Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Geeking Out

Artist: Black Sabbath
Album: Paranoid
Source: Bought used

There are two distinct types of conversations that Music Geeks have with each other: 1) The one-upping listing of stuff each has heard or bought, concerts seen, etc. 2) The heartfelt examination of an artist/album/concert, undertaken with a seriousness that would make peace-treaty negotiators blush.

As I've gotten on, I've done my best to avoid the former as much as humanly possible. For one, it's not really a conversation, per se; it's more like two or more people on parallel tracks that only seem to intersect. I'd argue that these people would be saying the same words even if no one was there. The fact that there's an audience/target for the list just makes the talker feel better about himself somehow. Having spent quite a bit of time with one particular guy who could pretty much only talk this way, I've tried to be conscientious about not subjecting others to my empty list-making.

The latter kind of conversation, however, is eminently worthwhile...even if a Non-Geek would be hard pressed to distinguish it from the other type. I've had hours upon hours of in-depth discussion on one band or another, mining the minutiae of a particular album or show until it was boiled down to some sort of essence that...well, that didn't really accomplish anything, I suppose. But that 30+ minutes that JP and I spent figuring out what color to assign to each layered guitar on Yo La Tengo's "Barnaby, Hardly Working" sure seemed, at the time, to be getting at something.

Since moving to NY several years ago, my diet of these conversations has been steadily decreasing. It's a combination of having fewer true Music Nerd friends, having more "other stuff" to do, having JP gone, and the fact that Eileen would rather sit in steely silence than discuss anything on the stereo in too much (or any, really) detail. So a little while back, when Mike (a Certified Music Geek) asked me to join his new Album of the Month Club (AOTMC), I jumped like a dolphin in a water park.

The idea of the AOTMC was deliciously simple: Mike and the participants would come up with a list of 12 albums that were discussion-worthy but not often discussed (at least not in the circles of indie-centric rockcritters). Each month, one member would write up an "introduction" to the album, and then the legion of nerds would engage in an e-mail discussion for a week or two. The next month, it would begin again.

I was stoked. I'd be getting my fix of geeking out, sort of like a book club for CD people that wouldn't require me to leave the comfort of my desk. And as a bonus, the list that was generated was introducing me to some artists and albums I'd never really dealt with before. For every Psychocandy or XTC disc that was already part of my world, there was and obscure Marvin Gaye album or this one, Paranoid, a classic in a genre (heavy metal) that I normally didn't give a rat's ass about.

So I started shopping for the first couple of discs on the list, hitting the used bins at Kim's and trolling for what I could find. The disc I was in charge of introducing, Captain Beefheart's Safe As Milk, wasn't in the rotation until November, so I was able to dive in head-first as a participant.

AOTMC started off strong, with interesting points of view on Drums & Wires and the Latin Playboys' self-titled debut. But it seemed to devolve quickly. There were some problems getting people to do their introductions on time. Then responses were sparse. The Silver Apples discussion got kind of nasty, and no one seemed to feel that Psychocandy merited all that much talk. I was still very much into it all, but I could feel it slipping away - what is the sound of one geek clapping? It sounds more like that list-maker, and less like the heady (if pointless) debate I'd gotten excited about.

Somewhere around month 5, Mike pulled the plug. I never got to dazzle my fellow dorks with my take on the good Captain's collaboration with Ry Cooder, and I had this copy of a Black Sabbath album that I never would have bought otherwise. I gave it a listen and, yeah, I liked it...but I never got the chance to talk to anyone about why I liked it, what it made me think and feel, never got to really get into it. And that strikes me as a damn shame.

Since then, I've often come up with ideas for similar schemes, but never carved out the time or energy to make any of them happen. I know there are other Music Geeks out there who are hungry for more of Conversation #2, but it gets harder and harder to make contact.

SISOSIG? I don't listen to Paranoid too often, and metal never really did it for me (maybe it was that summer at camp when the kid with the biggest radio played Master of Puppets non-stop for 2 months). But I do like it, and I understand it for the historical touchstone that it is. Ozzy, for better or worse, is an important reference point - even the Flaming Lips have taken to playing "War Pigs" recently - and I kind of feel like I need to have it around, just in case I need to go to it to clarify some sort of pointless point in my head/ears. Plus you never know when some fellow geeks will want to sit down and geek out about it.


  • My younger brother karaoke-d War Pigs at my wedding reception. Good stuff.

    Very fun to read your reviews!

    By Blogger Erin, at 5:38 PM  

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