“‘From a Motel 6’ and Introducing State-Dependent Artistry in Rock”

Even more so than Sonic Youth and Pavement, Yo La Tengo might be the band that got most overlooked by the mainstream in the ‘90s. Their songs are that good, sure, and they even wielded like the Youth a male/female songwriting gruesome twosome, although maybe this detracts from the typical mainstream dominant male/dumb or loose female in music.
Either way, with this being the case, I officially declare myself a hopeless fan. I bought the two-disc best-of in ’05, A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs, and it pi**ed me off for a couple of reasons, one of which being that people wouldn’t shut up about “Autumn Sweater” when I liked “Barnaby, Hardly Working, “Big Day Coming” and “Swing for Life” better, the other being that all of this band’s songs, it seems to the eventual seasoned listener, are good. But not at all was A Smattering a mistake to buy, because it creditably highlights the precocious “Little Eyes” from oft-derided LP Summer Sun, and it does furnish classics like “From a Motel 6,” although perhaps awkwardly.
Taken within the context of the greatest hits, a predicament we’ll examine, being collective Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Green Day listeners as we are (album Painful issues in ’94), “From a Motel 6” is, in a word, grating. Per general modi operandi of bands, YLT would tone it down and get poppier for later stuff, and for once it wasn’t a disaster — “Autumn Sweater” is indeed a memorable romp of melody, and “Sugarcube” and “You Can Have it All” are like what would happen if The Mamas and The Papas spent a week drinking coffee laced with acid in cloudy Hoboken.
“From a Motel 6” consists literally of a caterwaul, as its chorus. Wow, talk about grunge! Yeah, grunge wasn’t the specialty of the East Coast exactly. I don’t really know why, and for once, I’m not going to pretend to. Well, grunge was epochal, anyway, and melody isn’t.
So the chorus has no words. Well, this can’t exactly be a teenage/bratty song, can it? I am arguing that it is still a teenage bratty song, and that the art of perfecting the teenage bratty song is paramount to any band’s growth and development. It’s like Bukowski said: “Be righteously angry when your car gets a flat tire” (he was probably just fu**ing with us, wondering if we’d read that slop).
Anyway, the particular set of lyrics I’d like to examine is “I know your heart is broken / But don’t you think that’s a little trite?” Now, in my indie phase, which hasn’t so much ended as it has seen me just boring all my friends to death with all my rants, in my 20s, in other words, I idolized gushy, melodramatic lines like this as the ultimate beacons of rebellion: anthemic rock-and-roll tenets set to gnashing two-chord squalls like “From a Motel 6” to set the twilight reeling, to set the twinkling night into disarming disarray.
Now, of course, I realize that these lines are just cheesy: they’re the work of an awkward 20-something who never really left his or her teens (yeah, I don’t even know if it’s Hubley or Kaplan singing on this one, and I don’t know that it matters: the primary tenet of Zen, also known as rock and roll tonic/subdominant chord progressions, is to unlearn the differences between the sexes).
Or maybe it’s just that they’re so NINETIES. There’s no acknowledgement of 9/11, of war, of recession, of BLM: there’s no expression of this general hardship we’ve all had to incur, even if it’s just been just the general cheapening of music by way of the internet, the kind of music we used to take for granted as being substantial and gripping, to the point where we even neglected one of our decade’s greatest bands, until recently.

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