At the ripe old age of 26, I have come to terms with myself as being disconnected from my generation and what has become widely popular with the age groups that I have been lumped in with overtime for stupid and arbitrary reasons. In a society obsessed with crediting or blaming Baby Boomers for all the great things that happened in the 20th century, then quickly lambasted how shameless and listless their progeny, Gen-X, came to be, I enjoy a kind of bizarre ambiguity. In time, since 1999, I can recall reading articles that would define people in similar age brackets being part of “Generation Y.” Then “Generation, Why?” Then the “Nintendo Generation.” I’ve been lumped in with “iGeneration,” for a spell. And then there was that useless catch-all, “The Millenials,” which I do not consider myself a part of, as I can recall a time in my life when I did not have the Internet, or a cellular phone.
For the most part, I meet most of the recommendations I get from my peers regarding music with a skeptical ear. That useless bias for things widely considered classic by the critics and powers-that-be, as well as the “underground” and “secret successes” of bands long-gone get lumped similarly to me. I love anything that doesn’t have the power to disappoint me in the future, as I can only discover the the good things from a band long-gone, even if they were never that popular to begin with. Personally, this has drawn me primarily to the garage/punk bands of the 60’s and 70’s, and modern bands that take that sound directly. Even then, there are some bands recommended to me that I tend to avoid because I’ve developed an ear that can tell the difference between earnestness, trite and hollow tribute, and laziness.
My girlfriend is, admittedly, not somebody who takes music seriously — at least, not as much as I do. Regardless, she has become the default mixtape composer for our car trips together, and lately, she has knocked it out of the park. A lot of the tracks stem from our early days together as DJs at the world’s finest Internet-based college station, VIC of Ithaca College, but she still has the power to surprise. In particular, I cannot believe I missed Ezra Furman and the Harpoons during their college-rock hey-day as a group of absolute nerd-rockers who know the worth of keeping it simple, and isn’t afraid to be so.
In particular, she’s introduced me to “I Wanna Be Ignored,” a hyper-ironic pop-punk tune that combines the absolute best of two original CBGB’s bands — the Ramones and the Talking Heads — and sounds as modern as possible, while seemingly comfortable with the brainy-nervous qualities of New Jersey’s very own, the Feelies.
In a mere 3:37, this band (which has called both Massachusetts and Chicago, IL home) displays a strength for simple-as-all-get-out riffs, but mixed with the nervous, herky-jerk voice style of David Byrne in his prime. It creates a sound that is very much at home with the Feelies around their debut record, Crazy Rhythms, but has something that the Feelies would never dare display: Confidence. Ironic hesitation and shyness is one thing, but Ezra Furman and the Harpoons have a kind of bravery on display when frontman proudly proclaims, “I Wanna Be Ignored” — it’s not just a character to the song. It’s also the Ezra welcoming all to simply enjoy the music regardless of taste and personal background. And damned if it doesn’t work, even when, in the same song, manages to come off as too nerdy for its own good.
It’s difficult to judge whether it’s intentional or not, because most listeners will be quick to point out the originators of any particular influence, rather than the most obvious link (“Speedy Ortiz doesn’t sound like Pavement, because Pavement sounds like Sonic Youth and Television!” would be a recent example). But in my collection, I would hesitate to liken Ezra Furman to the Talking Heads and Modern Lovers, even if the influence IS obvious. In my mixtapes, Ezra Furman and the Harpoons have earned a spot closer to Camper Van Beethoven and the Feelies by virtue of simplicity — either because an acoustic guitar is all you got, or because it’s all you want to play with. But where a sense of humor is shared among all of the aforementioned bands, Ezra Furman demands your attention, ironically, and for all the right reasons: Music is meant to be loved in the moment.