Disclaimer. The views expressed herein are solely the author’s and not necessarily those of Disarray Magazine.
I fear that this piece will be the meandering mental wanderings of a has been that never was. I shudder at the thought of the outcries that may come upon publishing of such a harsh and critical screed upon the fate of the once great Warped Tour. Sitting here full of Wild Turkey and beer, I really don’t want to be the one who does it. I don’t want to be the harbinger of bad news. Like a doctor in the wee hours of the graveyard shift, do I have to be the one to emerge from the OR covered in blood and a face suddenly aged by regret under emotionless fluorescent lights to deliver the bad news to the family awaiting a miracle glimmering off the sliver of light at the end of the unfeeling tunnel; time of death, 12pm, Sunday June 27th, 2010. DOA.
Yes, I did it, and I don’t want to hear jeers from the peanut gallery about it, the Warped Tour was dead when she arrived in Ventura, CA; there was nothing we could do. It’s not her fault. The Warped Tour, the beauty that she once was, is a rape victim of the whimsical tastes of the listening public and their penchant for gut bucket “rock” and the trappings of popular culture; especially in the vainest of states, California.
With my second consecutive year of attendance I can unequivocally say that the Warped Tour has died under her own weight. At the ripe age of sixteen the perennial sacrificial tour to the gods of punk rock died the death of a Taiwanese hooker past her prime; in a dark alley behind a noodle stand at the corner of “Past Tense” and “Who Cares.” Her death will be mourned by those with even the foggiest glimmer of a memory of her finest hours as a clumsy toddler taking her first steps in her first years. Those old enough will recall when she actually commanded the attention of the music industry and the public at large with chart topping bands and earth shattering shows that stood as a testament to the hard and fast living that was rock music. Those same people can wax nostalgic about the days when the bands were hardcore and their complexity was deafening, even in silence.
It is not that the Warped Tour sold out; far from it. Sure there are massive multi-national corporation sponsors and even a tent dedicated to registering voters as Libertarians; no, I’m not fucking kidding about that. (I mean what other venue is rife with more misguided and impressionable anarchy than the Warped Tour? Savvy, Libertarians, savvy.) It is the fault of a fickle public and the next generation of identity starved misanthropes that swallowed the red pill rank and file and believed that what they were listening to was some semblance of “Rock Music.” As time has passed, those attending the wayward Warped Tour have no recollection of the bands that once graced the myriad of stages erected in the dead of night to offer homage to the music iconoclast of Rock that once was, in the glaring and judgmental gleam of day. Today what passes for rock music on the tour is a far cry from the bands that once populated the stages of Warped as a simple right of passage more than a stepping stone to infamy.
I attended the 2010 Warped Tour and what I bore witness to was nothing more than a menagerie of bands that seemed to only pose as rock bands, for the most part, and those that seemed to have been all too wiling to pander to the head nodding tastes of the music public at large. Very few amongst those on display could count themselves as truly Punk Rock; the original moniker attached to all the bands that have played this once great event. What stands more clearly today, head and shoulders above the rest, is a nauseating amalgam of all different genre types mashed in to one bill of sale that the youth of today are buying up at $35 a pop. What you will see on this tour is nothing greater than “alternative rock,” pop rock,” and the ever popular “electro rock.” Few and far between are those that can wear punk rock as a badge of honor like they fought in Vietnam. Those “punk rock” bands, on the whole, are those that have been around on the scene longer than most of the headliners have been alive. I dare any one of the bands with an average age of under thirty to tell me a story of the last hotel room they left in such a state that contractors needed to be called in after their stay to get it back to rentable condition.
No, today we have younger and younger bands, some not even out of high school billing themselves as the thing the sell-outs should fear; yet they wear the same uniform as the rest of them. The uniform was clear and potable on the day here in little Ventura, Calif. It consists of cheap shades, expensively cheap looking shirts, and “skinny” jeans. This uniform was of course for sale in all it’s glory at the tour as well. You could get your sunglasses at one booth, your quintessential band t-shirt at any number of booths, as well as any hemp-based accessories at any other booth. My greatest interest of the day was along the main drag where not thirty feet from a booth selling Bob Marley shirts with a massive pot leaf emblazoned over his face, was the “Truth Wagon” trying to enlighten people about the dangers of tobacco through a series of offensively immature games like Simon Says and karaoke diatribes to “Oasis” ballads. Conflicting? Maybe. Odd? Definitely.
How else could this homage to a self once worth preserving sell out? We’ve already sold out to pop-rock, is there anything worse than that? Well, when I see a line formed thirty deep at the Kia tent to win a free car or some shit, all I see are teens signing away all their pertinent information for the off-chance they might win a car they don’t make enough money to pay the taxes on. For a tour put on by “the man” to fight the system these kids will do just about anything, like play in to the hands of snake oil salesman, to get some shit for free. It’s as if the pre-pubescent teens that make up the majority of attendees don’t even see the irony in what they are doing. I am torn between whether the youth today actually see the irony in their own actions or whether they just don’t care of the hypocrisy they exhibit every day. You won’t buy new clothes because that’s for suckers but you will spend $75 on a “vintage” shirt at Buffalo Exchange because it is retro? Irony abound and yet no one seems to even bat an eye at the ludicrousness of it anymore.
Maybe all this criticism comes form a dark and ugly place inside me that yearns for my once endless youth. I doubt it though. Rock ‘n’ Roll died in the Eighties, and as far as I can tell Rock Music died in the late Nineties. With these facts present the Warped Tour has had to adjust to the whims of the nation, leading to a drop in chart topping name recognition. I mean look at the Billboard charts today; who is ruling the music world? People like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Ke$ha; is it any wonder that the promoters of the Warped Tour have had to reach deeper and deeper in to the musical coffers to find any semblance of rock talent? Genuine “Rock” is harder to find than virginity in public high schools and yet we still try and put on a national punk rock tour; the audacity of us. With Rock falling from the graces of mainstream music there aren’t great bands willing to lower themselves to the level the Warped Tour has sunk to; been there, did that. It is now populated by those using it as a way to steal a rung on their way up to mediocrity or those hoping to pause a moment on the ladder on their way down.
Wow, this is not where I wanted to go with this piece when I set out. I had wanted this to be an admonishment of the pop related tastes of the music public. When I set out to write this I wanted to find where we went wrong and Rock music fans started settling for what passes as Rock today. As far as I can tell there is little that is “Rock” today, and even less that passes for it on The Tour. What has become “Rock” today for the adolescent youth that seek it out is a wild and weird inbreeding of many different genres that include house music, pop, alt rock, with a dash of punk rock in the best of cases. The youth of today, some ten years or more removed from me, do not know what it was like to really feel the likes of Nirvana; most weren’t even alive.
Photos by Wesley Bauman
As I had mentioned, the Warped Tour is populated by the young and those searching through lyrics and melodies for a band those knows their true feelings. As with Rock since the dawn of its mainstream debut the young and impressionable sift through the “posers” and “pretenders” to find a sound that speaks to their soul and identifies with their personal brand of angst. In this regard the formula hasn’t changed from the 70’s or the 60’s when rock actually rolled. Today though, it is a different sound and dress code, loosely enforced, that identifies the punk rock soldier. It used to be that you could identify a rock ‘n’ roll fan from 200 yards, but today there is a more subtle styling from the mainstream that sets them apart. Now it is a wide range of dress and with all the sub genres and identifying markers of the industry it has become difficult to determine pop-rock from alt-rock, and even then it is hard to determine the differences within the individual groups.
What is a man without a port to do? Well, I gave up on rock a long time ago. I saw the reaper coming and I abandoned ship. I can’t listen to the new bands today because it is not my sound. But wait, have we maybe gotten to the heart of the issue by chance? Maybe, it’s not that I am supposed to “get it” anymore. Rock ‘n’ Roll was always for the rebellious youth of the times of the 60’s and 70’s. In the 90’s it was the grunge sound, meant for the lost generation-X kids with no battle to fight and no great cause to be won. Just perchance rock music is supposed to be fluid and ever changing for the next group of the misguided and dejected.
Perhaps it is not that the Warped Tour has lost her juice, but has simply adapted to an ever changing landscape of the next sound. Could it be that the Warped Tour is simply reinventing itself to stay current with the sounds of the times? What if the Warped Tour, for a short stint of five years or so, is not a right of passage for emerging bands, but is a moment stopped in time for a new generation to find themselves in the pulsating rhythms of their music and is their badge of pubescent honor and self-discovery? That same event can also prove a nostalgic moment for the rocker like myself that grew up and branched out based on the great sounds of my particular decade of growth and a fond look back on my badge now faded and packed away in a worn cardboard box at the back of a random closet marked “past.”
Before even coming to the event, I spoke with a friend who was once a die hard attendee and she told me that it was the worst line up ever this year and she wasn’t going because the bands were nobody. Well, if these bands were nobody the thousands of fans there on the day did not know it. My friend in question is in her late twenties. Same as for me, the music scene has changed and the two of us just can’t keep pace; nor do we want to. What was on display on Sunday was the new and cutting edge sound from a myriad of genres. You had everything from pop rock to screamo to rock-a-billy, and even in the form of The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band you had something like rock blue grass; to boot the Big Damn Band had the most “rock ‘n’ roll” show on the day because at least something was set on fire during their set, even though it was a washboard.
Maybe I’m too old or too square for this event. As a journalist it is always fun to attend because you get to see every group represented from gloriously ornate mohawks to the Valley posers with their “bed hair” that took nearly two hours to get just right. Despite all that, I need to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t a bad line up, it was the youths line up. I had my pubescent time in the sun. We had our time with the Pixies, Nirvana, Eve 6, Blink 182, Smashing Pumpkins, Wallflowers, Oasis, Flogging Molly, Rage Against the Machine, Disturbed, Godsmack, etc., etc., etc. It is time for this next generation, Generation Y, to have their AMP, Music City Soundtrack, 3OH!3, Eyes Set to Kill, Call The Cops, Anarbor, etc., etc., etc. Sure it’s not my sound, but it’s not supposed to be. It is the sound of the youth looking for something, though I doubt they will find it in electronica heavy rock songs about heartbreak, but who am I to judge?
I enjoyed this year’s Warped if only as a realization that the Warped Tour will always belong to the youngest of demographics on the cutting edge of what I am already starting to call “noise.” They own the Warped Tour by social contract and the poorly handwritten autographs of the owners are all over every sticky, sweaty inch of it. I hung up the uniform of my days in the rock army of my time. I was honorably discharged with multiple tours through identity crises and pubescent, hormonal outbursts.
My “ah-ha” moment on the day was seeing a young girl no older than ten just awe-struck and seemingly feeling in the very constitution of her soul the lyrics and music of “NeverShoutNever,” which to me was absolute rubbish. For these modern “latch key kids” maybe this is what they were meant to find, after all, it’s all they’ve got; no other choice than Katy Perry, and no answers to be found there, only more questions. But for the likes of me, from here on out the Warped Tour will be an aged behemoth at the whim of the Billboard charts trying desperately to reach in to the rock ‘n’ roll grab bag to find the obscure and struggling sounds that echo of a voice that once held sway over this country when the old gal, Warped Tour 1, entered this world and let out her first mainstream-curdling cries. Though she may be dead to me, outside the occasional bands lending a nostalgic nod to my youth, like Sum 41 on a third rate stage giving a second rate performance, she is still very alive with whatever these skinny jean clad miscreants in ornately studded jean jackets and $3 sunglasses call “rock.” Seems that’s the way it is supposed to be though. Indeed.
Wesley is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He is currently a contributing photographer for the VCReporter and maintains an active blog (http://www.wesleybauman.wordpress.com/) where he writes on political and social satire regularly.
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