On the Radio: Trustifarians

Once I took over control of my car’s radio from my toddler, infant and wife, I returned to the comforting embrace of alt-rock radio. Because I haven’t listened to the radio in some time, there are artists who just haven’t been on my radar. Now as the good Historian and my brother will attest, I am usually resistant to new music. I like to find things to dislike, that’s just me.

So I was a little surprised when I seemed to like everything I heard by a band I knew nothing about. Immediately upon hearing Mumford and Sons “The Cave” I was intrigued. The lead singer’s voice is on the softer side of the vocalist from the Decembrists and Neutral Milk Hotel; the banjo is nice; I am a sucker for big, broad open chords on an acoustic guitar.  I get weak at the knees when vocalists harmonize across major scales in choruses (especially when they don’t sing the same words). And, hey, there’s an accordion! Sign me up.

So, as you can imagine, I was even more shocked when I heard the track “Little Lion Man”. Same elements, very different song. Here the vocalist is a little more raspy, his phrasing is still precise, but there is a wariness less present in “The Cave” The chorus on this track is nearly great: “It was not your fault but mine / it was your heart on the line”—the wide open harmonies resolve back to the single voice and the banjo picking springs back into the song. Perhaps the lyrics are a bit preachy; perhaps the themes are a bit too obvious. But this is still a good song.

Given that I am the misanthrope and introvert, that I tend to hate songs before listening to them, I was shocked by my brother’s reaction.  I send him a text message about the band and his response was a dismissive “trustifarians”. Now, this may seem like an oblique response, but in the dialect of the lower-middle class world we grew up in it says everything: this means that the band is made of up rich kids who never had to struggle, whose wealth bought them their success.

Not knowing anything about the band, I was surprised by the vehemence of my brother’s reaction. But, I trust him—his tastes are broader than mine, he is less reactive when it comes to music. Yet, I kept hearing these songs and fell for them more deeply.

Now, while I do think that knowing an artist can help you appreciate his/her work, I also really believe that a song should be able to stand on its own as an independent aesthetic object. If a song is good, I contend, it doesn’t matter who wrote it or performed it. Once released into the wild, art takes on a life of its own.

In addition, I am not quite sure the class-based knee-jerk reaction that my brother and I were raised with is justified. Ok, I am sure that it isn’t. When my brother visited me, I told him this: no one dictates where they are born or who their parents are. None of us decides his fate. The mark of a good person is what we do with what we’ve been given. The ‘trustifarians’ can’t help they were born to money (if, indeed, they were; I refuse to research the issue) any more than we can help we were not.

If we judge people not on where they started but by what they accomplished with the resources they were given, we can perhaps be patronizing (setting the bar too low for those born with little); but at the same time we can overcome our own envy and bitterness at our lives and more fairly look at others.

Mumford and Sons write good songs. I don’t care where they came from.

Have I convinced you, my brother?

15 comments on “On the Radio: Trustifarians

  1. professormortis says:

    Sir, you liked The Strokes. I don’t see how the son of leaders of a church is worse than the son of head of a modelling agency. Hell, one would assume the modelling agency would give you better connections for music. Hell, Joe Strummer was the son of a diplomat. I don’t think it matters if the music is good, though I could see how one might resent them as a musician trying to get recognition.

    Also, I feel like Mumford and Sons are the Proclaimers of the teens.

    • theelderj says:

      The Proclaimers were good, but so limited (and painfully scottish!). How can you compare them?

    • theelderj says:

      The Proclaimers were good, but so limited (and painfully scottish!). How can you compare them? Ok, comparison is fine, but I have listened to both signature albums and I will swear up and down that Mumford and Sons is of a different class.

      As for the Strokes, the first album was good. That’s all I’ll say about that.

      • professormortis says:

        My theory was that Mumford and Sons will end up being a two hit wonder kind of band, where in twenty years everyone alive now will identify their songs with this specific time period and wonder what the hell happened (while they still play music that still appeals greatly to their original audience) and that since their music was clearly of the folk tradition from the British Isles that they were the Proclaimers of the Teens. Kind of just a cheap dig.

        Besides, I find 500 Miles to be less annoying with repeat listening than these guys.

        This opinion may have something to do with the period of “Little Lion Man’s” peak radio play in this area coinciding with the period in which I was re-shelving my entire library after the carpet was replaced, and the one station that was on on the radio while we did it playing this song constantly at the time.

      • theelderj says:

        Ah! I agree that the “both play celtic inspired music” card was a good one to play and that there might be something to your prediction that Mummer and Sons will fade away. I think that there may be more versatiltiy and marketability in the Sons than in the oddball scottish twins.

        That said, the Proclaimers had a pretty weak album apart from “500 Miles”. They did write one beautiful song in the underrated “Sunshine on Leith”.

        Regardless of either band’s success, I was really just hoping to get a rise out of my brother.

        (And maybe all the sea shanties of my youth and folk music of later years make me weak to the banjo, strings and harmonies of both bands)

    • theyoungerj says:

      The Proclaimers were way better…well that one song was ill anyway.

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