I confess to being a bit of a “music snob” in a former life.
You know the guy behind the counter at the record store who snickered condescendingly as you brought your copy of Journey’s Greatest Hits to the register?
Yup. That was me.
The guy with the enormous vinyl collection.
The guy who could recite to you the entire liner notes of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks.
The guy who went straight for your record collection when invited to your home for dinner.
That one actually got me into trouble once.
My boss had invited a bunch of us from work out for a day on his sailboat. After spending the entire day drinking way too much beer in the scorching hot sun on said sailboat, we retired back to his house for some steaks.
And of course, I went straight for his records.
After sifting through the sorry collection of albums by the likes of the Steve Miller Band and Electric Light Orchestra, I made my move.
“So Ray (that was his name),” I asked, “Have you bought any music since the Seventies?” My boss then proceeded to pull out a Kenny G album.
My response to that — something about a dentist’s office I believe — got me physically thrown out of his house.
I also spent the remainder of that weekend wondering if I still had a job.
Just for the record, I did. After all, where else was he going to find a “musicologist” as supremely gifted as myself to run his record store?
And let’s be absolutely clear about this: the proper term is musicologist.
Music snobbery has actually become something of a lost art.
It doesn’t help when there just isn’t a whole lot to get excited about in music these days.
That just makes for a whole lot more crap for the seasoned music snob to turn his ever-sophisticated nose up at.
Or more importantly, to look down upon you for listening to.
All that means is that yesterdays Journey or ELO is today’s Celine Dion or Clay Aiken.
It’s just that last night’s American Idol results don’t inspire quite the same intellectual discourse that dissecting a great, groundbreaking album like Pet Sounds or A Kind of Blue does.
Music snobbery is an art that has lost its way.
Oh sure, it’s still the exclusive territory of the usual group of music geeks.
You know the ones I’m talking about.
The pony-tailed record exec. The underpaid Tower Records employee with the green hair, the piercings, and the tats. The stereotypical rock critic that once inspired David Lee Roth to remark that the reason rock critics like Elvis Costello more than Van Halen is because most rock critics look like Elvis Costello (today it would be more like that guy from Weezer).
And it’s still governed by the same set of rules.
Music snobbery, err, excuse me, “musicology”, is all about one-upmanship.
And the rules are quite simple:
When discussing the next big thing, always go for the cutting edge, which in plain English means whatever band or artist is the least likely to have been heard of. When they say Death Cab For Cutie, be ready to counter with the Secret Machines.
When busted with a ticket for that big U2 or Coldplay show at the Microsoft Arena, let them know that you are only there for the opening act.
“I haven’t cared about U2 since Joshua Tree; I’m just here to see the Arcade Fire.”
And pick your guilty pleasures carefully.
Where having an album by the Raspberries in your collection may get you a pass (“Eric Carmen was a Power Pop God before he sold out”), having one by say, the Little River Band, will not.
But where the real art of music snobbery has begun to lose its way in recent years is in the single most cardinal rule.
Know your history.
For the true, unrepentant music snob, the ability to counter one man’s Al Green with your own Otis Redding is absolutely crucial.
At least it once was.
Somewhere around the time of Nirvana’s Nevermind album and the whole Seattle Sub Pop Records thing, all of that changed.
When I worked in music business in L.A. in the early nineties, in an office at a record company with a bunch of twenty something hipsters, I just could never figure them out.
On the one hand, Monday mornings were always this constant battle of one-upmanship.
In an era where “indie cred” was the hipster holy grail, these guys would gather around to swap their stories of who saw the most obscure band over the weekend.
The thing that always got me were the names of the bands.
At one point it even seemed everybody had a Jesus complex. There was the Jesus Lizard, the Jesus and Mary Chain, MC 900 Foot Jesus…
Yet, not a one of them could be engaged in a conversation about music dating back further than like 1990.
It was as though time had frozen with Nevermind.
And that was about the time I got off the bus for good and permanently hung up my hat as a card-carrying music snob.
The “musicologist” in me however, remains alive and quite well thank you.
So point that Sting album somewhere else okay?