In the time before Spotify gave you access to every song ever, you actually had to choose which few albums you would buy. This made it possible for other kids to identify how uncool you were by what music you listened to. I never ever knew the right groups or bands. Back in those days you had to get your music tips from a medium-chubby man named Carson Daly. Eventually, a service called Napster would begin to make this form of ostracism obsolete by putting all the music in the world at your fingertips; any 3 minute song could be yours, all you needed was a 56k connection and a spare 14 hours. Carson Daly’s reign of terror was over. He would go on to lose too much weight, especially in his face.But this post concerns the time before the revolution: here, in reverse chronological order, are all the times I was humiliated by not knowing about music.
2006: My roommate in college at the time was moody, bearded, and wore fitted clothes. Eventually, he and his ilk would come to be known as hipsters and make Williamsburg the seat of their empire. However, back in those days we all just thought, incorrectly, that he was gay. He went to see Wilco with his other proto-hipsters. The only reason I was embarrassed is because they scoffed at me (like, made an actual “scoff” sound) and I was outnumbered.
2004: At the beach with my friend Anne. She declared Arcade Fire “like, the seminal band of our generation.” I said, “How can that be if I’ve never heard of them?” Anne would go on to accuse me of listening to too much Fleetwood Mac (as if such a thing were possible). Arcade Fire would go on to win many meaningless Grammys and record the soundtrack to The Where The Wild Things Are movie.
1997: In Mrs. White’s 6th Grade Advanced Math class. Jake came up to me and asked, apropos of nothing, if I liked Chumbawumba. In high school and beyond, Jake and I would be good friends. In middle school, we didn’t even sit at the same lunch table. I stuttered and chewed on my lip, and Jake said, “ohhh, I get it. You’re parents won’t let you listen to that kind of music,” which isn’t technically true, but I didn’t correct him because that was a better reason than “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh who?”
1995: I’d been invited to a playgroup of boys only because my mother was friends with one of their mothers. Socially, I was in waaaaay over my head. The boys said they wanted to play (we were still young enough to ‘play’ things) “wrappers;” a word I had never heard used in Southern NH to describe anything other than the wax paper around a tootsie-roll. I was perplexed, but I held back. Justin, my least favorite, assigned our roles.
He said [as heard by my 10 year old ears] that I could be “Snoop Dog,” Jeff would be “Flavaflav,” Bud would be “Iced Tea,” and he would be “LL Cool Jay.” They were all horrified when I got on my hands and knees and started barking. I was equally perplexed at how Bud was supposed to play at being a summertime beverage. It’s only now, looking back on that day, that I realize Justin made himself the most attractive, which would turn out to be wishful thinking on his part.
1991: My earliest musical embarrassment. We were in my friends’ mom’s AstroVan, eating Happy Meals and he said, “Mom put on some Raffi.” He said it just like that. No “please,” or anything. I said, “Who’s Raffi?” Full of incredulity, he asked, “You don’t know who Raffi is?” My mother turns around from the passenger seat and says, “that’s what all the other kids are listening to while we’re listening to James Brown.”
At the time, that response was impressive to no one. Because my parents Svengali-like control of the FM dial left me with nothing but Motown (and eventually Tracy Chapman), I endured years, nay decades of music-related embarrassment at the hands of my peers. It wouldn’t be until I was almost 30 and Snoop Dogg would release a track called “Wiggle Wiggle” that I would realize my parents incredible foresight and feel redeemed.