Thursday, October 23, 2008

Listen Without Prejudice: Preamble

Stealing Kisses - Lori McKenna (mp3)
Video - Kay Hanley (mp3)

I'm not much of a wine drinker. I am, for all intents and purposes, a wine moron. If Paul Giamatti's character from Sideways, Miles, met me while my wife and I were touring Sonoma County and tasting all those wondrous wines, he would consider me proof the end of the world was nigh.

Miles was constantly in my self-conscious thoughts as we traipsed through the handful of wineries we visited on our day in Napa. Miles haunted me, because everytime we walked into a winery, my immediate thought was of how pedestrian my tastes, how ignorant my knowledge. Don't worry, by the fourth good wine tasting, I wasn't too worried about what he thought anymore, and I started thinking more about Virginia Madsen.

The movie is funny. I love Sideways. And Miles is a great protagonist, someone you feel badly for as his life spirals around. But oftentimes a compelling protagonist would make for a crappy companion, and I don't think many people would really like to hang around Miles and his anti-merlot rants. His acidic nature would wear thin quickly.

Fortunately, I don't know a lot of wine connoisseurs. Unfortunately, I know a lot of Mileses. And most of them are music aficionados... or they think they are.

One of the most disturbing arguments I can remember from my high school years involved music. In one, I found myself getting increasingly heated with a good friend as we argued which one of the bands we loved sucked, and which one rocked. I argued passionately for Rush. He argued hornily for Poison. I said Poison was a bunch of copycat posers. He said Rush couldn't make a song catchy enough to attract a single female.

It was one of those debates that got so out of hand, so ludicrous, that in hindsight it's clear that the argument was only about these bands on the surface; we were actually arguing about much deeper things, about how we were drifting away and increasingly interested in different things. He could get dates. He went out with cool classmates and drank and had fun. I couldn't talk to a girl without hyperventilating, and I couldn't quite get away from my comic books. I was clinging to weirdness. He was assimilating.

The upside of having a ludicrous argument over music that got so out of hand and signified the slow death rattle of a friendship was this: I vowed to never again get into such a pointless, mind-numbingly stupid debate about music. (Note: Unfortunately, all other subjects are still in bounds, and I still get into plenty of pointless arguments.)

I became that curse word of true fanatics: a musical relativist.

If you like what you like, great. If you don't like what I don't like, I'll respectfully disagree, but fine. If you would like to engage me in a discussion about "shitty music" versus "kickass music," I'll happily oblige, but I'm under no illusion that either of us will somehow change our minds about what we like and don't like. And, sadly, just 'cuz I like something doesn't mean someone else should. Just 'cuz I love a cabernet or chardonnay doesn't mean it's the Mileses of the world will like it or even give it a second sniff. So be it. Or, as Robbie Nevil said, C'est La Vie.

Although there are almost always exceptions, I've developed my own little personal smell test for music:
  1. Did the performer/band write the song themselves? Do they write all or almost all of their own stuff?
  2. Did the performer/band play their own instruments, or are their "ghost players" who never get any credit lurking behind them?
  3. Is their priority to create something valueable, or to get value for their creations?
If the band passes these three tests, they're at least 4x more likely to earn my attentive ear. If, like the Jonas Brothers or Britney or even Faith Hill, they fail more than one test, they're at best good for one or two songs, at worst not remotely worth my time.

The Billy Music Litmus Test works for me. I admire creatives, not puppets, so I prefer wasting my ears on music that's coming, more often than not, from the original source. Does Faith Hill suck, musically? Pointless question for me. She's just not worth it for me to go out of my way to listen to her. (Although, as eye candy, she's more than deserving of the occasionally distracted glance.)

On the other hand, Lori McKenna, whose most recent album Faith Hill and Tim McGraw helped produce, deserves a whole heapin' helping of my time and attention, because she passes all three tests with flying colors.

With that in mind, I'm going to occasionally write something about a band or musician whose music is important to me but gets quickly dismissed by the Mileses amongst us -- from the Rolling Stone and PopMatters and Pitchfork critics to the many friends and acquaintances who have an unhealthy amount of Miles in them.

I don't ask or expect that you like them. I only ask that you give them a chance. Stick your nose into that glass and take a sincere and open-minded whiff. Roll them around on your ear to get their texture. And then, if you must, spit it out. But who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you'll like those Green Eggs and Ham...

"Stealing Kisses" is from Lori's album Bittertown, but Faith Hill covered it on her latest album. "Video" is from Kay's latest album, Weaponize. Both albums can be had on iTunes, and Bittertown is also available at's mp3 site.


Bob said...

Though I know almost nothing about photography, the gratuitous Faith Hill pic seems particularly well-composed, from an artistic standpoint.

jed said...

ok, i don't get it. please tell me who is the dubbed-in member of poison?