Denver Rock City? An open letter to Mirna Tufekcic

Dear Mirna,

I just read your new essay on the Denver music scene.

And I think we need to talk about it.

Like you, I’m writing this piece at a coffee shop. Unlike you — and because my local coffee shop is fabulously gay — Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection is playing in full over the store speakers. Like you, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool rock fan. Unlike you, I’m writing this in San Francisco, having moved here from Denver last year.

Prior to the move, I was an active member of the Denver DIY and garage rock scenes. When I lived there, Plum was a Denver band whose frontman worked at Twist and Shout and the Hi-Dive still had that annoying overhang between the bar and the stage area. Lost Lake, as I remember it, would now be considered pre-renovation. Dryer Plug in Globeville existed, and it ruled. Local bands — some great, some terrible — were formed and disbanded with dizzying speed.

DéCollage (one of the great and very much still alive ones) play the rooftop at MCA Denver last year.

And I miss it! The Bay Area music scene is bigger, harder to crack, and moves faster than the Denver scene. Some days (not all, but some) I long for my old city’s tight knit camaraderie and devil-may-care attitude. Not to mention that a bunch my friends still live there, making it only natural that I keep tabs on who’s doing what from my new city a few states over.

In doing so, I stumbled across your essay on Denver music. For you, Denver rock is undergoing a revival — not a resurrection, you specify — and you’re stoked on it. The Velveteers! Bandits! Yawpers! Blackfoot Gypsies and short denim shorts and Cosby sweaters and guitars!! Larimer Lounge! Fuck yeah! Rock ’n’ roll lives!

I’m happy that you’re stoked on local music! That’s awesome! But girl, we have to talk about the difference between what you perceive is happening and what is actually happening — and has been happening for a long time. Here’s the deal: just because you’ve recently noticed something doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening long before you came around. To put it plainly: Denver rock isn’t making a comeback via The Velveteers because it was already chugging along fine prior to The Velveteers.

Look, everybody enters the scene when they happen to enter, myself included. I’m not shaming you for the date you discovered Denver garage. In fact, all music scenes’ continual evolution means you can never really be late to the party.

Don’t my friends look stoked to be at Lost Lake?!

You are, however, late to the Great Poptimism Wars of 2014. This was the period during which music journalists fought over one basic argument: pop music is not, by default, dumb or inherently inferior to rock. It was insular, and it was savage. The New York Times had its say. Everyone went thinkpiece crazy, arguing fervently in favor of poptimism, rockism, both, neither, then for burning it all to the ground. Eventually we wiped the blood from our keyboards, acknowledged pop music might contain a smidgen of value and that the pitting of rock versus pop is, if not outdated, at the very least a waste of time.

The idea that rock ’n’ roll is the one real genre forever being stifled by (presumably fake) genres like hip-hop, dance and pop is a lazy and skewed one. Rock music — whatever that means at this point in history — has its place in contemporary culture, though not one above all the other genres. So when you claim that Denver Rock City rolls again after years of slumber, you’re playing into the pervasive belief of rock as perpetual underdog and The Once and Future Genre.

Please don’t adopt it. Rock is not the perpetual underdog or the zombie as you and The Yawpers claim. Rock — Denver or otherwise — is not forever engaged in the cycle of life then death by synthpop/rap/whatever then glorious resurrection. Rock is a musical genre with a vibrant history still trying to find a foothold in the twenty-first century outside of vapid revivalism. You said it yourself: the scene outside The Yawpers’ Lost Lake gig smacked of 1971.

But rock’s problem with navel-gazing through rose-colored glasses is for another conversation.

Yours in Denver music sisterhood and the bizarre things written in the Larimer Lounge bathroom,

Elle