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Forgotten But Not Gone: An Open Letter to Caleb Followill

On a whim, because it had a very cool cover, I bought the latest issue of “Spin,” which promised to reveal to me the “Best of 2009.” It had a nice looking guy on the front, who the check-out person (Janet) believed to be Ashton Kutcher, but who was, in fact,  Kings of Leon’s lead singer Caleb Followill. After doing all of the dreary old Responsible Person things that I am obligated to do under the Geneva Convention (putting groceries away, making lunch, changing over the loads of laundry) I relaxed with my new magazine, hoping to find suggestions about bands that would make my pulse race, and my world expand. Instead, on page 4, I found a second picture of the handsome Followill behind a quote attributed to him: “[t]hat woman in mom jeans who’d never let me date her daughter likes my music? That’s f–king not cool.”

To say that I was stung would be an understatement. I had a brand new iPod Touch, I had just downloaded Sufjan Stevens’ “Illinois” on the recommendation of the considerably friendlier editorial staff at “Paste” magazine, and I was just hoping to find some more ideas about music to love. While I saw myself as an evolving, interested connoisseur of cutting edge pop culture, I had apparently been relegated Beyond the Pale, a mom-aged person doomed to listen to Billy Joel and Supertramp for all eternity, on 8-track tapes.

Here’s what I would like to say to the smug Mr. Followill (who, I will tell you without editorial comment, was photographed wearing a cross):

Dear Caleb,

If you are really an artist, I find it hard to believe that it matters whether or not your audience is “cool,” or what they’re wearing, or how old they are. Your self-conscious categorization of “cool us” and “not-cool them” makes it clear to me that while you may be talented (and I believe that you are) you are not really an artist, you are a complete and total sell-out and media whore. (No offense; us mom jean wearers just get really hot and pissed off sometimes, if you know what I mean). If I had a daughter, I would discourage her from dating you not because you are a pompous and self-proclaimed badass who gives interviews cherishing every bender, hangover and droppable name, but because I believe you to be narcissistic and immature.

If you are really an artist, Mr. Followill, you have something to say, you have a way of seeing the world, and you have a heart filled to bursting with the need to be heard. You write and sing not because it’s easy, or lucrative, or attracts groupies. (Those are all fun things, and I don’t begrudge you your perks, but that’s what they are. They are the collateral stuff that comes with recognition and popularity).  It is intellectually and artistically lazy to fall back on the cliché that Old People are shocked by everything new, from Elvis to the Beatles, and that the measure of success is the extent to which said Old People faint in shock and clap their withering hands over their hairy ears. You do not achieve success as an artist by excluding any potential listener, reader or viewer, although it may be part of achieving success as a commercially successful pop star to make your desired market segment feel like unique and special flowers. Do you want to be Britney Spears, or do you want to be an artist? It’s your business, really, but you should probably be honest about it.

It is a shock to me, a real shock, to learn that there is a caste system among listeners of alternative rock, or indeed any other kind of music. I am a person of the precise age and demographic you identify as “not cool” as a listener. Although I do not personally own a pair of mom jeans, I am old enough to be your mother, my hair is graying and my right knee hurts when it’s damp out. Inside, however, I am still very much alive. I have a full range of emotions, much as you do, and I also respond to music in the same way that a younger member of the species might respond. Lyrics move me, beats make my feet tap, and certain melodic lines and harmonies make me close my eyes or hit “replay” until I have gotten all the juice out of the experience. My point is that while you probably don’t want to date me, I am viable audience from the viewpoint of sharing an experience, a feeling or a message. If you cut me, do I not bleed? Does it really, seriously diminish your work if I like it? If so, that’s incredibly cold. Cold, short-sighted, reductivist and arrogant.

In closing, Caleb, I will acknowledge that artists have always had a person or group in mind when they created. There is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with checking your work against the imagined response of a patron, an unattainable lover, or even a competitive colleague. I don’t know who you think about when you write songs, although I’m pretty sure we can rule out women in their 40s. There has to be more than that consciousness of a possible audience, though, there has to be a loss of yourself in the work. That loss of self-consciousness is the point at which you cease to be a skilled craftsman making a product, and become an artist who no longer has the power to shape the work to please anybody else. If you cross that threshold, it won’t matter if your message is received by a woman in mom jeans, her hot and debauched daughter, or the night janitor at Madison Square Garden. It won’t matter if your listeners are “cool,” it will only matter that you have the relief and delight of connecting with a kindred spirit, a human in the vast sea of humans who responds to your words, your voice, your message. It’s all up to you, though; frankly, now that I’ve said my piece, I really don’t care what you do.

One more thing, though, Mr. Followill. My mother was right: pretty is as pretty does.

Best regards,

annie

About imagineannie

I am a 40-something Midwestern wife, mother and lawyer with a passion for cooking, reading about food, eating food...you get the picture.

22 responses »

  1. Ouch!

    Hide Sam, hide……..

    Reply
  2. Robert beat me–I was going to say “ouch” too.

    I settle for “oh, snap!” ;P

    Reply
  3. The real pay off for this will be when he is 40 something and he is reminded that he said this or felt this way. He will then wonder what he was thinking as he will then realize that being in his 40′s isn’t ” not cool”. Hopefully he won’t be a total wash up in his 40′s still singing this same song all over the country desperately trying to make himself “cool” and “young” and thinking how much he’d like those listeners now…that would be even worse….hopefully he’ll grow up and evolve like most people his age still need to do…I liked your letter a lot, and I believe the do you want to be Britney Spears is probably the worst insult EVER. ;)

    Reply
    • I agree with you across the board, and thank you for appreciating my insult – I still can’t believe I PAID to read that my good opinion of something makes it less valuable. :P

      Reply
  4. Does that offend you, yeah?

    Lady you have no idea what you’re talking about. Followill was not pointing fingers at a certain group of people(though i’m sure he does hold grudges against middle aged women, are you kidding me?), you take the comment too literally and do not know the bands history. Caleb is stating that he is angry because of the mainstream music system in the United States. The Kings of Leon were a much celebrated band in Europe and Australia,and were very unpopular un the U.S. until the latest album (only by the night) was released. He just feels that americans go with what is popular at the time. He doesn’t give a shit if you’re cool or not, because KOL were once a group of unpopular teenagers.I think maybe before you go and get off to your alienation because a singer said something that just didnt rub you the right way, you should do a little research instead of jumping to conclusions.

    Reply
    • “though i’m sure he does hold grudges against middle aged women, are you kidding me?”

      Ah, you have reinforced my point for me.

      Reply
      • I agree with the previous speaker. He or she has not confirmed your view.
        The time you used it to write this letter, you should have used better to collect facts about the person you are accusing here. Then you would have realized that this statement has nothing to do with any population or elderly.
        I think it is always unfortunate to comment on a remark without the overall context. It means that the significance of what is said is misinterpreted.

  5. wanderingseniors

    I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you, Annie.

    Reply
  6. Oh unclench will ya, he’s the artist & has the right to say who he thinks should be appreciating his music, hes worked damn hard to be where he is.

    Reply
  7. Oh I loved this so much. I would very much like to send this along to him as he is every bit as arrogant as implied. If you like the songs but not the ‘tude, a quick YouTube search will give you an immensely hungrier group of artists producing KOL covers as good or better than the originals. Check out Laura Jansen’s version of Use Somebody. Also? Bravo to Paste…that Sufjan album isone of my top 5 of all time.

    Reply
    • As you can see, my opinion was not popular. Interestingly enough, I did do my research, and was not in the dark about Followill’s history of unpopularity…I just didn’t think it was a reasonable excuse for his astonishing arrogance.

      I do like band’s music; I was an “early adopter,” and I’ll check out the covers. As for Paste, I love Paste. Just love it. And now I love “Illinois,” thanks to them.

      Reply
  8. Although it makes little sense, I can not help commenting again:

    I think it is necessary to read the hole context. These are comments of the band according to what happened to them in 2009.

    JULY 21: Only by the Night is certified platinum in the U.S. Kings of Leon spend the summer playing The Today Show and headlining U.K. and American festivals (like Austin City Limits) alongside their heroes Radiohead and Pearl Jam.

    NATHAN: If a band got to do just one of those things, it would pretty much be the highlight of their year. The Today Show was awesome ’cause they said I was the first person ever to drink a beer on the air at 6:15 a.m. And Lollapalooza and ACL were phenomenal because that was kind of our American homecoming. The night before ACL was the drunkest I got all year—thanks to one Edward Vedder.
    CALEB: Ed actually called it immediately. He was one of the first people to hear Only by the Night, and he said, “You’re about to ride a big wave.” I don’t even think he liked the record. But he knew immediately that we were about to go through something big.
    JARED FOLLOWILL: When our manager told us we had sold a million records, I was blown away. But it’s also kind of bittersweet. Once you go platinum, you’re automatically considered not cool.
    CALEB: We definitely got bigger than we wanted to be. You feel like you’ve done something wrong. That woman in mom jeans who’d never let me date her daughter? She likes my music. That’s fuckin’ not cool. You almost start doing damage control: When people ask you to do stuff, you’re like, “No, because I can already tell this record is going to get to a level where people will fuckin’ hate us.”
    NATHAN: When we started this band, our goal was to sell 10,000 records and put on one concert a year for 10,000 people. We did that 179 times on this tour.
    CALEB: We used to play small clubs, go out to dive bars, drink with fans—it was a beautiful thing. Now you’re backstage at a big arena with Walmart lighting, and they’re not letting anyone in. Our real fans, the ones who’ve been there for the last five years, are in the front row pissed off. They’ll turn their backs on us during “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” put their middle fingers up. I get it. We’re definitely sellouts. But when you have success like we’ve had, you kind of have to feed the masses. As corny as it sounds.
    NATHAN: For every fan we lost by quote “selling out,” we’ve probably gained five.
    JARED: The first year I was in the band, I made $500. Now you start to feel like an asshole sometimes. You’re on the plane, like, “Dude, it’s been 30 minutes—where’s my sushi?”

    This is not about whether one likes the music of KOL or not.
    The band has not expected this popularity of their music.

    Reply
    • Valentine, I appreciate your tenacity, and the time it took to write that comment.

      I did read the entire interview, and (believe it or not) I really do “get” the context. I was not unhappy because I thought he was bragging, but because, as a woman of “mom jean” age, I was honestly stung by feeling that, although I fancy myself a little cutting edge, and was reading “Spin,” I am just inherently un-cool and not the audience that any young musician is looking for. Maybe, if you switch positions and look at it from my point of view you’ll see that I was not slamming Mr. Followill for anything other than making what I perceived to be a carelessly cruel remark that made him appear pretty shallow, despite the fact that he is apparently very talented.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  9. Hahahahahahaha.
    Loved the piece – and also loved your own tenacity in participating in a battle of wills with people who are – ahem – only half prepared.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Mary. From the very bottom of my heart.

      One would think, from this responsde, that I had killed a puppy….

      Reply
    • Thank you, Mary. From the very bottom of my heart.

      One would think, from this response, that I had killed a puppy….

      Reply
  10. If you had any idea about who you were talking about, you would realise a) that they are all relatively young, and are more than likely to say silly things at times. b) They are a “rock band” and whether you like it or not, “cool” always comes into it. c) I’ts a quote from a detailed interview and so we can’t really know exactly what he meant and/or if he was serious (because if you knew anything about the band, you would know that they like joking around). But then again, you are a journo yourself, so I’m sure taking things out of context comes naturally to you. And finally, “d)”: you’re only young once. Clearly you miss spent your spell in the younger years.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Dead at 47? « Forest Street Kitchen

  12. Get over it you twat.

    Reply

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