Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Righteous One

We’ve all been there: Girl meets boy. Boy likes band. Girl forces herself to like band. It’s a tale as old as high school. Except sometimes it can happen in your mid-twenties. That’s how I—rather appropriately—discovered The Orwells.

Early this year, a guy I was really into told me I should listen to The Orwells. He sold them as “The new Strokes.” I listened. They weren’t. But I was really really into this guy, so despite their inability to fill the gaping Julian Casablancas-sized void **OMG PUN INTENDED** in my music library, I gave them another chance. And another. And then another. But they didn’t click. Their scuzzy, simplistic garage rock was catchy enough, but it lacked that certain something that I could either relate to or revere. Eventually, the guy and I had a falling out and I no longer had anything to prove, so I gave up on The Orwells. I chalked them up as one of those indie things I would never “get”, like Grimes. Or almond milk.

But then by happenstance, I started following The Orwells on Twitter. And suddenly: I got it.

I don’t often let musicians’ internet personas dictate my opinion of their artistic output, but in this case it made all the difference. I’d read profiles on the band, I knew their general backstory and style, but it wasn’t until I saw them referencing my old stomping grounds that I began to understand their point of view. You see, The Orwells and I have a lot in common. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, not 20 minutes from their hometown of Elmhurst. I too felt completely smothered by the suburban tedium surrounding me, misunderstood and maligned and totally claustrophobic. We both used music as an escape—The Orwells formed a band and toured the world, I shipped myself off to boarding school to study opera. It’s the same thing, really.

Their Twitter’s plucky, cynical commentary on pop culture, the music industry, and this suburban world I know so well resonates: they echo many of the sentiments and frustrations I’d had when I was their age. (Though fortunately, when I was their age we had AIM status updates in lieu of Twitter; I could have gotten into a world of trouble as a teen on Twitter.) And when I began to understand their teenage ethos, and to remember my own, I began to connect to their music. A night of hiding in your car to drink underage, followed by puking on the bathroom floor? Been there. Lamenting a town where everything closes at midnight? Done that. The Orwells are angsty suburban kids, and though I’d like to believe I’ve transcended, inside I’m probably still just an angsty suburban kid.

And so I realized I’d been approaching The Orwells all wrong. The Orwells are not The new Strokes by any stretch. The Strokes weren’t relatable—they were iconic. No one listened to Is This It and thought, “Oh yeah this describes my life.” The Strokes were cool: they lived in the cultural epicenter of America; they went to elite boarding schools in different countries; they had absent parents; they undoubtedly had access to the most incredible drugs. The Orwells, on the other hand, are not cool by cool’s standards: they grew up in the Midwest; they went to public school; their parents probably drove them to soccer practice; and—speaking from experience—the weed out here is shit. The Orwells make garage rock for people who know what it’s like to have an attached garage. The Orwells are one of us. I get it. I totally get it.

It’s fitting that I came upon The Orwells by rather immature means, as they seem to inspire the younger, rawer me. What other band could get me to show up to a 12:45 set at a music festival? Literally, none. I’ve never done that. But I’m so glad I did, or I would have missed the best moment of Chicago's Riot Fest, when frontman Mario Cuomo brazenly proclaimed ”WE’RE FROM THE SUBURBS” before launching the band into a song about the mall. It was punk as fuck. And for a moment, I was a little jealous of the teenage girls in the front row.

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