In a conversation I was having with a friend just today, the topic of bands "selling out" randomly popped up. I have to say, I hate the words "selling out." Especially when pertaining to punk rock bands. Here's why:
In the January/February issue of Punk Planet, bassist Marty McLoughlin of Pilot to Gunner states that (regarding the band's 2004 release of "Get Saved," and the rumours of selling out that followed it), "If Get Saved was geared toward getting famous, it didn't work. And if writing good songs is selling out, the world is in trouble." When I read that line, my mind latched onto it. I tend to need a little prod to get me to figure out what I think about something, and afterward violently defend a subject; and that was it. My mind is set.
Let me explain my theory:
Merriam-Webster's definition of "sell out" reads (the definition pertaining to this use):
2 : to betray one's cause or associates
When pertaining to punk rock, this usually also entails changing one's sound to writing more "poppish," radio-friendly, and polished songs. Those bands who "sell out" get famous, and generally earn quite a bit of money.
Well, let's take a look at that. In order to "sell-out" in the punk rock world, a band needs to achieve several things: a) Someone needs to be offering to pay a band for them to change their sound in a required way. b) The change has to be something that the band wouldn't drift to if they weren't being payed, i.e. the bandmembers dislike the change (but are doing it for the money). c) The band has to have the ability to just wake up and change their sound and/or style.
Unfortunately, most rockers can't just wake up and say "I'm going to write a sell-out song and go get famous today"-- if they could, I'm sure we'd see a lot more of them doing so. Most people tend not to enjoy scraping by on mediocre concert and record sales, occasionally juggling a "real" job or two in order to pay rent on a crummy apartment in some city.
Sure, there are probably some shallow bastards that would do something totally against what they stand for for money. I'm guessing, however, that most "sell-outs" either a) got sucked into the glamours of a big record label, which is now pulling the noose tighter with threats, as they hold the rights to most or all of the band's songs, b) need the money to hold a decent standard of living, or c) just kept on writing, developing, and maturing, and by a stroke of luck managed to hit it big.
Sorry, but writing polished, radio-friendly songs is not equal to "selling out" -- even if some punks feel betrayed by hearing that old school band on the radio, with all their friends singing along. Don't get me wrong, I can't stand the "new Blink" -- but you won't hear me crying sell-out, either. With a band like Blink 182, it's hard to imagine that they would go and change their sound for more money, having already been successful previously. The fact of life is that people get older, more mature, and with bands that may mean a change in style.
It's not the end of the world. In fact, as has been seen recently with Green Day's smash hit new album, American Idiot, old fans don't always abandon those who grow up and change. If you want to listen to Dookie-like music, then go listen to Dookie -- American Idiot is just plain good. If I want to listen to Dude Ranch, I'll go listen to Dude Ranch, and not complain about the sound-change of their recent self-titled album.
There is, of course, always the possibility that I am completely wrong, as this is a fairly optimistic analysis of humans in general. Hey, I should have been a transcendentalist -- or a hippie. Maybe people really are just evil bastards, but if I can still hold a positive view after all the inside looks I've had, then I can stand hoping for the best.