I work with a guy I’ll call “Stan.” Stan is, generally speaking, a nice guy and, generally speaking, I get along well with him. Stan is also a musician. Like many musicians, Stan thinks that since he can play an instrument, this means that his knowledge and taste in all things music-related is incontestable. If Stan likes it, anybody with functioning ears should like it and if they don’t, they are clearly incapable of appreciating anything but the most unrefined crap, and if Stan dislikes it, then anybody who does like it is an idiot, or worse.
The punchline: Stan is a jazz aficionado, the absolute worst kind of pretentious, self-congratulatory music snob there is – this is coming from me, remember – and furthermore, Stan is a drummer. [Insert your own joke here.]
One weekend morning, Stan brought in a CD – jazz, of course – to play over the anchors’ IFB earbuds. The show is airing, they hit a commercial break, and Stan plays his disc. A minute or two goes by and the anchor says, “What is this shit? Turn it off.”
Stan was quite livid. For the next few days, he bitched that the anchor made him turn his CD off. “These are some of the finest players in the world, and she calls it shit,” he pouted and mumbled. “Finest players in the world … finest players … these are some of the finest players…”
Stan’s first mistake was trying to foist his tastes upon other people. His second mistake was bringing in whatever the fuck it was he brought in – some Ornette Coleman bootleg recorded in a graveyard in 1961, perhaps – and assuming that his grateful coworkers would lick it up: “Wow, Stan, this 27-minute free-form sax solo that’s going absolutely nowhere is the shit, dude! Burn me a copy!” That’s pretty damned conceited on Stan’s part, and I always admired that anchor for taking him down a peg that day.
I get a lot of advance CDs. This is a perk of being a freelance music critic. I have most of these materials sent to me at work. Today I received a promo of Young Widows upcoming debut album Settle Down City, which is due in August. Young Widows are a Louisville band that used to be called Breather Resist. They decided on a name change when their singer left the band. Regardless of nomenclature, the group plays a pretty heavy, powerful, hardcore-derived style of indie rock with a regular use of dissonance. It’s not entirely inaccessible, but it’s definitely rough sledding if you’re not into this kind of music.
Stan was loitering near my cubicle and he saw the CD. Better yet, he saw the press clippings that accompanied the CD, and right on top was a blurb that appeared in Spin proclaiming Breather Resist a “next big thing.” Spin used the unfortunate phrase “Louisville, Kentucky quartet that exorcise early-‘90s emocore” to describe the band. Stan picked up the clips pack, gave it a brief perusal and then announced to no one in particular, “Well, here’s another band that proves the less talent you have, the more popular you become.”
Where to begin? Well, for starters, I didn’t ask Stan, but I would be willing to bet my own liver that he’s never heard Young Widows or for that matter, Breather Resist, play a single note, so how does he know they have no talent?
Another thing: Spin is a shitty rag, but it is a national magazine and a lot of people read it. How many times have you been in Spin, Stan? Being in Spin is certainly no gauge of artistic merit, but just by being mentioned in it (two years ago), they’re quite a bit further up the musical food chain than any band you’ve ever been involved with, and Breather Resist doesn’t even exist anymore.
Here’s another Stanecdote: He engineers CDs for local bands. Once he brought in some tracks that he had been working on. He couldn’t stop boasting about how great they were, how the band’s songwriting was “solid” and how they “just have a really good sound.” Naturally, they were a thoroughly anodyne pseudo-alt-country knockoff with atrocious lyrics and utterly boring songs – complete and utter shit, in other words, and if Stan had one-tenth the impeccable taste that he says he does, he would’ve realized this. Instead, there he was boasting about this useless band that made Hootie & the Blowfish sound like the fucking Beatles. What a chump.
Dismissing Young Widows sight unseen (or sound unheard, in this case) was an incredibly arrogant and ignorant thing to do. Was he being glib? Oh, sure, but knowing what I do about Stan, it wasn’t too hard to read between the lines.
“Look at these guys, making a living playing the music they create, touring the country, not having to punch a clock or listen to some prima donna newsreader telling them to turn off their cherished jazz CDs. Oh, how I envy and hate them.”