Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Band Names

Last week I was at the DMV getting my new plates. Since it's only $36 annually to have a personalized license plate in Nevada I thought hey! Why not. The customized plate I've always wanted is HRUDUDU, which was the word for car in the rabbit language in the children's novel "Watership Down". This led to confusion with the DMV girl and her supervisor, because they have to screen all license plate names to make sure nothing offensive gets through, and they weren't convinced that HRUDUDU was harmless. After all, said the DMV girl, it sounds a lot like "doo doo".

I didn't end up getting the plate, because after all the fuss, it turns out someone already has it. (the bastard) But that night at home, I did a google search for HRUDUDU to see if I could have proven my case (that the name wasn't offensive) on the internet.

I could have guessed what would happen. Some fucking band has co-opted the name HRUDUDU, just as every other sweet, whimsical name from my childhood has been similarly stolen, all so some lame-ass group of kids can cash in on the perceived currency of this sweet memory and thus marginally enhance the overall image of their weak, weak musical enterprise.

I've had it with these pretentious, look-how-obscure-we-are, nostalgia-thieving band names, and I seethe at the audacity of these bands who think a cool name can somehow salvage weak music, or make up for the prestige and imagination that the songs themselves lack.

This isn't the first time a google search has steered me away from what I was looking for, and landed me among dozens of band-related pages. And I always end up having the same thoughts:

1) Whenever friends of yours or classmates or people who know have started a band, have you ever had the sneaking suspicion that these guys were really just getting off on the idea of "being in a band" rather than being driven by a desire to make music? Maybe it was the sheer time spent deciding on a name, or coming up with an "image", or excessive fantasizing about what they'd do when they hit it big. Am I the only one who was suspicious?

2) Don't you think it is sheer arrogance to assign yourself a pretentious or bold or ironic or commanding band name before you've proven yourself musically? Shouldn't you have to demonstrate your ability as a band-entity before you can call yourself "Hrududu factory"?
I mean come on. Husker Du? Veruca Salt?

Maybe my perspective on this is unique since I don't listen to any bands whatsoever. But if I were to somehow form a band, it would not be named by some sort of desperate irony-grab into my past to find some cred among the pop-culture litter of that era. It wouldn't be called Papa Smurf or Bugs Meany.

AHA! I just did a search for those two. Bugs Meany is a band! You can read about them here: http://www.starcityscene.com/FeatArchive/FeatBugs.html
Papa Smurf is not a band, thank God. However, it does seem to be a drink made from Grenadine and Blue Curacao. (add some whipped cream to give it a "beard")

No, if I had a band, the emphasis would be solely on the music. If there were three of us, and we lived in San Ysidro, I'd be fine with: The San Ysidro Trio. Boring? Yes! That's the beauty. An utter lack of pretention. We bring you music! Not ego!


Dash Riprock said...

This is something of a bizarre post. Now I grant you that it's not necessarily pleasant to find some band has used a name or a phrase you like, but it's not necessarily unpleasant either. That's what bands do. It's not like The Rolling Stones "invented" their name either (It comes from a Muddy Waters song, which was itself lifted from an old French saying).

Taking for granted that the Stones are a great band, at what point in their development would they have “earned” the name? One gold album? Two? Would there be some international tribunal designed to adjudicate these things? Would you be on it?

And weren't you trying to use the name in a very public manner yourself? Aren't you only upset because you wanted the name to be obscure and therefore more interesting on your license plate?

Not to belabor the point, but why does their title automatically condemn their music? There's no logical correlation between the quality of their music and their name, although in this instance, their name is only bad because they got to it first.

I might also point out because the name of your hypothetical band is admittedly boring, it doesn’t stand to reason that you would generate a superior sound, put more “emphasis on music”, or show more humility. I once knew a player in a poorly named, Mozart-playing string quartet whose ego could sink the battleship Oklahoma.

I expect a retraction of this post by first light.

Rowsdower said...

Obviously, a band named after a 20 year old obscure pop culture reference won't necessarily suck. And a boring-named band won't necessarily be any good. A good band, as you point out, doesn't need to earn its name. My problem is merely with the shitty bands (which I'd argue are most of them)using a "reference" band-name as a method of conferring image and cool, when really, that's the music's job.

If I made a really mediocre drama and titled it with a Hamlet quote, you'd be doubly annoyed - first that the movie was mediocre, second that I had the arrogance to give it such a lofty title.

Furthermore, if I'm starting a band, and we pick some secondary He-Man character for the name, aren't we being cool and different the same way everyone else is? Hasn't the obscure pop culture reference-as-band-name been utterly played out as a creative choice?

The reason I like the boring band name idea is that it just announces right up front- "We're going to live and die by the music here. No gimmicks, no dog and pony show."

Maybe I just have a different perspective because I pretty much only listen to classical. The most beautiful pieces of music ever written, the most emotionally evocative and devastating pieces of all time - they were just given very functional titles: Symphony no.5, Etude #3 in D - by composers who were just... Brahms. Not Veruca Salt. I see kids in bands now trying so hard to capture an image and a "personality" for their group, and it's just totally alien to me as a music listener. Why not just let the music do the talking?

Victor Big said...

A shitty band name doesn't announce: "We're going to live and die by the music here. No gimmicks, no dog and pony show."

It says, "I'm a pompous ass who's pretending I don't have thirty minutes to come up with something interesting to call myself."

In Mozart's time, the marketing was totally different - you didn't need to name the individual pieces because no one was buying it on CD or competing with you in an efficient marketplace.

If Mozart was alive today, he'd probably headline a band called "Man-At-Arms".

Rowsdower said...

I think you're losing sight of my original problem, which is that naming your band after a 20 year old obscure pop culture reference is lame, arrogant, juvenile, and probably a strong indicator that the band is weak.

I've already said that if the band is actually good, I have no problem, and that a "boring" band name is no guarantee of quality (though I'd guess there is some correlation there).

It annoys me that these bands think the obscure pop-culture reference name is original and creative, and, if the band sucks, it annoys me that they've put a lofty name on mediocre music. That's really the entirety of the complaint. I never thought it would be controversial. My point about the classical was that great music doesn't *need* to have a wacky name.

If you read my posts, you'll see a theme where I'm trying to distinguish between life's substance and its window dressing. Am I always right? Maybe not. But a band's name is pure fluff. I'm only suggesting that you make it inoffensive and unobtrusive. And if you're so concerned about marketing, then market to me. I'm impressed with good music, and I couldn't give a shit what you're called.

D. Riprock, Esq. said...

I was going to respond your response, but then I picked up a magazine which had a blurb on a hot new band called "Fall Out Boy". They explained their name thusly: "Fall Out Boy is a lesser known Simpsons character." At this point, I felt a Divine Hand instructing me to concede you the point.

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