I’m in the writing lab right now, and there is a gloomy girl on the computer to my right who has her headphones in. She is watching a music video of what appears to be a small group of emaciated pale 24-year-olds, practicing their best frowny faces and complaining, through the art of truly mediocre lyric poetry, about why growing up in the suburbs with rich parents and lots of opportunities was, like, way hard, man.
Two folks down from her is a larger male of the sporting variety who doesn’t think it’s rude to be eating Chinese food in a small, airtight computer lab. His headphones are the size of hubcaps, and the noise leaking out from them indicates his musical preferences involve plugging diesel trucks into gigantic amplifiers and then recording the noise they make as they drive off a cliff.
And a row away from Mr. Chinese Food is spunky freshman girl who is bouncing happily and nodding wistfully while Dwayne McCountry reminisces into her ears about high school stadiums, beers on back porches, stubborn patriotism and Ford endorsements.
But hey, I’m not saying those styles of music aren’t great. Just observing.
People tend to get a little edgy when you make fun of their music, much the same way they get when you mock their politics or religious preferences, if not more so.
We all form emotional attachments with our favorite musical styles. I have a long and painful relationship with James Taylor, even though I know that his music is like liberal Nyquil®. I just don’t care. We’ve seen fire and rain, he and I.
My wife has been emotionally cheating on me with Michael Bolton for years now, and even though it sounds like someone is trying to pop off his kneecaps with screwdrivers when he sings high notes, she still loves him. And she hates it when I make fun of him (sorry about the kneecaps thing, honey).
I have a friend who loves what the kids call “indie” music. She spends a lot of effort looking for new groups to love, then lords over the rest of us with a catalogue of their names (“What? You’ve never heard of Pine Tree Popsicles? Their lead singer is soooo deep and dreamy. You’re all so lame with your Adele”). Then, as soon as other people start to like them, or if the band’s music plays on anything more prestigious than a commercial for laundry detergent, she calls them “overrated” and “sellouts,” then ditches them faster than, well, a pine tree Popsicle.
My theory is that a lot of people like indie music not because it’s better, but because it’s different. Which is also not always a bad thing, I guess. People like to hear things which are different, which, in turn, means there are more different things out there.
But how different is different? Is different really different, like a garage band with a nudist opera singer and an electric harpist and a Cuban conga line and 12 bass harmonica players, or is different just another troupe of hot skinny guys with guitars, mediocre facial hair and high, tight voices?
If you want different, look no further than my brother. And then, look at the music he likes (rim-shot!). When people say that they “you know, really love music that’s unique, and, like, random,” he scoffs at them because his favorite music groups are (these are all real, folks) a six-man gospel Seventh-Day Adventist jazz a cappella group, a Swedish jazz-rock trio which performs arrangements of Justin Bieber and Britney Spears songs, an American modernist composer who worked as an insurance salesman his whole life, another Swedish jazz a cappella group (he has a Scandinavian thing), and Beyonce.
Now, I know that some people are going to read this column, and all they’re going to take away from it is that I’m a big elitist snob, and that I think the pursuit of indie music is dumb, and that it’s only an ironically trendy way to avoid being trendy.
Well, you’re right on all counts. Now leave me and James Taylor alone. We have some soul-searching to do.