My Name's Shane, And I Like Crap Music

By shane

So what a weird month it's been. And as a result, you're gonna get the kind of demented, droning column that should be split up over a couple different months/topics, but I'm on a roll with my thoughts tonight, and as you'll EVENTUALLY read, it all sort of ties together loosely in the end.

As the faithful music nerd you guys most definitely know and expect me to be, October/November is officially the time when my thoughts turn to the releases of the past 10-11 months to prep for the big gonzo blowout End o' Year list-making extravaganza that we music fans cherish like little else. So why can't I get into it this year?

The answer is simple: I bought an mp3 player.

Not an iPod (but I probably should have.) Instead, I got one of those nifty Nomad Jukebox thingers (all the storage space of an iPod for only half the cost, double the weight, and the world's most impossible menu system.) But all in all, I'm ecstatic about the player.

Our Liz told me it was a prerequisite to give all of your new audio products a fine European nickname. Her computer, for example, she named Serge. This I tend to find quite ridiculous and juvenile. Because, as everyone should know, the REAL way to name your piece of audio equipment is by the first artist it ever plays. In this case, my mp3 player would be named either Belle... or Sebastian. But that's kinda lame... and our Liz was fairly insistent on the fine European naming system... hence my mp3 player is now forever known as Hans-Dieter.

And you know what? After a while, it fits for my mp3 player to have a name. Because over the past 2 months, it's developed its own personality, its own quirks, and sometimes it pisses me off faster than any of my friends.

The mp3 player comes complete with this crazy-ass software that'll let you sort your songs into playlists, full length albums, singles, etc. for quick and easy reference to find the tune(s) you're looking for.

"Fuck that," I replied to its online instruction manual. I had a plan.

I knew right off the bat that I was gonna be too lazy to constantly update the little shit. I've still got a CD player in my car, and it's still gonna be used. BUT... I had bolder plans for the mp3 player.

Rather than ripping SOME albums to it and devising a spider web of playlists and chart rotations... My plan was that I would meticulously go through my entire CD collection, disc by disc, and pull out all of the tracks that I would consider in contention for "Best Song of All Time Ever (Or Pretty Damn Close)". Then, I would take all these songs and just heave 'em into one central folder, hit the random button, and *presto* my aimless drives will have a random play soundtrack good for all infinity (or until the battery dies.)

A noble plan, this one... and here's the weird thing... I'm still sticking to it. For the past two months, I've been going shelf by shelf, yanking CD's off, ripping the best tunes, and upping them to Hans-Dieter's tummy of audio love. My diligence is such that I should be getting paid for it.

As I write, I'm now at 1,842 songs uploaded to the portable player's memory. It's not even 50% full, and I've got plans to upload a whole slog more. By the time I'm done, it'll be like I've got my own little mini radio station in my car, playing only Shane-approved songs, in a random surprising order. It's the world's biggest ever-changing mix tape. And it's all mine.

Soak in those last two words. ALL MINE. Because this is where it gets interesting.

As I've been plugging away tunes into Hans-Dieter, I've realized that for years upon years upon years, I've been living a lie. The lie of Good Musical Taste.

It goes something like this: Let's say you're making a mix tape. Odds are almost 100% that the mixtape you're constructing DOESN'T REPRESENT YOUR ACTUAL, HONEST MUSICAL TASTE IN THE SLIGHTEST.

ESPECIALLY if you're making it for someone else. Especially ESPECIALLY if you're making it for a signifigant other. And, as much as I've tried to live my life as a music purist, I've fallen victim to the Mixtape Lie just as you.

When you make a mixtape for your Special Sweetie, do you always base it around YOUR musical taste? Hell, no. You base it around one simple premise: Songs That Will Get Me The Booty. And I'm not talking about mixtape upon mixtape chock full of "Let's Get It On" and assorted Al Green tracks... no, I'm talking about music under a slightly DIFFERENT heading...

"Songs That Scream Out That I'm the Coolest Person Alive (Ergo, You Must Submit To The Booty.)"

That's the theme of every mixtape ever made for a signifigant other. Prove me wrong.

"No, Shane," you desperately cry out. "I made a tape for my girlfriend/boyfriend the other day that had a track from the Muppets on it! In fact, I'd venture a guess that it screams out I'm the UNCOOLEST person alive!"

But there you're wrong. Because you're trying to do the I'm-So-Uncool-It's-Cool thing. Uncool kitsch IS inherently cool... and so long as it results in The Booty, whatever you put on the tape IS cool. Follow?

My Liz Reference #2 in this column stems from the fact that she turned me on to this FANTASTIC book called "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs" by Chuck Klosterman (seriously, race out and buy it.) In the first 2 or 3 chapters alone, Chuck talks the idea of a "fake reality" -- that love is fake because the hipster ideal for love is for every man to be Lloyd Dobler from "Say Anything," that every real relationship MUST make the stars shine yellow like Coldplay says, that even "The Real World" is inherently UN-real because the poor schmucks on the show try too damn hard to BE the stereotypical definition of "real." Reality is fake, because it's all based on how we perceive it, and how we perceive OTHERS to perceive it. The medium IS the message, and Marshall McLuhan's getting a stiffy over the whole thing in his grave as we speak.

Yeah, I know, I'm getting a bit too deep. And I suck when it comes to writing deep stuff, so I'll stop.

Okay, here's a little test: right now as you read this, actually try and sit around and determine your own musical taste. Try to kill all outside influences. Because, let's face it, most of your musical taste is stolen/assimilated from your friends, your media influences, and the accepted social customs of whatever clique you may happen to find yourself in.

Here's a theory that just popped into my head. I was about to say that probably the closest approximation of your REAL musical taste is what you listen to when you're home alone, too hungover/lazy to shower on a Sunday morning, by yourself, and you pop in a CD. But what about this: maybe the songs you really like, the ones least influenced by those around you, are the ones that randomly pop up in your brain at odd times, the ones that you catch yourself singing in the shower... But that wouldn't be right, either, because in MY case, it's usually TV jingles ("MR. CLEAN! MR. CLEAN!") that get stuck in my head ("BY... MENNEN!") more than ("FEEL ALIIIIIVE WITH COAST!") anything else. ("WOO HOO!" - let's face it, nowadays it's far less a Blur song and far greater a jingle for approximately 13,225 different companies.)

Anyways, point is, it's probably impossible to know what your actual music taste as a human being IS unless you were bred in a cave and then one day told to pick between Motley Crue, The Chemical Brothers, or Momus.

But let's limit this sociological discussion to the REAL topic at hand - mixtapes.

My point is, despite just how insanely much you really DO like "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi, you wouldn't put it on a mixtape for your Special Someone, unless you wanted that Special Someone to think you were held back in school, all the while yearning to ride steel horses.

More to the point, I probably wouldn't have even put the song on a mixtape for ME, on the off chance that I might one day be riding in my car with a Person Who Is Cooler Than Me and blow my cover.

Not that I like Bon Jovi. But that's besides the point.

So back to my saga with Hans-Dieter. After this crash realization that, yes, I'm a habitual Mixtape Liar, I decided to try a little experiment with my new mp3 player. I'm filling it with songs that I'm pretty secure in thinking that I LIKE. And, for once, not giving a damn about what exactly those songs might happen to actually BE.

That's right, 1,842 FANTASTIC songs -- regardless of style, mood, or coolness factor.

Below I'm gonna give you a God's honest random list out of the mp3 player. I just pulled it out of the car and I'm gonna list the next 20 random songs it plays right now:

Electronic, "Idiot Country"
Neil Diamond, "Cracklin' Rosie"
Johnny Cash, "I Walk the Line"
Blur, "This is a Low"
Moose, "First Balloon to Nice"
a-ha, "Maybe Maybe"
Busta Rhymes, "Dangerous"
Brave Captain, "Betsi's Beads"
Debbie Gibson, "Only in my Dreams"
Throwing Muses, "Not Too Soon"
Stevie Wonder, "You Are the Sunshine of my Life"
Ian McCullough, "Dug for Love"
Leo Sayer, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'"
Beatles, "Mother's Nature Son"
DJ Fast Eddie, "Yo Yo Get Funky"
EG Daily, "Mind Over Matter"
Ride, "Sennen"
Of Montreal, "It's Easy To Sleep When You're Dead"
Dead or Alive, "Lover Come Back To Me"
Kinks, "Do You Remember Walter"

And I'm freakin' LOVIN' it. But I'm also learning a LOT about myself in the process.

For instance:

(1) I'm really, truly, surprisingly shocked that I didn't end up gay. Yessir, I know I'm talking stereotypes here, and I apologize if that offends any of you, but it DOES take me off guard at the amount of stuff I've put on Hans-Dieter along the lines of the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Bronski Beat, disco, etc. Granted at the time that I was really into those bands, I just thought they were fun to dance to, and I never questioned their (or my) sexuality. Which, quite frankly, is how the world damn well SHOULD work.

(2) My parents have rubbed off on me. All throughout my childhood, my folks blared music at me, which I honestly DO credit for turning into the music fiend I am today. Problem is, they blared CRAP music at me. But now... I'm excited to hear it. Chicago... Neil Diamond... Neil Sedaka... And the spooky thing is, I really don't think I'm listening to it as a fond reminder of the "good ol' days." I really think I (gasp) LIKE some of it.

(3) A lot of the stuff I've been scared to admit to liking, in retrospect, is quite good music, yo. For instance, I've always liked a-ha a great deal. But they're not one of the bands you can easily talk to your friends with: "Dude, that Morten Harket's got a SWEET falsetto, word." It just doesn't happen. As a result, they get relegated to the "only-when-nobody's-around" rotation, and dammit, that's a shame, because a-ha friggin' rules. And listening to how well their songwriting holds up when it comes on randomly sandwiched between Oasis and The Kinks only proves my point more.

So it's official. It's no-holds-barred Radio Free Shane going on in my car 24/7. I love it to tears; my friends, meanwhile, are routinely brought to tears laughing at me. Fuck 'em. It's my world, it's my music. Live it like you love it, as the Charlatans say.

Everybody needs a Hans-Dieter in their life.

And, while I'm on the subject of music for the sake of anything BUT the coolness factor of it all, I gotta mention a rather life-affirming event I got to witness this weekend - namely, the wedding of Freedy Johnston.

If ya don't know him by name, you should. Freedy's an acclaimed singer-songwriter who gets constant praise in the same breaths as Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, etc., etc.

Well, Freedy came to the club I DJ at a few years ago for a show. And he met a local girl out here. And fell in love with her. And they got married this weekend out here in my town.

And the private reception was held at my club. And I got to sneak in uninvited and gatecrash about the place fly-on-the-wall style... wherein I saw one of the coolest improv jam sessions I've ever witnessed.

Imagine a bunch of drunken, ragtag musicians taking the stage to do 2 hours of covers along the lines of "Feel Like Makin' Love," "Ob La Di, Ob La Da," "Cruel to be Kind," etc.

Then realize that the "ragtags" were, in fact, the members of Garbage, including Butch Vig trying to turn every song they did into a polka. Then add the guys from Einstein's Sister (one of the best indie powerpop bands in the free world.) Then add Freedy and his usual backing band. For two hours.

It was pure insanity... and JUST the sort of thing I needed to see to re-affirm why I love doing what I do. I'm a card-carrying professional geeky music fan. And all I needed to do was look around the club yesterday to know why - there wasn't a non-smiling face in the place. Music brings people together. Music is joy. Music is the glue that holds me together... whether it's driving along and rocking out to some 10 year old Erasure song on Hans-Dieter, or laughing at the guys from Garbage trying to pull a Johnny Cash cover outta their butts.

It's your world, it's your music. Don't hold back on songs you dig just 'cause you'd be embarassed if yer friends knew. Let those tunes loose, baby, and revel in the fact that, somehow, two cavemen banging rocks against the wall in rhythm somehow evolved into the Polyphonic friggin' Spree.

NOW to try and figger out the Best of 2003... hmm... this might take a month or so. I'll meet you here when Dick Clark drops the ball at midnight.