A brief apology for the ukulele
As most of you probably know, I spent the better part of my teen years as a twee as fuck, ukulele-playing folk-punk musician. This weekend, while sitting in the KOP parking lot with my ukulele, waiting for a Craigslist buyer who never showed up, I came to a realization that has been lurking within me for a while: I will never be able to get rid of this thing. This is my cross to bear.
But, I just want to say, while the ukulele infestation of the past half-decade or so unquestionably fostered an incredibly grating aesthetic and was generally a horrible thing to happen to music, I think I am still philosophically in favor it. See, I have pretty much no stake in what punk is supposed to be anymore, but I think where I differ from people on this point is that I’ve always wanted punk to be about intensely localized creative communities, not a national network of conventional music scenes. Hands down, the best, most meaningful shows I’ve ever been to were at Joe and Mimi’s parents’ house, when there were 20 people there and the bands and audience members just cycled positions throughout the evening. This is also why when I say that TV Dinner was the best punk band to ever exist, people only pretend to know what I’m saying. It goes beyond the fact that they lived 10 minutes away and became my friends pretty quickly, though that’s important, too- it’s more that they couldn’t really exist outside of their own specific context. Basically, I feel like if you weren’t born between the years 1989 and 1992 and didn’t grow up somewhere close to the Delaware/Chester County line, there is no chance you will ever understand TV Dinner, which makes them crucially important to those who fall within those parameters. At least that’s how I feel.
On a practical level, the ukulele lends itself to this kind of specialization. In addition to being inexpensive and easy to learn, it’s quiet and portable. If you’re playing one, a show can happen virtually anywhere, and this is exciting to me. I just really like the idea of arming large numbers of people with an accessible creative tool and witnessing how personal and fragmented the resulting art would be. Now, obviously, this is not how it turned out. The ukulele, by virtue of basically being a toy, naturally lends itself to kitsch, and in turn almost all of the music made on it is super derivative, though it doesn’t have to be. Fuck it- I hope someone writes an inspired ukulele album that isn’t bogged down in cutesy aesthetics. If only to rectify the fact that I spent so much time doing the opposite.