My fondest musical memory is being a teenager and slow dancing in a dark, dirty kitchen to Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine.” I was dancing with a man, not because I was experimenting but because all the girls were taken and the cough syrup was kicking in pretty hard and I really wanted to slow dance like everybody else. The kitchen was filthy, actually, broken furniture amid smeared pasta and its days-old hard encasing red sauce, and if the light wasn’t broken, it eventually would be. But the stereo worked, and Redding’s eternal pauses between the words “these” and “arms” and “of” combined nicely with the gravity-sucking effects of the Robitussin to make all of us slowly, so slowly, circling each other in the debris feel real romantic, or at least instantly romanticized. And it was an old soul song and we knew what was up, nostalgia shooting forward and backward on the timeline like The Flash. It’s why I’m patient with today’s indie/DIY insta-history kids: I get wanting epic moments so bad that you psychically will them upon your own life.
Now I’m older and I have bigger problems as a music experiencer. Like, today—how am I going to make fun of the new Radiohead album without listening to it? I have bills to pay and I enjoy hurting feelings, but life is short and, if 2016 is any indication (it is), getting shorter. I’ve become adept at making Tom Wolfe jokes without having ever read anything but a few paragraphs of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but I have a feeling that shit won’t fly with Yorkshire’s (I assume that’s where they’re from. Why else would dude be named that?) fairest distress fetishists. Are they even still scared of robots? Or was it that robots were scared of them and that was alienating? I mean, I agree with that! The thought of a synthezoid giving me the cold shoulder at an Avengers (sorry) assembly makes me irretrievably sad. I still like the Greg Ginn guitar scrape before the chorus of Creep kicks in, though. I remember them as all having lazy eyes, riding willy-nilly through a dystopian shopping mart, which is beautiful—like tracking butterflies, but instead of over a rolling savanna, it’s Radiohead’s faces. Maybe I’m a fan after all. Guess we’ll never know.
I know there have already been articles about not listening to Radiohead, much to the distress of former SPIN staffers worldwide, and, as a tribute to them, I’m not going to read said pieces, either. But I’m proud to be part of a burgeoning scene. This must be what it was like to be the fourth Futurist or Monet’s fuzzy puddle buddy!
I’m probably annoying to be around, but I’ve been around genuinely smart people too and, trust me, nine times out of ten, they were no pickle parade either.
Having learned early on that very little matters to me, I have strong opinions about all sorts of art that I haven’t experienced. And not just the works that I pretend to have experienced, with a firm head nod at the bar when asked to confirm that, yes, indeed, Boyhood/Mean Streets/every Sopranos past the third episode is the peak of creative masculinity so far. I also have strong opinions about art that I gleefully admit to not having any working knowledge of. Ezra Pound? Fuck him! Guided By Voices? Never listened to an entire song, but I have read the euphoric praise from unkempt men and know, in my heart of hearts, by all that’s holy, by all of Cronus’s ungrateful children and his ruptured belly itself, that shit is not for me! Maybe I’m wrong (unlikely), or maybe I’m right; at the end of the day, my being wildly wrong about anything and everything hurts no one, not even me. I thrive like a useful idiot, a Mitford Sister of any delusional political stripe.
(Fun fact: I’ve read almost 300 pages of a Mitford Sisters biography and absolutely none of their individual works. But it’s fun to refer to things.)
Not knowing what I’m talking about has probably been a hindrance in ways I am, in a blessed consistency, not aware of. I’m certainly still tending bar in order to eat, but I very much enjoy working long hours picking things up and putting things down, so I can’t, in any meaningful way, complain. I’m probably annoying to be around, but I’ve been around genuinely smart people too and, trust me, nine times out of ten, they were no pickle parade either. I trust in the awfulness of the individuals that make up the mass to make me comparatively, if not lesser than, then certainly equal to.
The Replacements, arguably the only band of the last thirty years to come close to Radiohead in terms of an egregiously awful span of influence, had one great song, “I Hate Music.” (Okay, maybe “Here Comes A Regular,” too, but look what it did to all your guy friends.) This song, maybe meant ironically but death to the author and all that, is a guiding light to me as someone who, like every goddamn musician quoted in a bad press release, really loves music, man. I sing it to myself when I read criticism and I sing it to myself when I write it. It’s usually (always) better than what I’m writing about and certainly what I’m writing. Those lyrics—“I hate music/it’s got too many notes … Tommy said ‘so … what’”—suggest an ethos I can really get behind. The only other great piece of music criticism I can think of is a posting on SongMeanings.com for Roxy Music’s “More Than This” that simply states, “You want to make people cry? Play this at your funeral.” Between that and Budweiser killing the concept of irony far more successfully than any terrorist act ever could by changing its name to “America,” language and all human knowledge is rendered to fine bird shit. I scream into the void, “fuck me daddy.”
Don’t worry: hyperbole is still chugging along nicely.
The new Radiohead album is great, I’m sure. Maybe after twenty years of emo, “broken hearts make it rain” is a good lyric and not a line that makes one swallow one’s own teeth and pray for David Ruffin to descend from the heavens to smite all apostates. In an artistic world awash in gestures towards meaning and feelings and so, so many notes, who am I to blow against the wind? I remember being young and wanting badly for my sadness to have a weight that would bend steel, and even if that’s given way to an age-inappropriate adolescent nihilistic posturing, well, I remember my youth and honor it. It’s nice to feel things pressing down upon you slowly, like so many thick blankets while a blizzard beats against your window. I distrust the confusion of moroseness with hope, but I dig the human desire for being inspired. And if I allow myself a surfeit of lies, I’d be a real rat bastard to begrudge anyone else the same.