Radiohead Vs. The Hold Steady: Whose Side Are You On?

Aug 18th, 2008 // 75 Comments

fightfightfiiiight.jpgHold Steady guitarist Tad Kubler has caused the Internet to go nuts with his comments on Radiohead, which he made over the weekend to BBC6 Music. “I think they’ve lost the plot,” Kubler said when asked the now-standard-in-every-music-interview question about Thom Yorke et al’s recent album In Rainbows. “What are they doing? Where are they going? What’s happening? I don’t get it any more. They lost me. I still appreciate what they’re doing, or what they’re trying to do. But I think they’re trying too hard not to be Radiohead. That seems a little ridiculous to me.” Kubler then went on to praise… Oasis. Ooh, burn! Yorke and his bandmates were unavailable for comment, but the Internet was more than happy to rush in and fill that particular void.

Perhaps my favorite reaction came from former Idolator guestblogger Matthew Perpetua, who wrote–in a post titled “Apples vs. Dim-Witted No-Talent Hacks”–”The most charitable description of The Hold Steady would be ‘a glorified bar band with a tone-deaf asshole shouting over the top.’ … [they] are essentially just Nick Hornby as a rock band.” (Which isn’t far away from others’ assessments of the group.) Meanwhile, Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan referred to Kubler’s quote as the band’s “Sister Souljah moment.”

Somewhat surprisingly, not all the reaction I’ve seen so far has been pro-Radiohead; another former guest of this site, Sam Yurick, said that he’s kind of tired of the Radiohead hoopla and that praising In Rainbows for its distribution scheme is not unlike saying that Cloverfield should get an Oscar for its ads.

So readers, once and for all: How do you feel? (I was going to write “who could win in a fight,” but if we’re talking about sheer brawn, I think the winner is obvious.)

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Hold Steady vs Radiohead [BBC6 via half of my Tumblr friends]
Apples Vs. Dim-Witted No-Talent Hacks [Fluxtumblr]

idolator

  1. Anonymous

    Oh no way, team Radiohead on this one. Kubler’s comments aren’t “criticism.” They just make him sound like a hater. You have to be very very careful about making comments like this if your band is, ahem, much smaller than the one you’re criticizing.

    Also, dragging in Oasis for a comparison just makes you look like a tool.

  2. Nicolars

    I’m surprised at the level of emo manpain this incident is causing!

  3. Ned Raggett

    @Nicolars: I’m not!

  4. AquaLung

    @goldsounds: “5,000 pothead losers?” Were you the hall monitor at your high school too? Did they give you a bright, shiny badge?

    As for all the Radiohead haters, I quote Jay-Z: “A wise man once told me don’t argue with fools, because people from a distance can’t tell who is who.”

  5. Michaelangelo Matos

    Congratulations to everyone involved here for transporting themselves back to junior high!

  6. Ned Raggett

    @Michaelangelo Matos: I am going to write a sternly-worded if illiterate anonymous complaint about you in the second-floor men’s room in protest.

  7. Halfwit

    @goldsounds: In their defense, everything about that light show felt like a valentine from the band to the stoners in the audience.

    At the same… damn, I felt the contact high coming on the moment the lights dimmed.

  8. RaptorAvatar

    @D.R. Mosby: I wouldn’t say that purging conventional elements robs something of its power. But then, I don’t really have an issue with Radiohead’s deconstructionist tendancies so much as I do with how utterly cold most of it leaves me. Plus, I’m not really sure how much further Rock and Roll can really go. After you’ve heard a few math grind bands you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

    @Ned Raggett: I was thinking more “Big Lebowski” but either way, the point is definiteley that Hold Steady fandom is somewhat parallell to the Lester Bangs theory in “Almost Famous” wherein, “…the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you are uncool.” There’s also a lot of that same principle at work when they talk in interviews about not wanting to ever be the “in” thing.

  9. Anonymous

    @AquaLung: I wish! For reals, thanks for coming to the rescue PC police! Sorry, but the burnout contingent at this show was pretty insufferable. That can be said for most burnouts everywhere.

  10. magic1

    @Marth: Art Brut is much better than the Hold Steady!! (Unless my rampant Anglophilia has warped my senses, which is possible.)

  11. Anonymous

    @goldsounds: and hipsters. Duh.

  12. the rich girls are weeping

    @Michaelangelo Matos: OMG, at no point have I even come close to setting a lunchroom table ON FIRE yet, geez! Now, that would be jr. high.

  13. touch the cornballer

    Just saw Radiohead and they were great in concert – but what were the best parts? What did the crowd get into the most? The tracks off O.K. Computer and The Bends…

    The Hold Steady are just up there having a good time, more interested in hyping up the Minnesota Twins than making a political statement – and that is fine by me!

  14. D.R. Mosby

    @Ned Raggett:

    I’m not sure that Kubler is stating anything more than his personal opinion, as his statements are qualified with words like “I think…”. But I personally don’t believe it’s fetishistic to want to hear music that is: made with guitars; contains riffs and hooks; and uses a verse / chorus structure. And it doesn’t even mean that Kubler can’t appreciate music that doesn’t have those things – I think he is simply wondering why Radiohead in particular ran so far away from their roots so quickly. Was the experience of “Creep” so traumatic that it caused Radiohead to distance themselves from that style of music?

  15. TheRunningboard7

    Speaking of the Twins, I’m hoping the White Sox hurry up and take the divis–THREADKILL!!!!

    … please?

  16. Anonymous

    @touch the cornballer: “the best parts” and “what did the crowd get into the most”, to some people, can be very different things.

  17. Ned Raggett

    @D.R. Mosby: But I personally don’t believe it’s fetishistic to want to hear music that is: made with guitars; contains riffs and hooks; and uses a verse / chorus structure.

    Yeah, but think of it this way: to my mind, this description could equally cover, say, Bo Diddley and the Young Marble Giants, Tool and the Raincoats, the Shaggs and Disco Inferno, etc. etc. What you see (at least, so it’s implied) as something specific I find to be an incredibly broad church, though within that is something described by you as ‘straight-forward rock.’ Fair enough, but why is that take seen to be the standard, what standards created and shaped it, and why is it prioritized? Fetishism may be a poor choice of terminology, but there’s a question of meaning at play regardless which you’re taking as a given and which I — quite admittedly — want to address at its roots. (Which means we have now moved from Matos’s perceived junior high into an incredibly full-of-itself graduate studies program — I oughta know, I was in one for four years.)

  18. baconfat

    Is anyone going to address David Berman’s Radiohead swipe in today’s Pitchfork interview?

    “Never before has there been a “greatest band in the world” who had so little to say about anything.”

  19. kicking222

    @baconfat: No, because if I ever read Pitchfork for even a minute, I’ll kill myself.

    OK, I respect Radiohead. I think they’re a great band, they’ve influenced a lot of great bands, and they have some songs I absolutely love. But do I really enjoy their music? Not particularly.

    The Hold Steady, on the other hand, is somewhere on the lower end of my (non-existent) list of my ten favorite bands ever. I flat-out love the Hold Steady, even though I’m straight edge and not the kind of guy who hooks up with random girls at parties. I don’t know why, but they speak to me, whereas Radiohead (despite repeated listenings throughout the past decade of my life never has and probably never will.

  20. D.R. Mosby

    @Ned Raggett: I only raised the point about “fetishism” because the term implies an interest in something far outside the mainstream – to the point where it is a substitute for normal desires. The question then arises – what in rock can be considered “normal”? The absolute extremes of rock music have been mapped out, and a lot of forms in rock that were considered transgressive have now been aborbed into the mainstream (the appropriation of industrial music by bands like Nine Inch Nails, for example). Defining what is mainstream is elusive I think, which is why I question the idea that anything in rock can be considered fetishistic.

    I mentioned a handful of elements (guitars, riffs and hooks, verse / chorus) not as much to imply that these are essential elements of rock music, but more to say that I don’t think it’s odd to want to hear these things. However, I’ll also be the first to admit that the desire to hear these elements is culturally informed. Kubler probably grew up listening to (what we would now think of as) classic rock and this (in part) formed the basis of his musicial aesthetic (look no further than his Les Paul and tube amp setup for proof). Had he been born ten years earlier or later, or in a different part of country (or world), I’m sure his musical sensibilities would be entirely different (and he would probably have a different take on Radiohead).

  21. Anonymous

    My guess is that Thom York’s response to all this would be “who is the hold steady?”

  22. Ned Raggett

    >D.R. Mosby: I only raised the point about “fetishism” because the term implies an interest in something far outside the mainstream – to the point where it is a substitute for normal desires. The question then arises – what in rock can be considered “normal”?

    Quite right. Yet consider: arguably this is a common thread that’s run for decades now about ‘real’ rock and roll, or if you prefer ‘normal,’ something as distinct from a mainstream that purportedly gets it all wrong and/or ignores it and/or exploits it. No need to rehash every example, but there’s a state of siege mentality that regularly evidences itself whenever this mythical entity is perceived to be threatened, something which I sense an echo of in Kubler’s sense of abandonment. As a result I’m always wary of claims made on its behalf, and the fetishizing appears in these ideas of ‘no it must be like THIS’ — a fetishizing of reality, of normality, in the face of something else, something other. An inversion of your construction, if you like, or a parallel.

    I’ll also be the first to admit that the desire to hear these elements is culturally informed.

    Which probably is the paramount point in the end, really. My own early self-conscious musical lodestones in 1983 were, above all else, Duran Duran and Def Leppard, at the time popular, omnipresent, mainstream — ‘normal’ if you like. Yet at the same time the rhetoric about them at the time was heavily negative and suspicious, channeled through a variety of viewpoints (social, political, whatever) that ranged from them being examples of how rock and roll was intrinsically awful to their being anything *but* ‘normal’ or ‘real’ rock and roll, which was intrinsically great. Has anything changed much besides the names and genres under discussion?

  23. Reidicus

    And pageviews… achieved! Nice work folks.

  24. Ned Raggett

    Champagne for all.

  25. NoNewYork

    the hold steady has a point. but they also sound like bruce springsteen’s radioactive ballsweat, so, uh, yeah, who gives a shit what they think.

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