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Thinkpieces And Shit

What The Simpsons Taught Me About Music

Matt Groening’s combination of musical interest and need to parody absolutely everything taught me some valuable life lessons.
Emma Garland
London, GB

I hit secondary school when Coal Chamber were peaking on the Pepsi Max 100, so it was difficult to dig beyond the mountain of leather and aggressive whispering that compromised nu-metal to find actual music. Binning free Kerrang! videotape after free Kerrang! videotape, I turned to older kids for inspiration, all the while fobbing off the fact that I was actually being introduced to some of my favourite bands by an unlikely source, The Simpsons.


Ever since I pushed my way out of the acne-affected masque party that is puberty I have shamelessly admitted that the first time I ever heard The Smashing Pumpkins was thanks to Homer Simpson. But that’s just scratching the surface of the wealth of knowledge imparted on me by Matt Groening’s combination of musical interest and need to parody absolutely everything. Here are some of the big lessons that carried me through a dark pre-internet puberty and fed a Nirvana obsession so intense my mother almost sent me to therapy.

It's not that difficult to make me sadgasm

There was a point in the later 90s when taking the piss out of Nirvana was something that I would have taken more personally than someone taking a shit on my actual face, but instead of urging me to write a series of hate-letters, The Simpsons actually made me re-evaluate how I viewed the music I liked and the seriousness of Kurt's final act.

In an episode titled “That 90s Show”, Homer reforms his college band as a grunge outfit called Sadgasm (a perfect one-word summary of a genre), which disbands after Homer holes himself up in his house with a suspected drug problem. The homage goes so deep that the newscaster who announces Sadgasm’s break-up is Kurt Loader who read the MTV breaking newscast on Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994.

The needles found in Homer’s apartment actually turn out to be insulin because he developed diabetes after drinking too many frappuccinos. But the episode summarised disaffected youth better than hours of dubiously legit documentaries. The Sadgasm songs that took the piss out of Nirvana lyrics were also really, really good Nirvana lyrics. I’m not even going to pretend like there wasn’t a time in my life where “Pain is brown/ Hate is white/ Love is black/ Stab the night/ Kingdom of numb/ Closet of dirt/ Feelings are dumb/ Kisses hurt,” wouldn’t have been absorbed with total sincerity, carved into a bookcase and set as an MSN screen name.


Counter-Culture is a Fucking Lie

“Homerpalooza” had a serious effect on me as a child - and not only in the sense that every single festival line-up since has been a comparative disappointment (maybe ATP's balance sheet would look healthier if they got The Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Cypress Hill and hologram Homer Simpson?) Maybe it’s because I grew up in Nowhere, Wales, but as a twelve year-old watching that episode for the first time, I had no idea who the fuck any of those bands were. Now I know that Billy Corgan is a mild-mannered totally normal polite guy who just likes to help out middle-aged men having an identity crisis - sideways look to camera - but I also know that music festivals are kind of full of shit.

Sure, I’ll tie my shirt around my waist and try to operate a she-wee along with as much frivolity as the next person, but I know the sense of freedom you get at festivals is a fallacy that comes from living in a tent for 5 days and being able to walk around shouting DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY DRUGS without getting arrested. That moment of truth you had sitting under a giant Relentless banner in a £18 Goo shirt eating a falafel wrap that cost £7.50 at your seventh Reading, I had when I was 13 watching TV.

Famous People in Cartoon Form Can Teach you More Than Your Parents Ever Will

Whether it’s Michael Jackson voicing a patient in a mental institution who believes he is Michael Jackson; Johnny Cash appearing as a spirit guide in the form of a coyote who visits Homer during an intense pepper-induced hallucination and advises him to find his soul-mate; or the fictional Bleeding Gums Murphy sublimating Lisa’s depression by playing her the blues saxophone – each Simpsons storyline comes equipped with the kind of lesson that can only be taught via TV.

When yellow Johnny Cash tells you that all you need is a soul-mate and you’ll be OK – and all of a sudden you’re like, you know, my one weird friend and I are doing just fine and I’m probably going to stop padding my bra now because who needs boys when there is music.


Elitism Is For Jerks

A lot of people live in a world where we throw chairs at 50 Cent for playing Reading & Leeds and cast a major side-eye to the idea of Metallica headlining Glastonbury. Yet, Matt Groening is better than you, he understands that elitism in music is for jerks and when he had the opportunity to create an album he thought, you know what, why wouldn’t the two main singles be “Do the Bartman” co-written by Michael Jackson and “Deep, Deep Trouble” co-written with half the cast of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The resulting album was The Simpsons Sing The Blues, which went Gold in the 90s and is, content-wise, maybe one of the most diverse records of the decade.

Matt Groening extended this mantra into the real-world too. He curated All Tomorrow’s Parties (before it was teetering on bankruptcy) back in 2010 and threw Spiritualized next to Iggy and the Stooges. Because why not? He created a world where it’s OK for B.B. King and DJ Jazzy Jeff to share a credit roll, for The Ramones to play your granddad’s birthday party, and Mick Jagger is a camp counsellor. Music is a unifying force – it shouldn’t separate people.

Any Idiot Can Start a Band

Quit complaining that modern music is all twerking arses and PC Music ruining your idea of decency – if Homer Simpson can start a Barbershop Quartet, then anything is possible.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @SickBae

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