It’s an oft-forgotten truth that music geeks exist in the same world as literature geeks, cinema geeks and fine art geeks. Why forgotten? Well, it’s a safe bet that a majority of you out there have some music aficionado in your circle of friends, someone constantly making mixes for you, but there’s probably no one nattering in your ear about Tolstoy or Jasper Johns.
It seems that the desire to impress one’s taste on friends and associates is uniquely that of the music geek. People like myself get a lot of criticism for this sort of behavior: “Why can’t I just listen to what I like?” is the common rallying cry. And at the same time, you wouldn’t expect a film critic to let you off the hook for your Bruckheimer fixation, nor would a literature snob tolerate your J.K. Rowling fanaticism, sincere as they may be. Why then, is it necessary for me to point out that you’re listening to a cover of a cover of a Leonard Cohen song, that Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels did it better, that it’s Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Al Green and Marvin Gaye, in that order?
The answer, it seems, lies at least partially in time and economics. A song — a great song, the kind that I would sit you in front of the stereo and make you listen to under threat of friendship — can be digested and appreciated all before the opening credits finish rolling on “Eraserhead.” Similarly, while it would take months of research, numerous essays and a broader understanding of art in general to truly appreciate any single painting of Edward Degas, an audiophile can explain to you the essence of beauty in the opening seconds of “I Want You Back,” subtext be damned. New technologies like Walkmen and iPods have made immediate exposure that much easier.
Although the possibility of instant understanding is alluring, the potential of ownership catapults music into an “every person” realm that no other art form enjoys. If by playing you “God Only Knows” for three minutes can sufficiently encourage you to go out and buy Pet Sounds, then my job here is done. It’s different with other art forms. Books, even when purchased, can take weeks to fully engage. Paintings are prohibitively expensive, and reproductions are ultimately limited, failing to capture the subtlety and thrill of a first-hand experience.
In other words, while it’s nearly impossible to build an authentic art collection, and even the most devoted readers are limited to several hundred pages a day, any plebeian can enjoy a kickass music collection (an idea supported by the fact that most music snobs are semi-unemployed social recluses, or at least pretend to be as much).
The mostly intuitive, dryly academic argument outlined above goes a long way to explain the abundance of audiophiles. Ultimately, however, it fails to explain the obsession: why it’s absolutely essential for me to remind you that Dylan had the best three-album run in the history of rock music, even if I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you don’t give a damn. It fails to explain why I’ve contemplated dropping out of school to listen to The Constantines’ “On to You” professionally, and more importantly, why I think so much less of you if you don’t feel the same way after a few spins. It fails to explain why more than 20 members of the Daily’s music staff gathered over expensive pizza and cheap beer on a Friday night to discuss which White Stripes albums were among the 50 (an even, if essentially arbitrary number) best of the last half-decade, whether Jay-Z’s Black Album belonged higher than the legendary Smile and whether Elliot Smith’s fourth best album belonged in such diverse, esteemed company.
That otherwise rational people think about these things speaks volumes about their obsessions. Imagine a friend hounding you about not reading “Ulysses” for days on end, for making you watch “Full Metal Jacket” until you enjoy it. What instills music elitists with such a sense of social duty, of perfectionism, even in others, isn’t economics, it isn’t convenience and it sure as hell isn’t some sense of social Samaritanism. It’s the slight delay on the organ on “Like a Rolling Stone,” or the whistling coda on “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” It’s the throaty howl of “Disorder,” the perfect, fleeting romanticism of “Summer Babe,” the playful gush of “Gigantic,” the sailor’s rant of “Louie Louie” and a billion other microcosms of girls, God and growing up. And if this sounds ridiculous in print (as I’m almost sure it does), then there’s a chair in front of my stereo that you can sit in until everything becomes a little clearer.
— Andrew would appreciate your help in his quest to prove that Maroon 5 is the greatest rock band of our generation. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org