AN OPEN LETTER TO SUPERCHUNK GUITARIST/VOCALIST MAC MCCAUGHAN:
My gap feels weird too.
I know it’s really dopey and cliché to pretend that you identify with your favorite musicians, and yet, I find myself listening to track 2 on your incredible new album, Majesty Shredding, and I think, “yup, I hear you man,” like I’m one of those obnoxious hippies at a Flaming Lips concert that yells responses to Wayne Coyne’s stage banter, like they’re having a goddamn personal conversation. It’s just so late teens-early 20s of me—which, coincidentally, is when I came across your music.
The cassette arrived from Virginia in my dorm with a handwritten tracklist, decorated with hand-drawn kitties sketched by a girl with cat-eye glasses who had been giving me shit about the music I liked and the music I hadn’t yet heard. “How can you have no idea who Superchunk is?!? Jesus, ok, I’m making you a tape, you weirdo.” (Hey, to someone who spent part of senior year getting psyched for the follow-up to Slaughter’s Stick it to Ya, the sloptastic punk of the first ‘Chunk record would have come off as a bit amateurish on first listen anyway, amirite? No offense, Mac.) It covered your first four albums, Superchunk through foolish, as well as choice cuts from those outstanding b-sides/singles compilations (she kicked off with “Shallow End” off Incidental Music, and I associated the refrain “I know you think you’re deep, all right/But you should stay in the shallow end” with Internet Girl for years, as I’m pretty sure she said that to me once while we were arguing about something online…she didn’t call herself “Sassypants” for nothing). And sure, I hadn’t had a real job outside of my high school paper route, but “Slack Motherfucker” still spoke to me for some reason…oh yeah, probably because I was down with any musical expression of “fuck you” back then. Punk rock!
And Mac, dude…the stuff from foolish? Forget about it. I was hooked so hard. You know how it is when you’re that young; each failed relationship is a cataclysmic, Shakespearean-level tragedy (wait, I still act like they are—well, at least I don’t publish transcripts of breakup conversations in ‘zines anymore…Christ, 20-year-old me, how did you not get your ass kicked?), and the story behind foolish–that it was about you and Laura breaking up? Every damn lyric on that album spoke to me, maaaaan.
Your last album, Here’s to Shutting Up, came out in 2001, right before I turned 27. By then, I finally managed to meet Sassypants while visiting a bunch of mutual Internet buddies in Atlanta, and even managed to see you guys live once at the Rave Bar here in Milwaukee with Trail of Dead and Crooked Fingers (my friend Josh refused to let me leave the show without saying hi to Laura; when I said “you should play Milwaukee more often,” she made The Most Adorable Pouty Face In History. You haven’t played Milwaukee since—did I say something wrong?).
It’s been a long nine years since then, Mac, and I often find myself kvetching about it like the prototypical old man protective of his lawn. But you guys have been there the whole time, through still more gut-tearing breakups, personal crises and “what am I doing with my life?” self-reflections. Other bands I went on to love, like the Magnetic Fields and Mountain Goats, I love because of you guys (The Goats thanks to that incredible show you played together in Chicago in 2007; The Fields because your cover of “100,000 Fireflies” is My Favorite Song Of All Time).
But even though you never really left, you still represent an early part of my life that gets left farther behind the older I get, as the gap widens. It’s weird sometimes, being an older dude who still goes to rock shows as old friends pair off and drop out of The Scene. When you told Josh Modell in Spin that “the song is about being older than the people around you; you go to a show, and it’s like, ‘I don’t know anyone here, and they’re all 19!’ At the same time you think, ‘that’s awesome—they’re so excited!,’” it resonated. How many times did I hear jokes about guys playing in bands past 30, like we were all still deluding ourselves about “making it”—like we ever entertained that notion in the first place. There’s a perception out there that keeping up with this foolishness is tantamount to not growing up, and it’s reinforced by watching people my age settle down, by watching that gap widen, and yep—it feels weird, all right.
So Mac, when you guys played Taste of Randolph Fest in Chicago after announcing a new album, it was a welcome reminder that music doesn’t keep us from growing up—it keeps us from growing old. As you guys pogo’d around the stage to “Digging for Something,” “Learned to Surf,” and classics like “Slack Motherfucker,” my friend Keith and I were right there with ya (actually, if you watch the videos I think Keith and I may have been pogoing higher than anyone [look for the two dorks in the lower right hand corner]), and dammit if that gap wasn’t closed. Y’all didn’t look old, and we sure didn’t feel old (uh…until the next morning when we tried standing on our poor shins).
I still don’t have a copy of Majesty Shredding, because when I went to Rush-Mor to pick it up, it was sold out already. I hope those 19-year-olds are grabbing all that vinyl, because I was starting to worry that you guys would get lost in the generation gap (it breaks my heart knowing kids that have never heard Jawbox or Archers of Loaf). If it’s not, then at least it’s proof that I’m not the only one thrilled that you guys have released your best album in 15 years. So in the meantime, while I wait for my copy, I’ll stream the hell out of it on the Merge website and jump around in my living room like I’m Jon in the video for “The First Part.” Something tells me that halfway across the country in Virginia, Sassypants is out there dancing in her living room too. Consider that geographical gap closed. Our gaps may be weird, but they feel less so with a soundtrack like this. Thanks for coming back, Superchunk. Now make it feel even more like the 90s again and play Milwaukee, won’t you?