September 20, 2008

Requiem for a Music Geek: It Began with a Book, and Died with a Film

The horrible realization was galvanized, as it had been so often before, with a novel. A sick, terribly brutal narrative that simultaneously blew apart my confidence and showed me the way back out of oblivious ignorance. It's a vile, simplistic, and treacly little story, but Nick Hornby's High Fidelity was a singularly destructive force when I first ingested it at 22. Naturally, it came far too late in the game; I'd been an incorrigible music nerd for as long as I could remember, foredoomed by genetics, gender, socio-economic class, environment, and every other possible predisposition for hopeless geekdom. Recovery was out of the question, even after a catalyst of that magnitude.

Oh sure, a slight anti-geek reversal had already begun in my head, however imperceptive—there's no better therapy than having your own songs by your own band viciously dismissed ("you guys SUCK!") and callously ignored ("wait, you're in a band?")—but that hadn't really kicked into high gear yet, and I wasn't that far removed from my sordid history in music journalism, so Hornby's book served up a wake-up call that was about as subtle as a knee in the groin. Come to think of it, Emily gave it to me, and it doesn't take too much hindsight to read plenty of hints into that. All for my own good, presumably, but what can I say—she was right yet again, and that happens so often that it's not really news.

Anyway, I identified way, way too much with those petty squabbles of the three snobby, judgmental little bastards in the story, and it wasn't too long before I began to burn with shame and became unable to look at my own reflection in the mirror. I mean, I was relieved to know that, thanks to playing bass in the Mojo Wire, I'd already been unconsciously shedding the trappings of terminal appreciation; foisting my opinions on the world without actually creating anything in the field on which I spewed was only one of my deadly sins at the time, but it was the easiest to recognize, and the most gratifying to destroy.

Even so, the effort took a while, and took a lot out of me. It totally obliterated my unadulterated enthusiasm for new and exciting albums, for instance—Radiohead's OK Computer was the last CD that I fell completely, childishly head over heels for, and most everything afterward only got a cool, detached approval: "Hmm, that's quite good, that one," or "Most impressive, wouldn't you say?" Absolutely out of character, and definitely a worse pose from the previous unbridled rock obsession, but many other people have overcompensated for much greater transgressions in the universe, so I pretended to be mellow, and poured the effort into my own songs. That would also prove to be a destructive impulse too\, but I was gleefully ignorant of that at the time, and kept at it.

My friends and bandmates had no idea what the hell my problem was, and happily gushed, argued, and fought over albums and bands to their hearts' content. And why not? It was fun, and with a few exceptions, it never got personal or out of hand, which had always been the risk during our teens, when the practice of bitching about superficial crap was elevated to an art form. Besides, people grew out of that sort of thing eventually, didn't they? The girls I knew at the time weren't still in screaming, sopping fevers over aural bilge like New Kids on the Block, were they?

Hell no. They patiently indulged our less-intense flights of geekdom, and the most empathetic women in our lives were always ready to gently apply the brakes should we get too far out there, and if that failed, other less-subtle methods of distraction were made available (description of which shall be withheld until certain statues of limitations expire). Yes, those babes were, and are, geniuses, and their efforts were not wasted or unappreciated.

All of that's just the long way of introducing a new topic for me to bloviate on these days. And yeah, that means that the novel's progress will be delayed yet again, but I haven't written about music for a long, long time—other people's music, that is, and it feels like there's a lot of ground to re-cover. Personally, I blame it on Bryn; if it weren't for my brother's random email throw-down of his favorite songs, and our Honey White bandmates' responses, I wouldn't have dreamed of re-evaluating my musical nerdiness. So thanks, bro.

My friend Mia once said, however, that "if you can't geek out about at least one thing, your life has been wasted." As always, the women are right, and when their wisdom intersects with the glorious enthusiasms of the boys, it cannot be ignored. So watch this space on weekends. Autumn in an election year is always a hotbed of insanity, but hopefully I'll be able to ignore it enough to barf out some more half-assed music memoirs. Stay tuned.

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