When Anyone Can Be Heard, Anyone Can Be Horrible

In the mid–90s, the music industry exploded. The rush to find the next Nirvana resulted in the weirdest decade of music on record as the underground was pushed to the top and the mainstream pushed to adapt. Technology had begun turning us away from radio, and the outlets we used to find music expanded. There was more room for us to learn. More room for us to explore.

September 2018: When Anyone Can Be Heard, Anyone Can Be Horrible

  • “Lazarus” — David Byrne, St. Vincent
  • “Get Lucky” — Heatmiser
  • “A Picture Postcard” — The Promise Ring
  • “Walk Unafraid” — First Aid Kit
  • “Rank & File” — Moses Sumney
  • “Coriander” — MF DOOM
  • “Take Care of Business” — Nina Simone
  • “Fire Drills” — Dessa
  • “Black Ice (Sky High)” — Goodie Mob, OutKast
  • “Getaway” — Peeping Tom (f/ Kool Keith)
  • “Haunter of the Darkness” — Zuider Zee
  • “Boy (Go)” — The Golden Palominos (f/ Michael Stipe)
  • “Lyrics to Go (Remix)” — Dan the Automator, A Tribe Called Quest
  • “Go!” — Plumtree
  • “Early Morning Breeze” — Dolly Parton
  • “Poor Me” — Brenda Weiler
  • “A Better Son/Daughter” — Rilo Kiley
  • “The Weight” — Aretha Franklin

Zuider Zee — a band from the 70s that no one remembered — could have been helped by this kind of explosion. While they had the backing of some of the world’s foremost musicians, they never really … hit. They put out one record, they disappeared into obscurity, and they’ve only now resurfaced with a repressing of an album that would be a critical darling if released today.

While the bands I grew up with in the 90s were obscure to my parents and teachers, they at least had an audience. They had an audience because we could find them. Zuider Zee was not that lucky.

Fast forward to now, and replace bands with people, and music with opinions, and now instead of just dropping a hit record, you’re dropping a hot take. Anyone can be heard; anyone can have a voice.

It’s how revolutions start, but we often forget (until we’re reminded) that revolutions can start on either side. When anyone can have a voice, that means anyone can have a voice, and that means the bad rolls in with the good. In music, you get label-free music from amazing bands, but you also get hateful (and horrible) neo-nazi thrash.

Two weeks ago I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, a Netflix comedy special that tears down the concept of a comedy special, and I was left speechless. I just sat and stared. After Rilo Kiley’s “A Better Son/Daughter” finally faded out. After Netflix suggested that maybe I move on with a few episodes of Queer Eye. After a week, and another. I looked at my place, my privilege, my awareness.

And I thought about how Gadsby dug deep into art history, about how the artists that we’d told all along were important and thoughtful, who have been placed on a pedestal, who were shaped by a collective of critique, free from the public discourse, their transgressions both accepted and brushed off. There were fewer channels; fewer artists that we could look to, and fewer works we could study, and fewer things we knew about the people behind the art.

These days, we are much more likely find out when people are horrible. Either because they’re outed as horrible, or because they out themselves as horrible. What would we have done if Picasso’s creepiness was made a part of his legacy? Would it have raised any outrage? Would it have encouraged copy cats?

Of course, there aren’t copy cats when it comes to horrible things. There are just people doing horrible things looking for absolution from the famous. Looking for justification. Emboldened, seeing a pastor claim he was being too friendly when he gropes Ariana Grande during the funeral of Aretha Franklin, as _another_ pastor, standing in a position of power, claimed that a black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man at the funeral of one of the boldest single mothers we’ll ever know.

Sometimes history forgets a band or two. That’s forgivable. They’ll always come back up. They’ll always be found if they’re worth being found. And sometimes history will forget people who do horrible things, which would be wonderful because horrible things are hard to remember. But if we forget them, we forget the lesson, and we forget why they were horrible in the first place, and then we experience it all over again, the same band, the same song, one more time around as our options narrow once again.

This was lovingly handwritten on September 10th, 2018