Monday, February 13, 2006

Nerds Do It Longer

Stars of Track and Field Still F*ck Like Champs


Boy-o-boy, did Joey Sweeney get his underoos in a bunch when I mentioned that a new Belle & Sebastian album was cause for "a legion of cardigan-clad Millhouses to raise their skinny arms to heaven like antennae." Speaking like a man who's taken all the lockeroom towel-snapping he was gonna take for one lifetime, he told me to get my gang together and meet his gang on the playground for a badminton death match. I don't know if you've ever seen Sweeney's shuttlecock, but needless to say I was concerned. Dude's been workin' out.

I only mention this because the new Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit, sounds like a band that's not gonna take any more shit off anyone. To me, it marks the final triumph of "twee" over "lad". Twee, for those that don't mark key points in their lives by the semi-obscure Scottish b-sides you were listening to at the time, is a Brit euphemism, a babytalk mispronunciation of the word "sweet", and usually refers to something unbearably precious. The term actually dates back to the dawn of the 20th Century and was usually used in the pejorative, but in the mid-80s, a gaggle of jangly Glaswegian indie-poppers adopted the term as a badge of honor. Lad, or laddishness, has the same Maxim mag raison d'tre in England as it does here: get drunk, screw something, preferably a female, and barring that, come last call, kick the shit out of someone, preferably smaller than you.

Twee verus lad is basically the latest skirmish in the mods-versus-the-rockers war that's been going on since the 60s. The haircuts may change, but the battle rages on. Ten years ago, when Belle & Sebastian released their Tigermilk debut, grunge was still, literally, all the rage. Rap-rock was ascendent. Scott Stapp, Fred Durst, Scott Weiland were the new alpha dawgs of rock, each destined for a bone of stardom they would all choke on eventually. They did it all for the nookie.

While lads went out night after night and drank, drugged or fucked themselves into ass-clown status, the twee kids in Belle and Sebastian took care of themselves. They wore a scarf when it was cold. They got a good night's sleep. They wore a mac in the rain. They wrote and recorded songs with the dutiful regularity of homework and the giddy invention of a science fair project. Or so goes the preciously crafted image. Truth is, twee kids like sex, do drugs, and even get drunk from time to time. Even Joey Sweeney.

Jocks may do it harder, but nerds do it longer. If rock n' roll really is just high school with money, longevity is the revenge of the nerds -- it's like money in the bank. You ever been to a high school reunion? Ever notice how all the quarterbacks and the cheerleaders all seem to have peaked long ago, how they've all morphed into middle class suburban shlubs or wide-assed soccer moms? They don't know Belle & Sebastian from Wallace and Gromit. And all the nerds from back in the day, where are they? They wouldn't be caught dead here. They have long since evolved into something too cool for school reunions. And while Scott Weiland is fronting a Gun's N' Roses tribute band, Scott Stapp is literally crying for a reporter from Rolling Stone, and Fred Durst is making cellphone cam porn tapes, Belle & Sebastian are on top of their game, sounding younger than yesterday, still making pure pop for now people.

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