When I tell Fat Bob this, he's not impressed. "Bell-end Sebastian," he corrects. "'Cause that's what that thing will be full of--cocks."
Fat Bob is also appalled to learn that Philadelphia plays host to a disco called England Belongs to Twee, where--for some bizarre, unfathomable and peculiarly American reason--they play not only the wispy mimsy that is twee (see Belle and Sebastian) but also its bipolar opposite, the nasty and brutish Oi!
"That's disgusting," says Fat Bob. "And it's a gross misrepresentation. It should be England Belongs to Hard."
Later he'll tell this crowd of impressionable teenagers the best two things in life are "beer and fags." One suspects Fat Bob revels in the possible confusion. He becomes quite excited when I tell him I'm off to a gay rodeo in the morning.
Of course he does. Fat Bob is a construct--a walking parody of hyper-heterosexuality. Which of course makes him--and Hard Skin--gay as fuck.
"Should the birds prove unforthcoming--not that I'm saying they ever are--but sometimes you have to try the men," says Fat Bob.
He says this with a straight face. Fat Bob dislikes the idea of a Belle and Sebastian disco not because it's gay, but because it's not gay enough.
In the late 1980s I met American sociologist Randy Blazak in London. He'd come to the U.K. to do research on that horrible modern folk devil--the skinhead. The skin image had originated with black Jamaican kids in the 1960s. But in the '80s it had been adopted by the racist far-right in America to such an extent that for most Americans "skinhead" and "Nazi" are still all but interchangeable (despite the efforts of antiracist skinhead groups like SHARP--Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice). There were three Philly skins at the Hard Skin gig, all of them antiracists.
Blazak came to London to track the beat to its lair. He spent all his time following shaven-headed young men into gay pubs. Skinhead had gone gay. There were gay dance parties with names like Oi! So You Think You're a Skinhead? (There still are--plus a gay Oi! scene.)
It was enough to make an old-school skin weep with despair. Only it turned out some of the most notorious, nastiest, most homophobic and right-wing of the "original" '70s and '80s skins had been--surprise--gay all along.
In short, in 1990s England, skinheads were to gay culture what cowboys are to post-Brokeback America.
Walking the 18 long blocks to the Belle and Sebastian dance party I muse on why exactly I despise Belle and Sebastian--and the entire genre of twee--so fucking much.
Because it's smug. Because it's faux-radical. Because it's piss-poor pop music made by people who look down on proper pop music because they feel it lacks "integrity." Because it's passive-aggressive. Because it's camp without cock--both sexless and stripped of any of the humor or transgressiveness that makes gay camp interesting. But most of all because it's so cowardly. Because it's so fucking tediously middle-class.
In the U.K. twee is part of the anti-chav backlash. "Chav" is a term middle-class suburban kids use to denigrate working-class kids. Meaning that a pop culture that once celebrated proletarianism to the point of aping it (think of Mick Jagger's mockney drawl) now produces bands that are, look, sound and dress like creepy infantilized versions of boring, middle-class suburbanites. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except that it's boring, middle-class and suburban. And creepy.
America sees twee differently. My lefty, punk-tattooed history professor friend Brian angrily rams my anti-twee comments down my throat, citing the first-ever American twee band Beat Happening who subverted boringly identikit-macho hardcore punk by playing super-nice music that, at one show, had punk bodybuilder Henry Rollins almost exploding with rage.
Far from seeing it as smugly conformist and pathetically apolitical, Americans see twee as profoundly subversive--a weapon to be wielded in the peculiarly American war between the spastic Napoleon Dynamites and the chick-hogging douches on steroids.
So on the steps of the National Mechanics I ask Joey Sweeney, king of Philly geek-hipsters, and co-organizer of the Belle and Sebastian dance party (where nothing but Belle and fucking Sebastian will be played for five fucking hours), if he thinks twee represents a protest masculinity.
Sweeney thinks for a second, opens his mouth and ...
"Oh my God! Eeeeeeee! He said twee!"
It's not Sweeney. It's 17-year-old Philadelphians Rachel and Katherine. They're full of monkey-mischief and squealing like their beehived grandmoms at a Beatles gig because they've suddenly decided they're totally in love with Joey Sweeney because "He's just so twee!"
They have no idea who he is. Sweeney is answering my question with reference (for some still utterly unfathomable reason) to Thin Lizzy, confirming my theory that asking Americans about twee is like asking them about cricket or the correct way to pour Earl Grey tea. They have opinions, sure, but absolutely no idea what they're actually talking about.