I've never trusted the idea of music-that-real-people-listen-to. Its usually used as a kind of leveraging against indie music. I mean nobody will really say now that they're favorite kind of music is indie rock, because the indie thing no longer means any specific kind of music, and also (and this is the major reason I suspect) because the indie thing is almost more a social signification now than anything else. But as recently as the early 90s things were still somewhat defined. There was a clear division between someone like Garth Brooks and Pavement. Garth Brooks obviously sold more records and what not. And Steve Malkmus never hovered over his audience suspended from wires. But there's also a difference in demographic. There's a level of obsessiveness with Pavement's music, and the pursuit of it, 7" singles, imports, EPs etc. Could you by the same token say that Garth Brooks fans hunt down all Garth Brooks recordings that exist with the same fervor. I don't think so. I mean I can't say for sure, but I really doubt it. When you move that many units it comes down to the idea that the thing is a commodity, not even something to own, but something to buy. There's a perverse kind of decadence to spending 35 bucks on a Pavement bootleg too. But I think the difference is in the obsessiveness. Most people who bought Garth Brooks music probably didn't obsess over them. They don't invite obsession because there's nothing to obsess over. Its a pure kind of distraction, an entertainment. Its meant simply to be identified with, in a generic way. I worked in a truckstop in the late 90s. I remember noticing how defiantly generic the lyrics were. It was weirdly slacker, though this was the supposed antithesis of 'slacker music'. A song would take pride in being nothin' special. I remember a lyric that went something like "Lets just stay in watch TV and eat onion rings". Can you get more 'slacker' than that? But apart from those kinds of statements the music was really just meant to be listened to and then taken out of the deck or CD tray, or whatever. To come and go. And not bore you, or make you think too much. Pavement's music, regardless anything the band conciously tried to put forth, does invite obsession. I'll never be able to fully figure out why "Gold Sounds" makes me so happy. Its one of the reasons I still listen to it. The lyrics aren't really trying to identify with me, not at least, in the way of a statement like 'hey you like stuff too huh?'. At one point, Malkmus says 'we need secrets' and repeats 'crets, crets, crets, crets, crets...' And at another point, there's the phrase 'because you're empty and I'm empty'. But the song is utterly uplifting to me, in more than just the happy-song-with-sad-lyrics way.
Now things have changed so drastically that the divisions that once could be taken for granted really don't exist anymore, not the way they did. I mean, mainstream country still fills stadiums, state fairs and festivals in rural areas. But who is its biggest star? That Keith Urban guy seems to exist almost as Nicole Kidman's husband more than as a Big Country Star. And an artist that I currently obsess over is Ariel Pink. But that obsession doesn't seem to mean the same thing. In the 90s (tho I only realized this in retrospect) Pavement were the band to say you liked as a leveraging against mainstream music. Ariel Pink has a following I'm sure. But 'followings' have multiplied exponentially. A friend of mine has a running joke where he's being asked "Whats your subculture dude?" But there really haven't been any new subcultures in this decade. Can you call 'electro' or 'alt-country' or 'garage rock' a subculture? Goth is a subculture. It exists almost indenpendently of the music. But the subcultures almost seem to be disappearing. Where did rave culture go? It might have just gone where I can't see it. But there don't seem to be viable subcultures within which innovative music is happening-- where an integral part of the subculture is that music be somewhat forward-looking or at least try avoid cliches. There's always been an uneasy detente between style and music in musical subcultures. But the word subculture, that nomenclature just doesn't work anymore. It doesn't mean anything to say you're punk. In the 90s, maybe right before it ultimately got subsumed into the mall culture, it seems like it did mean something to say that. But now, if someone's a punk it might just mean they shop at a certain store. Or that they ride the rails. There are still basement shows. They're a part of indie culture, which is a huge thing. It can encompass restaurants, shops, bars. Its always been like that. But now it seems to have lost definition or at least shifted.
It might just be that I'm out of touch. I was never in touch. I never went to punk shows as a teenager. I ordered CDs through the mail, from my house in the Township of Addison, Wisconsin. Of course alot weird music still happens inside and outside the indie network. But opposing the mainstream doesn't seem as vital now, because its harder to see what the mainstream is.