse and eventual dissentigration of Motley Crue, or the ultimate tragedy of Nirvana.

So I came up with a list of the top ten bands that I could actually see myself being a part of. I wouldn’t do anything in the band that disrupted the group’s pre-existing flow–I wouldn’t take over at lead singer or guitarist, or even drummer, but rather, I’d play some sort of Bob Nastanovich-type Utility Man role. I would play no specific instrument on a permanent basis, but switch around a lot, filling in the gaps where needed and adding extra hooks and punctuation to already-formed songs, while still being viewed as an integral, highly non-disposable member of the band. Every band could use one of those, I figure. As part of these bands, I’m saying that I would assume the nationality, political bent and look of the band as well.

It’s a tricky sort of qualification to break down, though. I wouldn’t want to pick a band whose members are so insanely popular that I couldn’t go out to get my newspaper without reading about it in the tabloids (The Beatles, boy bands, probably KISS), but I also wouldn’t want to choose a band whose members are so obscure and anonymous that I couldn’t get bought a drink in a bar anywhere based on name or visual recognition (Tortoise, Daft Punk, even The Killers). I wouldn’t want to be part of a band so debaucherous and hedonistic that I’d constantly be fearing for my and the band’s life and sanity (The Sex Pistols, Oasis, 98% of metal bands) but I also wouldn’t want to be in a band that seemed like it didn’t really enjoy being famous (Radiohead, Modest Mouse, Pulp). I probably wouldn’t want to be part of a band that continued on far longer than they should have (New Order, Pink Floyd, millions of bands that no one cares about anymore), but I definitely wouldn’t want to be in a band that broke up way before they should have (The Pixies, The Smiths, Velvet Underground). And probably most importantly, I wouldn’t want to be in any band where my or the band’s future was extremely unstable–either because of tumultuous in-band romances (Fleetwood Mac, The Mamas and the Papas, No Doubt), constantly shifting band line-ups (The Fall, The Cure, most Motown groups) or most importantly, a self-indulgent prima donna lead singer that could at any point decide that the band is taking a seven-year break, or that the group’s next album is gonna be a concept album about breakfast cereal (Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Blur).

So what is it that I am looking for here? A band that has maintained an admirable level of success, critical or commercial (or optimally, both) for a fairly extended period of time, one whose members don’t seem like total jackasses and that doesn’t seem like it could implode at any second, and one whose members seem like they’re having a good time without necessarily being too self-destructive about it. And yeah, it probably wouldn’t hurt if they made music that was pretty good too.

Let’s rock.

10. My Chemical Romance. Emo superheroes that got ridiculously popular on their own terms. Despite being rather depressive-seeming types in general, these guys always look like they’re enjoying themselves, mostly because of their ridiculously fun videos (even their WWII-set vid for “The Ghost of You” looks like it was a blast to make). Now they’ve turned into a goth-pop Queen and look like they’re on their way to being one of the definitive bands of the early 21st century, with a sound and look that is entirely theirs and relatively uncomprised.

Possible Disadvantages: Yet to definitively prove longevity, possible (though unlikley) that they will be seen as an 00s relic ten years down the line, being that dramatic all the time is probably exhausting

9. Rush. Worshipped in their home country and well-loved by most elsewhere, consistently popular for several decades without ever really being famous in the conventional sense, probably wealthy as hell and in comfortable family lives, never any significant drama to speak of–I can’t really picture Rush doing much of anything besides spending hours in the studio trying to get just the right guitar/bass/drum tone, driving their producers and engineers insane. They probably read a bunch too.

Possible Disadvantages: Little respect from critics, probably not too much in the way of groupie love, hard to keep up with bandmates’ instrumental heroics, would have to learn to like hockey

8. Sonic Youth. Being in Sonic Youth would be like getting to sit at the cool kids’ lunch table for your entire life. Accessible and important enough to sign with Geffen, get minor radio and MTV play and even appeaer on The Simpsons, but underground enough to sustain a lifetime supply of indie cred, Sonic Youth have gotten to play the part of alternative rock’s cool older brother for over two decades now. Even Steve Shelley, possibly the dorkiest looking dude in the history of rock, seems kind of badass by association.

Possible Disadvantages: Have to be friends with a lot of arty people, chronic migraines from 25 years of prolongued feedback exposure

7. The Strokes. Underground rock gods in the US, mainstream ones just about everywhere else, well-loved enough for even the drummer to be able to date Drew Barrymore. Always photographed smiling, drinking and kissing, became a part of rock history with seemingly no effort whatsoever, look scruffy and poorly shaven all the time. Sounds pretty good to me.

Possible Disadvantages: Have to deal with lots of annoying fashionista types, diminishing returns with every new album thusfar threaten upkeep of long-term media darling status

6. Ash. Blink-182 would’ve been fairly great for this, but the band’s last few years, in which Tom DeLonge turned out to be a humongous prick, some asshole at MTV thought it was a good idea to give Travis Barker his own TV show and the band broke up extremely unamicably, disqualify them from this. Ash is here because they’re essentially the UK Blink–a pop-punk band whose sound explodes with the excitement and energy of being young and whose members always seem like they’re thrilled to be in a band that a whole lot of people seem to like–but without the horrible final chapter. Plus, Charlotte Hatherley.

Possible Disadvantages: Occasional career slumps, anonymity in US, have to attempt “mature sound” eventually

5. Duran Duran. This breaks at least a couple of rules–copious drug use, extreme popularity swings and media swamping among them–but goddamn, being in Duran Duran in the early-mid 80s just must’ve been so fucking wonderful. Responsible for at least a half-dozen of the best and most popular pop songs of the decade, adored by nearly all teenage girls and probably at least a couple teenage guys worldwide, dating models and flying around the world to sell out arenas and film exotic and elaborately plotted music videos–it’s appropriate that these guys did the best ever James Bond theme, since if Bond had been in a band, it probably would’ve been Duran Duran. Plus, their excesses didn’t seem that self-destructive–sure, they probably had porn-worthy sex lives and did a blizzard of coke, but no one died or accidentally killed someone or anything.

Possible Disadvantages: Previously mentioned pratfalls, plus lack of crit cred (at least until two decades into career) and seething resentment and jealousy from less commercially and sexually successful rock dudes everywhere

4. Foo Fighters. Despite being formed under less than ideal circumstances–haunted, at least at first, by the death of Kurt Cobain, ex-bandmate of Fighters Dave Grohl and Pat Smear–the Foo Fighters have proven to be one of the most consistently reliable alt-rock bands of the last 20 years, pumping out solid hit singles and albums and remaining well-liked by almost everyone, despite the fact that they’ve only really written one GREAT song in their career (“Everlong”). And it seems like they have a blast doing it, too.

Possible Disadvantages: Control freak frontman, possible recent artistic stagnation

3. Bon Jovi. Having conquered the hearts of fans of 80s rock, TRL, and now even country, Bon Jovi’s fanbase spans entire generations, and along with Def Leppard, they’ve emerged as the only megapopular band to escape the Hair Metal era without having to resort to playing cruises and Vegas. Probably because they were never really hair metal to begin with–Bon Jovi always seemed too nice to be metal, which is why you never saw them on Behind the Music, or never heard about them breaking up or going to rehab or trying to kill each other or anything. As long as there is karaoke, bar bands and the state of New Jersey, Bon Jovi will remain an institution.

Possible Disadvantages: No one knows anyone in Bon Jovi besides the singer and guitarist, decade-long rough patch in between New Jersey and “It’s My Life,” probably have to deal with idiot metalheads saying that you “FUCKING RUINED EVERYTHING!!

2. Yo La Tengo. One of the most modest, unassuming bands in history. Yo La Tengo just seem like they sorta do what they feel like, eschewing rock trends for playing obscure 60s and 70s covers, jamming for however long they want to and singing about the positive qualities of domesticity. Like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo have been around and acclaimed for long enough that they can pretty much coast the rest of their careers and still gig and record fairly successfully. Plus, they seem like they’d be fun guys to hang out, the kind of music nerds who spend hours arguing over which VU album is better, White Light/White Heat or self-titled while plugging dollar bill after dollar bill into the bar jukebox to ensure an evening of nothing but their selections. My kind of people.

Possible Disadvantages: No mainstream recognition whatsoever, in-band married couple means possible future drama, doubt James McNew gets laid much on the hook of being the bassist for Yo La tengo

1. Green Day. Three weirdo high-school friends that somehow became the defining band of a generation–twice. Green Day became one of the biggest bands in the world in 1994 with great songs about masturbation, boredom and being a loser, fucked around for a decade, and then did it again in 2004 with great songs about world anxiety, loneliness and how fucked up everything is. They get to dress and act like idiots despite being well into their 30s, go multi-multi-platinum in an age when most rock bands can barely manage gold, and still manage to maintain punk cred and gushing critical acclaim doing it. They get to be both The Who and The Buzzcocks, and after fifteen years, they seem like they still like each other pretty OK. I think I could get down with that.

Possible Disadvantages: Mike Dirnt could get kind of irritating after a while, I guess.

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One Response to “Listeria: The Top Ten Bands I Would Most Like to Be a Member Of”

  1. Sonja said

    Gina dreams of running away. She cries in the night- Tommy whispers, “baby it’s okay…someday.”

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