Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
I’ve long had this theory that there are two bands only dudes are actually into: Steely Dan and Rush. I’ve met girls who claim to be fans of both, but I maintain these women are poseurs. You know how there’s always one or two straight dudes at your noon Vinyasa flow class? The ones set up in the way back with a clear view of all Lululemon has to offer? Girls at a Rush show are the female equivalent.
I realize I’m not really going out on a limb here; the notion of Rush as the ultimate guy band is well-established. One of my favorite scenes in I Love You, Man is when Jason Segel and Paul Rudd decamp to Segal’s “man cave” to play along to Rush records. The band makes a brief appearance in the film but even better is this Funny or Die clip in which Segal and Rudd sneak backstage. “Seven females at a Rush concert,” Peart jokes after coming offstage and before finding Segel in his dressing room eating his special sandwich. “That must be a new record.”
Even the dudes in Rush know their music is not for girls. And yet, I still hold out hope that one day I’ll cue up Moving Pictures and it will all make sense. I keep this flame alive because experience demands it; several of my favorite bands are ones that used to mystify me. For a rock writer, saying what I’m about to say is a little like David Lodge’s Changing Places where all the English professors get drunk and one admits he’s never read Hamlet, but here goes: I used to not understand Led Zeppelin. This was high school when I was taking a kind of self-taught survey course on rock and roll. One month it would be ’70s New York punk, the next I would get into all the British Invasion stuff. But when Led Zeppelin came up on the list I just couldn’t deal. I really wanted to be a Zeppelin fan. I knew it was cool in part because I’d seen The Client like 400 times and in it Susan Sarandon’s badass lawyer character scores points with young Brad Renfro by knowing her Zeppelin. I wanted to be a cool lawyer with good taste in rock. But I’d hear “in the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man” and cower. I was used to angst and aggression. I was used to a certain kind of vulnerability. I was not prepared for both in a band comprised of boys. Zep’s emotive masculinity scared the shit out of me, to be honest. What was this music?
“It felt like I’d sneaked into the secret treehouse fort of my older brother and his friends and got to see how they actually behave when they are on their own and slightly drunk and totally free.”
Recently, I had it all happen again, this time with Floridian punk band Hot Water Music. My friends who are into that whole post-hardcore world (Jawbox, Quicksand, all the Dischord bands,) have always been into HWM, and I’d checked out their records once or twice but it didn’t stick. A while ago, I was researching a story on The Gaslight Anthem and I started binge-listening to all the bands they love, including Hot Water Music. This time, it stuck. I now heard a kind of sweet joy behind the band’s signature tightly wound gruffness. I vowed to see them live next time they toured.
They finally came to the city recently and played the Music Hall of Williamsburg. There were Rush levels of girls there but we were the lucky ones. It felt like I’d sneaked into the secret treehouse fort of my older brother and his friends and got to see how they actually behave when they are on their own and slightly drunk and totally free. “That was definitely one of the best New York shows we’ve had in a long time,” said HWM bassist Jason Black. “Playing live is one of the best parts of being in a band and it’s great to see so many friends come out to see you. We all live, and breathe music. This is what we love.”
For weeks after the show I fell headlong into one of those blissful immersion periods you have with a band that’s new to you. Nerd that I am, I wanted to do it right so I asked fellow writer, good friend, and HWM expert Jonah Bayer to coach me on where to start. He kind of lost his shit. “I would get No Division and Forever and Counting,” he gushed. “But the later stuff is a little more accessible, maybe.” I thanked him and mocked him for his enthusiasm. “I’ve been training my entire life to impress one girl with this knowledge,” he said. Then we decided to start a punk rock yoga podcast. Jonah is really into yoga. Jonah is a smart guy.