Sunday night, with a bit of shame, a new friend revealed her secret like for Metro Station, and in particular, their song featured in the commercial for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Led by Miley Cyrus’ 19 year-old brother, Trace, Metro Station’s "Seventeen Forever" is the typical type of generic synth pop punk trash that has the potential to get lodged inside your head whether you want it there or not.
For one music industry insider to share such embarrassing information with another is not easy, especially within the context of our first real conversation. Reputations are put on the line with such openness, and she wasn’t going to be the only one to bare her weakness for cheesy music far removed from the Pitchfork-approved realm. So, with it swung back around to me, I was left to answer the question "what is my music guilty pleasure?"
A pretty girl and a few glasses of whiskey can unlock my most embarrassing secrets.
The first names that came to mind and leave my mouth were Journey, Air Supply, and every cheesy ’80s band I could think of. Understandably, she was unimpressed with my choices. Through the wonder of irony, these sort of overblown cock rock balladeers have become cool to the hipster community, and therefore the cloak of shame is no longer attached. I was going to need something way more embarrassing to match Metro Station—but nothing came to mind.
Two days later, I read Judy Berman’s "Turn Around, Bright Eyes" piece for Salon. Like a bodybuilder admitting to his love for sappy romantic comedies, Berman opens her story stating "I like Bright Eyes. There, I said it." Two paragraphs in she goes as far as saying "nothing embarrasses me more than my secret love of Bright Eyes, once the drippiest act in all of indiedom."
I’ve been a fan of Bright Eyes for nearly a decade, and never really knew how much shame there was in finding solace in Conor Oberst’s melodramatic song writing and angst-filled quiver. There have been a few times that friends have compared him to a male vagina / mangina, but it never dawned on me how potentially embarrassing an iPod loaded with ever song Conor Oberst has ever written could be.
Berman has nothing to be ashamed of. Her gender should protect her dignity when revealing her love for Bright Eyes. Women are socially accepted as the more emotional of the sexes. They’re allowed to show weakness, but my manhood has been at risk with every purchase of a new Bright Eyes record.
My musical taste is hardly restricted to Bright Eyes, but within the depths of my ear canal, there is a vagina needing its fill of melodramatic songs of love and hurt. The Veils, Bon Iver, Elliot Smith, Nada Surf and Red House Painters frequent my ears with their passionate and soul-baring words. Without them, I feel lost. I’m not a total sap. I just as frequently listen to Hot Snakes, Shellac and Fugazi, but I still have a soft spot that that "drippy sentimentality."
Possibly an attempt separate himself from the ‘whiny emo sap’ label linked to Bright Eyes, Oberst ditched the moniker this year, and released his first album under his own name. Seen by critics as an act of growth, Oberst’s solo record is another step forward in the maturity of Oberst as a songwriter. The songs are not nearly as bogged down with melodrama, but there is still emotion left in that quivering voice. Once labeled as the "next Bob Dylan," his lyrical gift is still his strongest asset, though his songs are sounding more influenced by Neil Young than Dylan these days.
There will probably never be another Dylan, and it’s not as though he’s no longer around. He played Prospect Park last night.
Meanwhile, fans filled the Bowery Ballroom to see Conor Oberst play his first NYC show with his new persona and band, and I was among them. If Berman was right, then being seen there could be self-destructive for a music writer wanting to be taken seriously, but I was willing to take the chance. He would have easily sold out a much larger venue as Bright Eyes, but that’s not who he is, and he proved that by avoiding playing any of his old songs. With less familiar tunes making up his set list, Oberst still faired well with the crowd. The band confidently played a strong set pleasing even those fans hoping to hear "Lover I Don’t Have To Love" or another of their favorite Bright Eyes songs.
I don’t know if I should be embarrassed, but I like Conor Oberst, I like Bright Eyes, and I’ll probably continue to like anything Oberst writes no matter the name he chooses to link to it.
Photo by Jonny-Leather