We had a Sex Pistols moment here at the Phoenix last week. Let me explain. We were skipping around the area, happily doling out our local music awards for our Best Music Poll, when we ran nose-first into a buzzsaw. Bob Dead, aka Bob Otis of DropDead, longstanding Providence punk icon, opted to decline his band’s award for Best Local Punk/Garage Act. The dismissal was reminiscent of the Sex Pistols’ rejection of their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame invitation. It came in an e-mail:
“I’m not sure if anyone has ever done this before . . . maybe they have. But with all due respect to the people at the Phoenix and yourself, we would like to decline our nomination as best ’Punk’ band. We feel that is unfair to the many hard working bands in Providence who are putting in just as much in blood, sweat and tears to this great music scene of ours, and it would be arrogant of us to somehow think we are better, regardless of our longevity. We believe that the Phoenix Poll promotes a sense of elitism between bands and would prefer to support the Providence scene as a whole, not as a single entity. We are proud to be a part of what is one of the most eclectic, honest and original music communities in the country . . . and if anything would prefer that the ’award’ be given to the entire scene as it continues to grow and be something that in its greatness has caused all eyes to look towards Providence. So with that said, we respectfully decline.”
Dead is widely respected in Providence’s indie underground. He is a tireless champion of independent music and a steadfast hometown backer — perhaps prouder than anyone of Providence’s national and international reputation as a bastion of underground music. In a way, his refusal of the award came as no surprise, mostly for the reasons he outlines above. (We awarded the category to Sweetthieves, who trailed DropDead by 10 votes, which explains the photo accompanying their BMP profile.)
But in the paper’s defense, we don’t intend to promote competition, per se, by pitting band against band. We’re merely promoting the scene. Every year in our poll we publicize the efforts of nearly 100 of the area’s best bands by putting them in front of the eyes of our readers. Many are happy to be nominated and don’t fuss over votes; others are more enthusiastic and do the ballot-scramble. In our view it’s an innocent exercise that heightens the profile of local music.
From what I’ve heard, Otis’s scene is utterly cool. But it’s an elusive, dead-of-night, neighborhood commotion that occurs when most backs are turned. On one hand, it’s total DIY and colonized by many of the city’s most stalwart bands, bravest musicians, and most diehard fans. In fact, it is a “circle” — a “scene” — populated by those “in the know.” That said, Dead’s criticism of this paper’s “elitism” is ironic. Their scene is “elite” almost by definition. If he wants to promote “the scene as a whole,” then why spearhead this separatism?