There’s been a lot of ink spilled or bytes typed lately over the impending Slint boxed set, and the accompanying documentary. Honestly I’m not really sure what can be said about Slint that hasn’t already been written. They’re empirically good; you either fall in the camp that appreciates Slint or you’re wrong. Or you’ve never heard them, although I doubt you’re reading this blog and this post if that’s the case. And I feel completely comfortable writing those sentences, because regardless of your tastes, for better or worse Louisville indie exists in the wake of Slint. Of course, how and why that came to be is the matter of some comment, which is exactly what Breadcrumb Trail, the documentary about the band, brought to mind.
To be clear, I understand if you don’t like Slint, or at least I acknowledge it. Beyond the reasoning that taste is subjective, it’s easy to see how a band with as narrow a margin, at least superficially, could be overlooked. It’s that subtlety though that Slint use as currency, that every time you listen to Spiderland, you can hear nuances that weren’t immediately apparent. Is it cliched to think that? Maybe. Am I being overly hyperbolic in my stance here? Likely, but I think there is some justification here for this belief, that Slint is ineffably talented, and should at least merit your respect, if not your appreciation. To my mind, Slint is like an indie-rock Beatles; you don’t have to love the Beatles, and in fact there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons not to like them, but their impact on music is undeniable.
But I’m not especially interested in writing another piece about how great they were, since I see that as a given, especially in Louisville. What I am interested in, and what the documentary seemed so especially focused on, is the effect of the environment on the final product. If Slint symbolizes Louisville at it’s best, it’s because Louisville is a macro-reflection of Slint; the two are interchangeable. Louisville exists in a weird sort of purgatory between more popular nearby destinations. We’re renowned for bourbon and horse racing, so debauchery is second nature. We’ve been ranked as one of the hottest cities in the country, and the worst to live for allergies. To live here is to know a kind of oddity fueled isolation that demands a tough skin and engenders a creative mind. We’re bored and isolated, so what more could you expect?
It’s also worth noting the time as much as the place for Slint’s formation, which the documentary pays equal tribute. Touched on are themes of post-punk shenanigans and a world ripe with new ventures. Slint’s progression as a band is made contemporaneous with indie giants like the Jesus Lizard, Bastro, or any number of Steve Albini’s projects, not to mention the expansion of Touch And Go. Add in the tension of four very young band members with limited means, and increasingly exotic musical tastes and you have not only the recipe for Slint, but the key to understanding so many bands both local and away whose creativity was bred from the freedom that comes with abject boredom. Couple that with our proximity as a city to larger, possibly more vibrant music scenes which allowed access to music otherwise foreign, and you have the perfect storm of influences.
Timing is everything. Discussing the documentary with a friend thereafter, I was given the sense that Slint were part of a golden era of Louisville, one wherein the social landscape of the city was drastically unrecognizable as it was today, where attendance to a show was part of networking and the exchange of ideas. And how could it not be? These halcyon days were pre-internet, but at a time when alternative radio was part of the zeitgeist. People wanted change, but didn’t have the easy access that we are all spoiled by. While Slint didn’t lead this charge, they certainly typify a time and place that cannot easily be replicated, and which seems alien in contrast to contemporary music culture.
Beyond anything else, what struck me as the absolute most critical component of the film was how absolutely funny it was. Here you have Ian MacKaye and Steve Albini talking about these weird kids -and make no doubt they were children- playing pranks that involve shitting, or telling regionally specific in-jokes, and it made me proud of my heritage. When I was their age, I was not making Spiderland. I didn’t have the same support structure of family and friends that helped me progress as a musician (at least not 12 years old), and to learn about and play strange new music. But I definitely was part of a culture alongside my friends with a rich sense of humor, and an open mind. I don’t have the hubris to compare myself to Slint, but I certainly feel a kinship that at least seems to be unique to Louisville.
And that’s what the whole thing amounts too, four people who were, for better or worse, just a band. Were they weirdos? I’m not entirely sure they were, at least not by my standards. You can make the argument that they had an accelerated road to maturity, given how young they were when they started. It definitely seems like between their early start with punk, their supportive parents, and their ability to appetite for new music, that they just got bored with playing straight forward punk. But I wouldn’t argue their mystery, and director Lance Bangs doesn’t seem particularly interested in forcing that issue. There is certainly some mystique left to be had: their meticulous song writing nature, their inability to maintain momentum, or any of the rather obvious (albeit understandable) social anxieties held by the constituency of the band, but nothing arcane. Slint’s history is our history, and I for one felt an undeniable sense of hometown pride learning not about some mystic wizards making music in an isolated dungeon, but in four friends that worked with what they had when they had it.
Also, they made a lot of dick and fart jokes, which didn’t hurt.
Check out the trailer for the documentary below:
A Brief Tangentially Related Addendum
I hadn’t really even wanted to go see Slint play tonight at Nelligan Hall based on the previous, rather stationary (read: boring) performance I caught in 2005 at The Brown Hotel, until viewing this documentary. I am not a fan of limiting access to your fans, although there are certainly more egregious examples out there like this or this, which are both different than a smaller capacity venue. Of course, thanks to the good folks at Art+FM you can stream the event here if you couldn’t make it. I didn’t want to fight for tickets, and this documentary reignited my desire to see them, perhaps a bit to little to late. Still, I was fortunate enough to catch this screening at Dreamland. It was my first opportunity to visit, and it was a wonderful environment both for this particular screening, and as a venue altogether. They’re worth a visit.