A couple weeks ago, I got robbed. Apparently the homeless people here have “balls the size of watermelons,” as the cop who came to my house to investigate the scene so eloquently phrased it. The scene consisted of the following: my Hi-Fi (an extinct breed of high-fidelity iPod deck) and my iPod (80 gigabytes, lots of personality) were swiped out of my living room window while seven of my nine housemates were home.
I really miss my Hi-Fi. It was a tad dilapidated — at a party, some rad-ass dudes decided to tamper with my shrewdly concocted party playlist and, in the process, annihilated that little metal thingy on the dock you jack your iPod into. So I had to prop my iPod up with a Balderdash box and sticky tack for it to even play in there. (Yes, the crookshanks swiped my Balderdash box, too — bummer, right?) Regardless, that Hi-Fi had serious nostalgic value, and losing it was not on my shortlist of things I wanted to happen.
As far as my iPod, I shelled out for a new one in less than 24 hours. I am umbilically attached to my iPod. It’s a little bit sickening. Sometimes I get really anxious that I care more about music than about people.
But I digress. Since my iPod got hijacked, I’ve been manically downloading all the noteworthy music that’s come out this year. I get incredibly OCD about making my end-of-the-year list and have been compulsively trying to listen to every 2009 album that could possibly hit my buzzer. And a clean-slate iPod was the perfect excuse for me to force-feed myself a stringent musical diet of only this year’s releases.
My witch-hunt for favorites has taken me to Metacritic. I’ll scroll dog-mouthed down the screen, searching for albums with little white stars next to them (denoting universal acclaim). Pitchfork has also been a trusted source — I’ve brownnosed around the Internet for everything it brands as “Best New Music.” And, although these methods have fished me a lot of quality hours of music listening, they feel a little bit formed to me — molded by something outside of my control.
How much control do we really have over our own culture? For the most part, we’re all funneling our knowledge of career-defining albums and breakout bands through these trusted sources that manufacture “buzz” for us: Metacritic; Pitchfork; Pandora. I mean, there’s always the endless sea of blogs out there to ravage, but I spend an ungodly amount of time thinking about music as it is. And I, an unthinking robot receptacle of this bourgeoisie buzz, could make a blog myself, simply spitting back my own permutations of the commodities I’ve been fed.
I know this all sounds a little nihilistic and doomy — the furrow-browed child of information age angst — but, in reality, most of us are getting our information from mass amalgamators of the same source: everyone.
How does buzz travel? Word of mouth. And who has word of mouth? Everyone. But then why do I feel like my word of mouth is so determined by these buzz bands that have conveniently popped up for me on the surface of the information superhighway?
Now, I understand I’m whining about my lack of ability to create culture from the high and mighty throne of music columnist. I can mold your minds right now. I can tell you what to listen to. And the obvious place to start is with local music. I may be relying on these homogenizing buzz-filters to be my ears in the rest of the country, but the least I could do is go out and comb the streets of Ann Arbor for bands that deserve to blow up.
And I probably should. But how much power do I actually have? I never really know these things. Let’s say I randomly go out to the Bling Pig one night and see this groundbreaking local krautrock rock band nobody’s ever heard of. I can devote an entire column to its consecration and balloon its buzz quotient in the city of Ann Arbor. But is the buzz fallout from The Michigan Daily expansive enough to set off the buzz detectors on a national cultural icon like Pitchfork? Is it mighty enough to be absorbed into such a prominent information body and shat out subjectively for mass consumption? No. And in all honesty, does that even matter?
Why not just embrace the information overload that blog-buzz culture has deluged us with? Sure, we’re all jacking into similar sources for upcoming album release dates and “Best New Music.” But we’ve attached ourselves to these sources for a reason: They give us a lot of choices and they’ve shown as a lot of good music. It’s intimidating enough to rifle through all the music that pops up on the country’s infrastructural buzz meter. And, truly, the gratification I get from sifting through these breakout bands in my head with my biased, idiosyncratic rating system is purely narcissistic. Why sit there and worry about how much control I have over my own taste when it’s so much more fun to converge with my brother robots and warmly accept the fact that Merriweather Post Pavilion is objectively the best album of the year?