Really, I should have been in a college rock band. The problem was that I came from the wrong country, turned teen in the wrong decade, and my college was a stout tower block rather than a bustling campus with a radio station where all the best songs could be found left of the dial. Worse, I can’t play guitar. As a writer, my fingers were quickly conditioned to wrap themselves around a pen, and just like the Glasgow College of Building and Printing, my digits are thick, bony, and stout – perfect for hitting keys on a keyboard. Sadly, not the kind a musician plays in a band, but the type used to…well, type. Even now, I can be busy doing something when suddenly I get irritated by myself for not learning to play a musical instrument. God, what I’d give to be in a college rock band. They had the best music, the coolest cover art, the weirdly oblique music videos you could only watch on MTV late at night. Before these bands became ‘alternative’ or ‘indie rock’, they were college rock. I always liked that classification. It immediately put up a barrier, creating a generational gap, keeping the bands and the fans together in the same age bracket, uniting us as a gang. One of my worst problems is that I’m constantly longing without belonging – but I think I’d be happy in a college rock band. We’d have a daft name. On some days my college rock band is called No, I’m A Veronica. Sometimes it might be The Pessimists or Portia Penelope Pinkerton. Today, right now as I write this, my college rock band is called Hating Brenda, which is a terrible name, but it doesn’t matter because I’m in a terrible mood.
College rock bands had no budget. They were champions of cheapness. They’d rehearse in garages, make flyers with their friends, take group photographs where none of them would look at the lens. Some of these bands looked like they were having all the fun (The Replacements), others looked too cool to exist (Sonic Youth), but most looked miserable even though they were probably delighted to be living their ideal lives. Why work in the pie factory when you can form a college rock band and tour in a smelly van, playing to audiences I could count using my ten stout fingers?
My college rock band would have plenty of labels chasing after us, of course. 4AD. Mammoth Records. SST. Rough Trade. Dischord. Kill Rock Stars. Matador. Sub Pop. K Records. Our album cover art would be like the lyrics – playful, but cool with lots of colour. My favourite college rock bands always had brash, bright, beautiful cover art that hinted at strange insular worlds that would turn my bedroom into a noisy corner. The lyrics would be bitter and bitchy with jangly joyful guitar. We’d wear cardigans but still be punk. Deep down we’d want to smash up our hotel room but the van would be all we could afford. Never would we play in stadiums. The student union would be our live venue, the only one we’d ever fill. The mainstream would flirt with us, but we’d be too shy to make any overture in return. Worse, we’d willfully sabotage ourselves by refusing to film promo videos for our songs. Whoever signed us in the end would come to regret their stupidity.
I love writing, being a writer, telling stories, building up blocks of text on a page to be read by people, yet… somehow I feel like a career in a college rock band would have been an ideal life for me. Or would it? Is the music industry really so much better than the publishing industry? How would I cope within that structure? Even in an independent scene? It’s no coincidence that most of the college rock bands I venerate so much ended up crossing over into major labels. Perhaps they were too big for the scene they’d originated? Or the scene was just too small? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. College rock is a genre of music tied to a time before ‘alternative’ and ‘indie rock’ were tags on shelves in HMV, but the music itself is still here with me, giving inspiration and dreams of what I might have made if I’d just learned to play the bloody guitar at school.