First let me say that this is not a criticism of music writers or music writing as a genre. Far from it. To all of you music writers, I say, Rock on. Tons of people read your stuff, and will talk to you about it till the cows come home. But I won’t be one of them.
Not because I’m some sort of snob, or only read “literature.” (Please: I read celebrity gossip every day. Blind items revealed? Squee!) No. It’s because I don’t know shit about music. Like sports, most music is simply beyond my knowledge, so when you write about the best this or the worst that, or the top ten whatever, I’ll enjoy the writing, metaphors, and anecdotes, but I’ll have no idea who or what you’re talking about.
Case in point: a conversation I had with potential roommates many moons ago in Boston:
Roommate Seeker: We don’t want someone who will be blasting Molly Hatchet into the wee hours.
Me: I won’t do that. I don’t even know who she is!
These are the top 10 most played songs on my iPod:
- Hombre, MIA
- My Love, Justin Timberlake
- SexyBack, Justin Timberlake
- All Nite (Don’t Stop), Janet Jackson
- No Hay Igual, Nelly Furtado
- Lose Control, Missy Elliot
- Hollerback Girl, Gwen Stefani
- Clocks, Coldplay
- I’m a Slave 4 You, Britney Spears
- Yummy, Gwen Stefani
In addition to being several years old, my most played playlist runs the gamut from dance music, to dance music, to whatever Coldplay is. I could make the excuse that I switched computers and haven’t had a chance to update my library, that I usually use my iPod for working out, that, I swear to God, I also have the Black Keys, Elbow, Corinne Bailey Rae, and tons more Amel Larrieux, but what it comes down to is: 1) does it have a good beat and 2) can I dance to it?
Like picnics, flip flops, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, music is something I know I should be into, but I’m just not. When I say “into” I mean really love. Can’t live without. I like music, and am appreciative to my iPod for drowning out inane/crazy conversations on the train and bus, but I’m not into it. I don’t worship bands. I don’t go out of my way to see anyone perform.
I could say I like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but really it’s just that one song. Ditto the White Stripes. I couldn’t tell you if Meg White is a good drummer or not, and I don’t care. I can’t tell you anything about the chick from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, except that she’s part Korean. Like a blind baby bird, I consume what MTV and the airwaves feed me.
I played piano for eleven years. This doesn’t mean I know about music. I can read notes; I can tell major from minor.
My boyfriend has four guitars, a bass, and a bass six. Oh excuse me, I mean a bass VI. He has two ukeleles and several harmonicas. He’s the one who bought us the keyboard. He went to music school after losing his job in the financial meltdown. He loves music. He remembers lyrics and tunes decades later. For instance:
Well I guess it would be nice
If I could touch your body
I know not everybody
Has got a body like you
Not exactly some-lyricist-who-writes-interesting-lyrics, but I sure as hell can’t remember lyrics like that, at least not for a song I haven’t listened to since I was 14 and wore my belt on the outside of my shirt.
He says, “Listen to this, I’m getting so much better,” and plays some notes. I nod and smile, and say, “Yes, you’re so much better,” but really, I can’t tell the difference.
“Listen to this amp,” he says. “Listen to that one. Which sounds better?”
I have no idea.
“These guys are bad ass!” he says of some band I’ve, yet again, never heard of, and I say, “Yes, they sure are,” but I can’t tell the difference.
We go to Amoeba Records – The World’s Largest Independent Record Store! – and he walks away with five to seven to ten CDs every time, and I’ve never bought a single one. I wander the aisles, looking for artists I know. Look, the Eurythmics! Ace of Base! Kelly Clarkson!
“Maybe there’s something in classical you’ll like,” the boyfriend says, since I am after all, “classically trained” (ha!) and I shrug and smile, and wander down those less crowded aisles, and while I recognize the composers, I can’t remember the names of their songs. I don’t cream my jeans because so-and-so is the solo flautist for some performance though apparently she’s a famous enough flautist to warrant a glowy glamour shot for the CD cover. I don’t get all emotional over a particular performance, like a guy I once dated who played me Glen Gould’s “Goldberg Variations,” and kept murmuring, “Listen to that, isn’t that amazing? Well isn’t it?” and I’d feel at once inferior and annoyed because although I could tell, yes, that’s pretty, and maybe, that’s some phrasing! I didn’t feel moved enough to say, “Yes! That is amazing!” because worse than feeling like I should be into music is being told that I should be into music, which is the same as being told how to feel about anything, like when the same guy thought I should be upset when he “confessed” that his ex-girlfriend was half-Chinese, and I’m Chinese, so surely I should think he’s only dating me because I remind him of his ex, which I didn’t till he mentioned it.
As far as I can tell, music writing seems to be about not just music but the experience of it. My life changed the night I was at this bar and heard this band! When I read a sentence like that, my brain goes to sleep, because not only is reading about music boring, seeing it live is boring too.
Live music is boring.
There! I said it! I am officially uncool!
Unless I have my keister parked in a comfy seat, the show starts on time, and lasts no more than an hour (two’s okay with an intermission), I’ll be annoyed and bored. There’s nothing worse than standing around forever in some bar, waiting for a show that starts late, and then it’s really really loud, and it’s some band I never heard of, and you can’t talk because it’s so fucking loud. And I can’t even drink that much because I’m allergic to alcohol, which means I get really red, really hot, and have to pee all the time, and God knows, I don’t want to stand in line with a bunch of barely dressed girls who’re young enough to be my daughters (kill me now), and then pee in some pitch black bathroom that may or may not have something disgusting on the seat.
Someday if my boyfriend is ever in a band, I won’t be one of those cool groupie girlfriends, hanging on the edges, black lipstick, black nails, grooving coolly to the jams (is that even a thing?). So cool I’ll know about all the bands he knows, I’ll know the rehearsal schedule and their set (I’m pretty sure that’s a thing). So hip I’ll be able to argue who’s better, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. No, I won’t be doing any of that because I’ll be too busy yawning my brains out, not because the conversation is boring but because it’ll probably be late at night, way later than I’m used to staying up. And I won’t even hear the conversation because I’ll be wearing ear plugs. I’ll be in my Gap T-shirt, Gap jeans, no makeup, picking the sleepy crud out of my eyes and wishing I was home in bed reading Gone with the Wind.
Don’t judge me.
It’s not that I hate music. It’s not that I don’t have an emotional connection. I do. Certain songs still prompt a visceral reaction in me: “The Tide is High,” putting on lipgloss with my third grade best friend Jennifer Harris; “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” riding home from school with my beautiful ninth grade friends, feeling very non-beautiful; “Wonderwall,” driving with my ex to aquarium stores all over wintry New England; “Shine,” walking alone up and down Park Avenue those first several months after my divorce.
With every song, give me a story. Better yet, give me dancing. Give me, yes, here it comes, a musical.
I have a love, and it’s all that I need,
Right or wrong, and he needs me, too.
I love him, we’re one;
There’s nothing to be done,
Not a thing I can do
But hold him, hold him forever –
Huh? What was I saying? Ah yes. Musicals.
West Side Story!
The Color Purple!
I’ll take a musical over a rock concert any day. I get tingles. I bawl my eyes out. I’ve seen Chicago five times (once with Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, and James Naughton!), and I’d see it again.
Those of you who don’t know anything about musicals have no idea what I’m talking. Bebe Neuwirth? Wasn’t she from Cheers? Who’s Ann Reinking? James Naughton? Who cares if I saw them in Chicago, live on stage?
Because they’re the original cast, mofos! Ann Reinking coreographed that shit. That’s like seeing some band that used to have these members but now have those members play again with the original “these members.”
Whatever band that might be.
Give me a movie soundtrack to a movie I’ve seen. Movie soundtracks make my music library seem cool. Pulp Fiction. City of Angels. The Wackness. The Secret of Roan Inish. Jerry Maguire. Into the Wild. The Piano. Juno.
If I was a flower growing wild and free
All I’d want is you to be my sweet honey bee.
And if I was a tree growing tall and green
All I’d want is you to shade me and be my leaves!
So while you cool kids are listening to live music, or reading about it, or debating it, I’ll be over here watching The Sound of Music for the billionth time, sitting on the edge of my seat as dancers “dance for their lives” on So You Think You Can Dance, and telling my boyfriend I can tell the difference between his bass and his bass six. I mean, VI.