how to run a four-minute mile, part two. a [better than the first] dissertation on being black and indie.
i was reading an essay on black modern rockers, and it made me start thinking again. i believe i wrote a dissertation on the subject almost exactly one year ago, but looking back upon it, it wasn't written as well as it should have been. i was just going off on a tangent, spouting off opinions, and not making a real point about anything. after reading this article and writing a late-night e-mail to one of my best friends last week on the subject, i feel as though i'm prepared enough to give a clear take on it.
the biggest point in the e-mail to my friend is that black artists doing guitar-based music are faced with the same circumstances as mixed kids growing up: we live on the outside of two cultures. it got to a point where a subgenre was created for us: afro-punk. it just seems that anyone who thinks a little to the left of society by going out on a limb and actually being unique are met with sneers and questions. it's annoying when someone looks at you up and down and asks, "YOU'RE in a band?" and i'm not talking about one particular instance; it happens all the time. i hate the idea of perpetuating stereotypes and conforming to what society expects you to be. it's booooooooring.
i remember blogging a long time ago about this, and the fact that when i first started playing guitar and dressing differently, i was told by someone that i was "acting white," and "being what white society wants us all to be." i find that to be wholly inaccurate: i think conservative society wants that clear line between black and white to be drawn, so that they can take their kids by the hand and say, "THIS is a black person. they're big and flashy and scary and dangerous." i just have this distinct feeling that they don't want people like me at their shows, starting bands with their sons and dating their daughters. they want tone reckless, with his fake jewelry from the back of the source magazine and his do-rags and baggy jerseys with the hats to match. tone reckless is dead. and douglas martin is making his way into your kids' i-pods.
there's a song called "the only black guy at the indie rock show." by a band called cocker spaniels. it's hillarious, and very true. seek it out.
i've always fantasized about taking the primary black songwriters in modern rock and putting them all on the cover of vibe magazine, to discuss the advantages and downsides to being black and indie as fuck. i'd throw myself in if i ever get to a certain level of popularity, as well as tunde from tv on the radio, kele from bloc party, and murray from the dears. i think it would be a wonderful conversation. we're not only four black men who sing for indie/alternative rock bands, we're four black men who are highly invested in music as an art form. only problem is, i don't think vibe would take the bait. we'd probably have to do it for an alternative music magazine like fader or urb. that's one of my problems with BET. they're not exactly contributing to the abolishment of musical stereotypes, when i see "shoulder lean" and songs exactly like it four times a day, while i'm pretty sure "banquet" hasn't aired once. i feel as though if i walked on the set of 106th and park with my ripped jeans and baseball tees in a youth large, my blackness would be gauged on the spot, which i loathe, because it's wholly unfair to judge a book by its cover, when i'm very well-versed in african-american studies. so what if i prefer a genre of music that is vastly dominated with skinny white boys? it's not like i'm trying to be them. in the words of bernie mac, we're the same, but we're different.
i and most people like me live completely on the outside of two cultures.
on the last dissertation about being black and indie, i discussed being compared to others with my skin tone being in the quotations. now that i've given it more thought, i don't want to be "the black conor oberst," "the black jeff mangum," "the black ben gibbard." before, i welcomed the comparisons, because i thought they were flattering. an artist who i talk to on an infrequent basis had to remind me that such claims are stupid, because, as she put it, "think about how andre 3000 would feel if he were regarded as 'the black thom yorke' or something ridiculous like that." nowadays, i feel as though i have something different to offer listeners, something unique. i aspire to be nothing except "the only douglas martin." i'm very confident that could happen. i'm at a point where i'm ready to show my art to whoever will listen.
on a humorous side note, i was on blocparty.net all day today, reading articles. and in an article where the members of the band answered questions written by fans. one of the questions was, "how does it feel to be the sexiest black indie artist of all-time?" and he answered, "it feels nice.. i don't think about it too much. hopefully, i won't be the only one forever, though." hi, kele. i'm martin. you're not the only one. haha. and although i'm really just taking the piss when i call myself an indie rock heartthrob, being good-looking sure isn't going to hurt my marketability. haha. it's crossed my mind, but really, it's not important at all to me. to be honest, only time i think about it is when i'm being sarcastic. creating a body of work that i can be proud of comes before all else.
i hope the fact that i'm a folk singer that happens to be black is not a novelty to anyone, but if it is, i'm sure they'll get over it. art is my passion.
now, excuse me while i have the best fucking sleep of my life.
with bright lights pointed at me as a metaphor,
martin douglas martin, esquire.