Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How do you handle a musical bully?


Q: What do you do when a stranger wants to talk to you about music?
A: Follow some of these steps.

Yesterday I received an e-mail expressing mild frustration about not being able to keep up with today’s music. Basically, this guy was caught in the middle of a conversation at a holiday party in which only ten percent of the acts mentioned were recognizable.

He asked what I do to keep up with new music, finally realizing his car radio presets weren’t going to be a viable source for new content. I gave him my standard, “podcasts, podcasts, podcasts” response – which appeared to be more work than he’d be willing to undertake. An entirely understandable stance: for even professional music critics – who just sit around all day listening to music – are many times running behind as well.

So I decided to offer the following, lazy method, to holding your own if you get cornered by a music aficionado. If you’re going to a New Year’s Eve Party this Thursday, you’ll likely have a bulldozer approach trying to find somebody/anybody willing to listen…

The easiest defense is to ask one of these Tune Bullies a question that will give them an opportunity to further prove to themselves they have important thoughts. Now, this is a polite course of action that will buy you more time until you see an opening for an escape. Questions that will work in almost any situation include:
-Do you know who produced that album/track, seems like that’s a more important part of the musical equation now?
-Is that also available on Amazon, because you know iTunes is so 2007, right?
-Do they tour?

If you are called upon to bring up a musical act, tread carefully. If you just met this person, they might want to start a “dueling banjos of unknown acts.” I’ve gotten into these back and forths – and nobody wins. The following statements will hopefully get you out of having to name an act that will come under instant scrutiny.
-It’s been tough to find new music, nothing sounds original anymore.
-New music doesn’t interest me, especially when you see those confusing reviews on Pitchfork.
-Actually, I’ve had a fun time recently rediscovering music I’d forgotten since high school.

Now for the advanced level tactic.
To be used when you particularly don’t care for whoever trapped you into this conversation. It’s time to start an arms race…
-Invent a genre, label it yourself... (i.e. “Mountie Rock”)
-Create an unknown act using exactly three short words or “The (insert word)s” (i.e. Neutral Milk Hotel or The Fuck Buttons). But be careful, because those two bands already exist.  Just play it safe and mention The xx:
Here they are performing the song "Islands"
They were in Chicago recently, early December, at The Bottom Lounge
They return in early April to play at the new Lincoln Hall
(bonus music snobbery: know that Lincoln Hall is the new concert hall run by the crew behind Schubas)
This album has made a few top ten lists, including NPR's listeners' poll.

Here are some possible fictitious genre names to consider assigning this band:
Too-Cool-For-Schoolism
Melancholy-ology
Your preferred merge of the words Angst and Orchestral (Angstestral?)

This works. I have successfully fooled many people into thinking I go to thousands of concerts and have an iPod library the size of Gibraltar. The truth is there are massive gaps in my musical knowledge and even the small amounts of acts I do know well, I only know tangentially.

I like what I like, as does everybody... And that's really the only way to talk about music with others. Maybe you'll get a good tip - or even better - might give a good tip to someone else.

Happy New Year everybody.

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