How to look like an indie rocker without trying too hard


Tyrolean Schnapps topper on carrot in B-flat

It’s 62° F in my mom’s kitchen and I’m 45, wearing a scarf and an apron, browning onions. I never wanted to look like an indie rocker which is why I’m so good at it — people stop me on the streets every day in this small, medieval village thinking I look like someone and I probably do.

The look, like all the best looks, is a look that doesn’t look like it’s trying to be a look but rather, like I’ve been caught in the middle of something urgent that won’t come out but probably should.

It’s hard to express, hard to put words to, but worth spending money on.

It’s this feeling I’m out of time, having the folk sensitivity of the 60s, the angst of the 70s, the self-indulgence of the 80s, the need to understand what really happened in the 90s.

“Indie rock”: it’s hard to put words to, hard to say what it is, but like other movements, it’s easier to say what it isn’t, easier to define it as a non-something: non-commercial, non-success, non-corporate. It’s non-corporate but if you wait long enough, corporate will do it better and you’ll need to start something new, a new place to pout in your latte art and your poetry and shiver in the shadows looking cool.

No, the indie rocker is an educated white male who wears snowboarder beanies with ear flaps that probably look nerdy on most and still look nerdy on him. The indie rocker has to work hard to unlearn his privilege and access the pain that hides inside himself and his IPA, the rot-gut pain that comes from the blues, from killing someone and then singing about it and regretting it, from reading just enough Kierkegaard to know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, from watching the best minds of his generation destroyed by YouTube, from feeling he’s going nowhere but guaranteed to be late.

The indie rocker white male sings beards without borders, rents a room with no irons, a bathroom with many mirrors, has a hardened look like a river rock that could be a jewel to a child or a polished piece of glass, has the knobby texture of a farm root you wouldn’t put in the mouth of a dog, lets his hair go unwashed and waxy like a crayon, spends a lot of time so he can look like he’s spent none.

The indie rocker, like the hippy and the punk is best defined by what he’s trying to avoid.

Our dog wobbles as she squats on a patch of earth and looks like a rocket trying to launch herself, leaves her remains on the ground to blend in over time. We conform to the shape of our scene and after a while become indistinguishable from it — and that’s the goal of independence, to free ourselves of something, anything, so we can understand at last where we belong, on our own.



Categories: humor, musings

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

31 replies

  1. Perfect. “from reading just enough Kierkegaard to know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is” could be the tagline for a generation–or for a multitude of generations as they traverse the ages of 17-24.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Uncharacteristic snark, but I love it. Zing! I’ll tell you what happened in the 90s: Ace of Base and Sheryl Crowe with a side order of sweet pickled Pearl Jam.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “…access the pain that hides inside himself and his IPA…” Oh wow. Nailed it! A while back I watched an old film about Lightnin’ Hopkins (“The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins,” I think it was), and I realized we’ve lost contact with “the blues.” Now you have “the blues” if you’re a suburban millennial who can’t get a signal on his iPhone. Bummer.


    • Did you ever see that film on Townes Van Zandt? That’s the blues. Watching Kris Kristoferson talk about him, shed a tear, wow. Yeah, so much to say about it here, kind of defies the comment box format. I think from your playing of the blues you already know a lot more about it than I, but I’m not sure if you’ve ever done process decomposition for a Fortune 100 company and had to like, move boxes in swim lanes on Visio. That’s a soul-sucking blues that has its own form of drive-you-to-whiskey-and-guns, at least for me. Lots more to say on that but thanks for chiming in. A lot of me in this post, and that’s endless fodder for parody. It’s better to laugh at yourself in the mirror than cry I think, and good to take a long look once in a while, but not too long. Bill


      • Haven’t seen the TVZ film yet, but I’ll put it on the list. And all I know about playing the blues is I-IV-V and the minor pentatonic. I’ve been way too lucky in life to feel it.

        By the way, I think you just coined a great country song title: “Better To Laugh at Yourself in the Mirror (Than Cry).” I’d like to hear that one!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d recommend the Townes video, it’s very well done. It has a low-fi documentary quality to it and for me, was a great introduction to him and his music. Watched it several years ago here in Germany. I admire him, but have a hard time getting through a whole record. The dense sadness in it can bring me down: I’ve made that mistake with Nick Drake records, listening to more than one at once. Good thing they’re short, that way. Like autumn afternoons, right?


  4. When I take over, all the cell phones will be confiscated. We’re all going back to hanging out in parking lots, standing around our gas guzzlers, shirtless and in bell bottoms, smoking cigarettes and blasting Foghat, and time will have no bearing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. and where are all the big hair bands singing anthems and ballads when you need them?

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are some here in Deutschland still.


      • Here I am, rock you like a hurricane.


      • pour some sugar on me.


      • Hold the line, love isn’t always on time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I could be stubborn about this because I am, stubborn, but I respect you too much to keep this up, this mosquito-in-your-phone/ear thing, but OK, let’s agree to end with Warrant. I’ll concede to you there. I thought this was a Neil Diamond reference (wow) but when I looked it up, I got Warrant. That’s a funny, slippery, embarrassing time for our musical history there, isn’t it? It seemed like it got OK for guys to wear make-up maybe starting with T-Rex, Bowie, glam-rock, and it seems maybe Def Leppard brought that back some, but gracefully, and then I don’t know: what is it LA and Motley Crue and that whole shit-show of goons who took it too far? Ratt? Or did it bleed into other areas (Robert Smith, The Cure) where makeup wearing by guys was OK? I’ll admit when I acted in college it was kind of fun, OK. But I didn’t get carried away with the Aqua Net. And Robert Smith really looks like hell with makeup but maybe that’s part of the point, that’s Goth make-up wearing which is different from Glam-metal make-up wearing, or whatever you want to call the Warrant era. I’ll be honest I’m just glad that’s over.


  6. Indie rockers walk away from the music after having mystical experiences in Minneapolis bathrooms.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, good God, this is fantastic.


  8. When I lived on the Lower East Side I used to catch a lot of hell from the anarchists and malcontents for looking the way I did. They usually caught me on the way to work, which required me to dress like the corporate stooge I am. But I’d look around and those streets were choked with pierced, tattooed, semi-employed, self-important windbags. They weren’t being rebellious at all. They just chose to embrace a different stereotype. Those guys were a dime a dozen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You nailed it, what I was wanting to play with here, the contradictions of indie and looks, and movements. And funny, how universal it is for many of us to relate to. Since you’re talking about looking like a corporate stooge, it makes me think of the Friday dress-down custom, and what it looks like to dress normal, casual, in a corporate setting: which of course, isn’t really normal or casual, just how you would interpret that inside a corporate setting.


  9. I’m waiting for 1950s Housewife to become the new indie. The husbands could totally rock it.


    • That’s good, Angela. Makes for some diversity at the elementary school drop-off corral. I had a taste of that last spring in the suburbs outside of Seattle, interesting stuff. Fun writing material, too — some road rage in Yoga tights juxtaposed against signs with positive affirmations like “Synergize,” everyone. Why can’t we just wait our turn, and get along?


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