Staff Top 10
Top Ten Underground Pop Culture Cameos

if the corporation-fabricated world of mainstream film, music and television is The Matrix, the real world is everything the cultural lethargist never sees— the arcane arts of dance, drama, literature, and of course independent film and music. The rule is, if it isn't expected to sell, it's worthless and the conglomerates leave it out of the program. But every so often, a cultural glitch allows the sound of artistic integrity to wash over the tunnel-visioned masses of passive media drones. And every time it happens, I'd like to believe a few more people discover a musical realm beyond the Big Four. So here are my 10 favorite instances of mass exposure for indie music artists or subcultures; hope you like ‘em.

10. Stephin Merritt on NPR's Fresh Air, 2000.

National Public Radio has always been great about lending support and exposure to under-the-radar artists of all types. One of its more notable indie-rock related features saw the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt interviewed on Valentine's Day about the making of his critically acclaimed 1999 release 69 Love Songs. It's still archived on NPR's Fresh Air web site; put it on and breathe in all those uncomfortable silences.

09. My So-Called Life sndtk, 1995.

Anybody remember Claire Danes? Well if you don't, you definitely won't recall anything about the angsty, mid-90s teen sitcom My So-Called Life other than its punchline-baiting title. I never watched it so I won't comment on its quality, but its soundtrack did feature the likes of Sonic Youth, the Afghan Whigs, Madder Rose, and those irrepressible Archers of Loaf.

08. Modest Mouse/Smog MGD commercials, 2002.

All both of these TV spots show is a bottle of beer and some narrator yakking about cold-filtering. But in the background can be heard Modest Mouse's “Gravity Rides Everything” and Smog's “Held” (in two separate commercials). Sellout bitchmove or pop-savvy marketing technique aimed at valuable exposure? You decide.

07. Powerpuff Girls Soundtrack, 2000.

It won't give twee-pop a better name, but this 2000 release features the Apples in Stereo, Optiganally Yours, Shonen Knife, and Dressy Bessy alongside less dubious selections by Frank Black and Devo. I heard that Cartoon Network even ran a couple of videos for songs off this album between normal programming. Adventurous soundtracking tastes such as these almost justify the purchase of cable...almost.

06. Fugazi on VH1's top 100 hard rock bands, 2001.

Why they got Carmen Electra to host this thing I'll never understand, but the highlight of the documentary's first hour was the two-minute bite about Fugazi. At the #95 spot, sandwiched between mini-retrospectives on Meat Loaf and Yes, VH1 gave the kings of DIY their due. Other charting acts of note included Bad Brains (#99), the Pixies (#81), and Sonic Youth (#54).

05. The Simpsons, ‘90s.

When Springfield's favorite family rubs elbows with rockers, it's usually rock royalty like Elton John or Paul McCartney. However, in the Hullabulloza episode, we got to see acts like Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Peter Frampton...and Sonic Youth (for like a second). Plus they covered the end title theme in that episode as well, a feat also undertaken by Yo La Tengo in “D'oh-in in the Wind,” aka the Hippie episode.

04. The Cabaret Voltaire poster in Ferris Bueller's room, 1986.

I read somewhere that director John Hughes personally decorated Ferris's room to look like his own teenage bedroom. Does that by extension make Hughes a CV fan? Who knows, but the appearance of this seminal industro-funk outfit's wall promo in one of the 80s' greatest flicks is a classic indie cameo.

03. “Next Stop Nowhere,” the Quincy Punk episode, 1982.

Spoon wrote a song about it. There's a band named after it. But I'd wager that most latter-day punks and indie rockers don't know much about the seminal gross misinterpretation of the punk rock subculture commonly know as the Quincy Punk episode. Quincy was a TV crime drama about a crime-fighting coroner played by Jack Klugman. In the episode “Next Stop Nowhere,” Quincy encounters a violent, sybaritic group of garishly outfitted nihilists who label themselves “punks.” Back in the day, real punks laughed at NBC's ridiculous misreading of their subculture. Age has finely cured this would-be cautionary tale into a silly, unintentionally parodic period piece.

02. Weezer's appearance on the Win95 CD, 1995.

Not really independent, I know, but y'all used to like ‘em, right? Come on. Everybody looked just like Buddy Holly back in ‘94. And even if you didn't get MTV, if you were on Wintel back then, you saw the infamous video in the “Extras” section of the Windows 95 CD. With that kind of corporate backing behind them, the Green Album's Billboard aspirations don't come as such a huge surprise.

01. High Fidelity, 2000.

Ha! This is indie rock's shining celluloid moment. The love story and all its sappy trappings come as parenthetical to the dizzying array of independent rock references and record-geek superiority. I was all over every internal shot of Championship vinyl and Rob's apartment, trying to pick out every band poster I could before the cut. Add to that some well-deserved product placement for the Clash, the Stiff Little Fingers and the Beta band plus Jack Black's career-best performance as a world-class record prick... who says audiences don't like to see themselves reflected in the silver screen? I'm just speculating here, but this film probably did more to promote more independent bands than any other wide-release movie in Hollywood history. It may not be the number-one non-documentary film on music, but it's definitely in the top five.

By: Deen Freelon
Published on: 2002-08-26
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