I am a massive Coldplay fan. This isn’t meant to be read as a courageous declaration or a humble confession. It simply is a fact; a fact no more significant than other facts about me, such as that I enjoy eating plums and watching Chopped.
Upon hearing this news though, most people have one of three reactions:
A. “Do you know how you know you’re gay?”
B. “I liked the first two albums. After that, they started to suck.”
C. “Dude, I thought you had good taste in music!”
When it comes to options A and B, I don’t worry about all that. That joke is painfully old and so I can dismiss everything the comedian could say. A reasonable person could make statement B but I respectfully disagree. (I’d agree you that last two albums are collectively better than the first two. But that’s another discussion for another nerdy day.)
C, however, is brutal. I hate it. In almost every way, I revel in my rejection of conformity. I like what I like because I like it. That’s it. But I have spent too many hours reading about music, too much money on albums and concert tickets and too much time learning instruments to have my musical credibility instantly dismissed because of my love for Coldplay.
To defend myself from such sweeping musical rejection from the fraternity of “People with good taste in music,” I have been forced to adopt tactics to prove my musical worth. I’m not proud of this. I wish the world didn’t make me have to conform to their standards. But this is not a post-musical society. I am simply adapting. Therefore, these are bands that I pretend to like a lot more than I do in order to maintain some sort of musical credibility.
How to effectively name-drop a bands into conversation is a shameful but important act to perfect. The weight a band can add to your musical credentials depends on varying factors. Many disciplines understand the spread of an idea in a bell curve that is separated in four sections: early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Understanding a band’s popularity in this curve is essential for name-dropping. Doing so too early in their popularity makes you look like a Pitchfork-salivating elitist. Finding a band too late is like wearing Timberland boots at the club. Their time, sadly, has faded. Recognizing this difference is critical.
Here’s an example. There was a time when name-dropping a band like the xx would have been to your musical credit. They were British, minimalistic, and mesmerizing. But after a few Visa commercials and a shaky cover by Shakira, you knew they couldn’t help you anymore. Which isn’t to say their music is no longer great. It’s that too many people agree with you for the xx to be of any benefit in a music conversation.
That’s what makes Arcade Fire so brilliant. Despite a Grammy, band beefs, and other MTV-worthy fodder, their musical credibility has stayed unchanged. I keep the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs on my iPod strictly to neutralize the shock some might have if their first impression of my musical tastes was Alanis Morissette. Don’t ask me if I’ve listened to it straight through. I haven’t. “Month of May” is a great song though.
There is a perception of black people that we blindly follow other esteemed black individuals without the ability to critically assess their strengths and weaknesses. Now, this is one of those statements that might have some truth considering but is usually said with a level of condescension that ultimately renders the idea moot. What is true though is that no reasonable black person, or any person really, could dislike John Legend. He is the Derek Jeter of R&B. His swagger is worth emulating. His style top-tier. With John Legend, a name pun has never been more well-deserved.
But here’s the problem. If you asked me to name five songs by John Legend, I might repeat “Ordinary People” five times. Lost in my love for John Legend is actually taking time to know his discography. I love the idea of John Legend more than the man himself.
Now, obligatory love can have its benefits. I fake-loved Cory Booker for so long I actually started to in reality. What a guy.
Going to school in North Carolina introduced me to a whole new category of music fan. These hairy-chested thrift shoppers enjoyed playing used guitars, occasionally smoking pot, gladly sharing whatever beers they had on hand and filling out their schedule with classes in the sociology department. In a world of pink and popped collars, they were very nice change of pace. Their iPods were filled with old-school O.A.R., Dave Matthews, Phish. Maybe the Grateful Dead. But the most revered of these bands was Dispatch. Again and again, this band popped up in conversations. But I’d never heard of them.
Success in college depends entirely on one’s ability to compromise. Compromising with your roommate, compromising your morals, and most of all, your musical sensibilities. If Dispatch was the band North Carolinians by way of Massachusetts enjoyed, I was going to try it out. I went back to Queens and bought a double album by Dispatch called All Points Bulletin from Best Buy.
Was the album really worth $20? Despite some brilliant tracks, probably not. But when I got back, I could sing out “Go now. You are forgiven!” with as much passion as anyone else. Which made it worth it. Dispatch was an important band for me to know about in my assimilation into non-city life. As much as I appreciate their energy and “Two Coins,” their use to me is over.
Death Cab for Cutie
I have “a type.” Saying I have “a type” is either a sign of my youth or a sign of acute self-awareness. Whatever the reason, in a Nobel-worthy discovery, I have recently isolated the common gene that links every woman that I’ve been interested that amazingly were also interested in me. That strand is Benjamin Gibbard.
This discovery should give me a critical advantage in the dating game. This, therefore, has catapulted Death Cab for Cutie from fake love territory to becoming a valued addition to my musical life. Instead of playing an awkward game of 20 Questions upon meeting at coffee shop or in a clinical trial, I simply have to find a way to see a lovely woman’s iTunes. If there’s Death Cab, I know I have a shot. If there’s Death Cab and the Postal Service, I might as well buy a ring-pop afterward. Because we’re heading to the place where soul meets body.
There are two obvious problems with this plan. An iTunes library is a modern journal. More so than one’s sexual or romantic history, one’s musical history says a lot about a person. I might as well be ask to look through their purse. Plus, if a relationship doesn’t have a solid musical foundation, how can it survive? These are issues I’m still working on addressing. But behold, I will not let this discovery go to waste.