I hate music snobs. I am a music snob.
That is an irreconcilable contradiction that has defined me since I first learned to use music as a signifier of identity. Since I first learned to look down on the kids in junior high wearing Ratt t-shirts.
Appreciation of music, much more so than with film, literature or television, hinges largely on taste. There’s much greater consensus what constitutes a great movie or a great novel than what constitutes great music. The critical canons in those fields are based largely on tangible, definable characteristics. Most people know an important film when they see one, even if it’s not to their taste.
But music is more visceral than the visual arts, and more immediate than literature. Intelligent, reasonable people can disagree violently and completely about music. One man’s Mozart is another man’s Limp Bizkit. Even within the extremely limited field of Western pop music, there’s no consensus about what makes good music good. Some people need deep, expressive lyrics. Others want melody above all else. Still others demand to be challenged by rhythms, tunings and instrumentation.
So, if personal taste is critical to appreciating music, then there’s no reason to cast aspersions on those who don’t share our opinions.
Moreover, I consider myself a musical populist. I love Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. I like Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson and Kanye West. I’m a fucking man of the people. Occasionally, I enjoy being challenged by music, but more often I want catchy pop songs or rocking, driving songs with a propulsive beat. With music, I need my id satisfied before my superego.
And music snobs are assholes. No one likes that guy at the record store judging you for buying a Hall & Oates album (what are record stores, Daddy?). Music snobs are people who boost their self-esteem at the expense of others, for reasons that have nothing to do with quality of character or intelligence.
I know all of the above, and I know it well. But none of it stops me from being the biggest fucking music snob on the face of the Earth.
For some reason, somewhere deep in my soul, taste in music is inextricably tied with judging. I don’t like this about myself, and I’d change it if I could, but I’m too old to change and fuck you for listening to Dave Matthews anyway.
When I come into your house, I will look through your dusty CD collection, and I will judge you. When I’m in your car, I will scroll through your iPod, and I will judge you. When I’m at your party, I will listen to the songs you’ve selected to be played, and I will judge you. When I’m at your wedding, I will only dance to the songs I approve of, and I will judge, you, your DJ, and your entire family.
In some ways, it’s no better than being raised a racist in the old South. But I grew up believing that if you primarily listen to jam bands, that you are a terrible person, a soul beyond the redemptive power of even Guns N’ Roses or Nirvana. Now, we live in a polite society, and we all outgrow a portion of our youthful vitriol, so if I meet you, a Widespread Panic fan in my everyday life, I will not call the police or even insult you to your face. But, oh, how I will laugh at you behind your back. And how I will feel better about myself for not being you, trapped in your small space and lost in a twenty-minute guitar noodle.
Why am I telling you this? Why am I admitting my flaws, limitations and prejudices? Perhaps I come before you to be judged, like Ben Linus before the smoke monster. Perhaps I need you to tell me how awful I am, so I can self-flagellate and move on. So I can head back to the Pitchfork Festival this year free of a guilty conscience, and dance with renewed vigor and purpose.
Or maybe I just wanted to remind everybody how fucking terrible jam bands are.
Could go either way. The soul of a musical racist is a dark and confusing place.