Every pose has its thorn
Introducing SN&R’s band photo caption contest
As I and associate arts editors Edward Dunn, Josh Fernandez and Emily Page gather and sort and evaluate the musical material with which we hope you’ll tune up your life each week, wading through the mire of MySpace and the piles of press kits, it becomes increasingly obvious that the whole band photo situation has gotten a little out of hand.
How you sound is one thing. Now, more than ever, being in a band has everything to do with how you look. And in this infinitely self-conscious age, who isn’t a poseur? Mind you, it’s not all bad. Posing always was part of the game, a time-honored rite by which to balance the allure of showmanship against the affected disaffection of not really trying. Fine. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a douche.
Band photos aren’t helping. Sometimes blame really belongs to the photographers. Sometimes, to the parents. By and large, though, musicians excel at self-incrimination. In their self-portraits we have seen all manner of douchery.
Whether rocking the oh-so-urban brick-wall background, huddling blandly in pools of shadow, maintaining their aloof perplexity or struggling to decide what to do with their hands and their homoerotic feelings, these zealous photo-oppers obviously spend a whole lot of energy on the assembly of their images. The least we can do is make an effort to tear them apart.
And so, the photo caption, too, is a delicate art. Ideally it adds not just description but comment—a surprise element, from which a synthesis of image and word might allow new meaning. To achieve this end, in my office anyway, passive aggression is the favored technique. Put a conspicuous band photo in the hands of SN&R’s arts team, and you will incite dramatic vitality: one group of quasi-pathetic attention seekers at war with another. Bouncing ideas back and forth, we take time and pride in this—more of either than we should. It’s a heady process, and this week we’d like to share it with you.
Now, because you are a fickle beast, dear reader, we must sometimes disregard what we suppose you may or may not want from us. For sanity’s sake, we must resort sometimes to the less noble but more satisfying goal of impressing ourselves and each other. As for the musicians, well, just for putting themselves out there, they all get many points for bravery.<hr>
When encountering an image like this one, of Citrus Heights’ Boyz Nite Out, it’s hard to know what to say. And just how would your band look if left to the mercy of a sheltered, junior-level style director and a hasty spree in the men’s casual section, eh? Well, right, you would never call your band Boyz Nite Out, for fuck’s sake, so it’s a moot point. That said, Ed’s suggested caption, “The Wal-Mart Boyz,” gives a good, needed ribbing, and remains sportsmanlike. Emily goes there, too, and a little further, with “Boyz II Men Who Still Look Like Boyz.” But caption writing isn’t about making friends, so Josh pushes forward with “They put the melody in Megan’s Law.” Because, honestly, how can you go wrong with halfway libelous sex-offender humor?
Don’t answer that. Here’s a grabber from Trabant. These jaunty electronica rockers from Reykjavik, having apparently named themselves after an endearingly dinky Eastern Bloc automobile, decided to call their last album Emotional, and put this image on its cover. So they’ve asked for it: “The Republican National Convention’s Who needs women, anyway? tour,” from Josh; “Remember, if you don’t make eye contact, it’s not really sex,” from Ed; and the striking, unabashedly interpretive “Trabant is an ancient translation for ‘cluster-fuck Mark Wahlberg,'” from Emily. Yes, look again.
OK, here we have a pouty, tousled Jackie Greene, Sacramento’s great white hope of Dylan-derivative rootsicana. Depicted in archly artful black and white, his smoldering eyes obscured behind some photographer’s masturbatory gimmick, young Jackie is, perhaps unwittingly, asking for trouble. Like most publicity materials, the image is gratingly emphatic, its tone unduly earnest. Hence Emily’s good suggestion: “Jackie Greene is serious, guys. Seriously.” Well, it’s obviously true, isn’t it? I’m also partial to Ed’s nimble “Hey, Jackie, Ric Ocasek called. No, actually, he doesn’t want his look back.” That reversal is a nice touch, for its extra meanness and surprise. Josh anticipates reader (and editor) exhaustion, and steers straight into it, with “This is what it takes to appear in the SN&R 1,363,500 times.”
The local metal shred monsters known collectively as KnifeThruHead obviously understand that a band photo needn’t be boring. Sometimes that makes a caption harder to dream up. Emily keeps her cool, with a wryly informational tone: “KnifeThruHead bring their unique post-Rio Linda pervert-core to Sacramento.” In Josh’s estimation, one of these performers—it’s up to us to determine which—has been captured in the throes of an inner monologue: “If this doesn’t work, I’m convinced there is no such thing as a ‘vagina.'” Blunt, yes, but also—paradoxically—understated in its way, and variously interpretable. Wait, you say. What does that mean? And then you realize that you’re searching for meaning in a picture of some pasty, skuzzy, half-naked dudes spazzing out in an alley in Midtown (or wherever). Then it’s Ed to the rescue with the winning “ThongThruCrack.”
You probably wouldn’t believe that Immortal here is a Lawrence Welk-era AM-radio folk duo. Which is why it might be fun to suggest as much in a photo caption. Otherwise, everybody seems to want to put words into these guys’ mouths, maybe because you probably wouldn’t believe they can speak, either. Consider the nuances of characterization. Emily: “Auuuggghhh, my spiked jock strap itches!” Josh: “Just 10 years ago, these pants were huge on me. Must be all that decayed Christian carcass—goes straight to the hips. I had to let my belt out by three bullets. Three bullets!” And finally, Ed: “Me make big poops!!!”
This hot flash of vapid sleeze from Susanna and the Magical Orchestra has real possibilities: The woman, like an animated waif from some Tim Burton movie, slightly mussed and standing almost pigeon-toed; the guy, like—uh, whatever it is that he’s like. It’s no wonder the photo-caption brain trust yields variations on a certain single theme. “There’s nothing like a ferocious quickie right before a photo shoot,” posits Ed, coming close to Emily’s “After-sex hair speaks louder than words, and we’re not so sure we want to listen.” And by now you’re probably prepared for Josh’s politically, sexually and culturally insensitive zinger of imagined quotation: “You like woman? I trade her for small boy and healthy goat.”
We don’t neglect the major stars, by the way. On the contrary, the enormity of their publicity machines only sharpens our appetites for rebuke. For example, what to make of this Diddy ditty? “Chair: The Remix,” offers Josh; “You should see his matching Frank Gehry toilet brush and plunger,” says Ed; and Emily takes that concept to where it really needs to go, with “Mo’ money, mo’ hemorrhoids.”
With only this hotel-hallway snapshot to go on, we’re not sure if Out of Place is actually a band or just some lacrosse players who meant to send it to the editor of their prep-school yearbook. No matter. Ed’s suggestion, “Out of Interest,” makes efficient use of the pun-on-band’s-dumb-name technique—concisely annotating the lads’ expressions and our response to them in one fell swoop. Emily’s “From right to left: One musician’s journey through a sex-change operation,” on the other hand, is a marvel of catty charm, refusing any kind of surrender to the picture’s oppressive banality. But Josh, picking up on the claustrophobic anonymity of the locale, the menacing air of trust-fund entitlement and underachievement, really nails it with “Date rape, anyone?” Back we go to uneasy, aggressive sexuality. Which is pretty much the foundation of modern popular music, anyway, so it all works out. It usually does.