Thursday 19 May 2016

Has Music Snobbery Ruined Your Life?

Twice a year, the internet erupts with 'serious' music fans denouncing what they are watching on the television. The Brit Awards, and the Eurovision song contest. Personally, I like both of them, as I am not 15 anymore and have finally gotten over myself.

The problem with being a teenager (which I have not been for nearly 20 years now) is the crippling self-doubt and desperate desire to be accepted on whatever terms you have chosen. I was never one to try to fit in, but, ironically, in deliberately not fitting in I then had to ensure I lived up to those conditions that I had set for myself. If that makes sense.

This problem is never more evident than when it comes to one's musical preferences. Even now, upon hearing a song that I really really like, my first instinct is to check who it is by, and which genre they fit into, and whether I am allowed to like it or not (in case some cooler kids in the playground laugh at me for my Kajagoogoo pencil case again*). Which is a bit rich coming from somebody who proudly owns records by Barry Manilow, Rupert Holmes and Cliff Richard. This came to a head recently in the Totnes branch of Oxfam when I heard this song:-

Holy shitballs, that is really Abba, and really awesome

I loved it, and asked the nice man behind the counter who it was, as I don't have shazam, or understand how it works and I suspect that the signal in Totnes is not strong enough for such a thing to work. Imagine my mortification when he told me it was Abba, the most ridiculed of all bands (by me, I hasten to add). The poppiest of the poppy, the one that all the mums have been dancing around their handbags to since the 70s, the most despicably accessible music ever recorded – my sister likes them for god's sake! How dare it be catchy and enjoyable for everyone (joyless bollock-wranglers like myself excluded of course).

When I started listening to Heavy Metal in the late 80s, I had to pretend that I had never liked Bros, Baltimora, Big Fun and Brother Beyond, a few years later when I discovered Punk music I denied my love of Poison, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row and Whitesnake (and never mind when I had to move on to Lard, The Descendents, Sub-Humans and ever more niche and obscure punk, dismissing the Sex Pistols as 'lightweight'). When, in 1996, I heard a catchy new song called 'Wannabe', and spent a good week jigging about to it on the production line I was working on, I found myself mortified to discover it was by a band aimed at pre-teen girls. I shouldn't have been really, it's a fucking great song.

Because fuck you, I like it

But I am still second-guessing myself, I recently saw this performance on Jools Holland, and loved it so much that I immediately ordered the album.

I wasn't sure if I liked it or hated it on first watching, always a good sign

and in the original french, for those of us who like that sort of thing

While waiting for it I listened to the original french language version of it on youtube for 5 days straight. I've always liked foreign language music (including opera) possibly because I never really listened to lyrics anyway. Not understanding what the words mean leaves you free to enjoy the music more, rather than trying to work out what the words are, and what they might be about. My lack of attention to lyrics led the twelve year old me to believe that Pink Floyd's The Wall was a tale of a country freeing itself from a tyrannical fascist regime, until the film made me see it as the self-indulgent Roger Waters wankfest it really is. Doesn't stop the songs being great; it just means the concept is, as I have already said, a self-indulgent wankfest. This could all be why my own songs have now been stripped of any deeper meaning and are now the equivalent of Paul McCartney's famous Scrambled Eggs (I prefer that version).

shameless plug once again, sorry

Since my copy of Chaleur Humaine by Christine and the Queens has turned up, I have been listening to it over and over and over again, like I haven't done for ages with any record. I can fondly recall other records that got this treatment, in 1991 I listened to Anarchy in the UK pretty much every morning; Summer 1993 was punctuated by Creedence Clearwater Revival's Pagan Baby in a similar way; A perfectly happy relationship of nearly 3 years broke up in 1996 because I couldn't stop listening to Steve Miller's The Joker, and in its miserable aftermath I found almost never-ending solace in Hey Jealousy by the Gin Blossoms on a perpetual loop. (You will notice that none of this is particularly music snobbish, but the White Noise's first album got similar treatment at one point, and I listened to a lot of Grateful Dead after that breakup.) However, in my thirties I have not felt the need to play the same song over and over again. At least not until I heard this: which I am. I am slightly unnerved that I have not heard it on 6 music once. Which means it is either on Radio 1 or 2 (I wouldn't know) - which puts it into the wrong bracket for the personality I have been desperately trying to project since I was 12 – or it is not on any radio station, in which case it is obscure french pop music that nobody else is listening to, and my teenage self approves.

Seriously, if you're going to be a depressed teenager in the 90s, listen to this song every day

I know, but just listen to this, ok? It's really good

It is this kind of obsessive reasoning that can really stop you just being happy if you are, by your very nature, a music snob. Which I have been accused of enough times to know I probably am. Although I'm not really, if I'm honest. I like Justin Bieber's new music, I think a lot of Lady Gaga's stuff is absolutely sublime. I like Kesha, and most of my favourite songs are from Sesame Street. I am a long way from cool, and I don't know why my subconscious still worries if my music taste is reflecting the right image. Somewhere inside is a thirteen year old kid who is coping with being laughed at for being a bit weird by stretching that weirdness as far as he can – colouring his hair in with marker pens and wearing lime green (with gold pinstripes no less) charity shop suits while listening to krautrock and the Residents. If I could tell him one thing it would be that it is ok to like the Residents and Tiffany at the same time.

Tiffany's first (and as far as i am aware, only) album is one of the only cassettes I didn't throw away when I moved house 3 years ago, and I only kept about 10 out of something like 500. I am on my third copy having worn the other two out.

I still don't understand people who don't like the Residents

My fear of pop music was finally exorcised when I was playing in a show band that all enthused over Justin Timberlake, Destiny's Child and En Vogue. All acts I had been treating with disdain in my official position as an alternative, punky, gothy rock type. All great songs (which I already knew in my head) and all great fun to play. Around the same time I caved in and watched Eurovision after refusing to for years. Like a lot of people I know, I had sneered at it for not being worthy, not real music. As I watched these happy people dancing around the stage in sheer abandonment (many of them in their native tongues, bringing back my love of unintelligible lyrics) I realised that that's the point of Eurovision (and Pop music's raison d'etre) it isn't trying to change the world. It's a bit of fun, a small ray of joy in a world filled with awful, a way to bring a continent of disparate people together in mutual vitriol over the pretentious and dreadful, and wild joy over the utterly batshit insane. My only regret is that it took me so long to get over myself, stop pretending to like REO Speedwagon 'ironically' and just sing along with Can't Fight This Feeling with the car windows wound down and tears streaming from my eyes (which, deep down, we all want to do).

There are two types of people in this world, those who admit they love the speedwagon, and liars.

*disclaimer – I never actually had a kajagooo pencil case, I got laughed at for a Bon Jovi cassette, but that makes me sound a lot cooler than I was/am.

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