In 1992 the band I was in broke up and I wasn’t sure what I should do with myself. I lived in a strange place, but not strange in a good way. It was strange in a way that made me feel like I didn’t fit in, and so I decided to move to somewhere that seemed even stranger:
(I miss you, San Francisco …)
Feeling like an outsider, and headed toward a place that seemed like it would accept almost anything, I couldn’t wait to get there and start feeling like I fit in somewhere.
(Luckily, I got a good video of the night before my move west, including my final family meal:)
I met lots of great people and had loads of fun and found a place where I really felt at home. After years of feeling like an outsider, I had found somewhere everyone could be part of the “in” crowd just by being themselves.
It was nerd heaven. There wasn’t a “cool” crowd, there wasn’t a group that took pleasure in excluding others, or a group that misfits like me readily recognized: the group around whom we felt the disorienting duality of a) not wanting to be part of, and b) desperately wanting to be part of…
Except not really. Because there was a group like this, but it was hidden. It dressed like everyone else, went the same places as everyone else, had the same habits as everyone else … and that was what made them so devious.
I began to notice, in bars and at concerts … especially at concerts and most especially in record stores (particularly the snooty ones) (believe it or not, kids, there used to be entire stores that just sold records!) … I noticed there was a group in San Francisco who seemed to be the typical outsider like me and everyone else who had moved there (it seemed like NO ONE you ever met in SF had actually grown up there), but who took great pleasure in asserting they WERE NOT typical! (Except, of course, amongst their friends). These people felt they were the coolest of the uncool. They were a group that reveled in the fact that their style was unstylish and their tastes were distasteful.
They were the Hipsters. The Hipster Bullies. And no matter how dorky and awkward you felt, you’d feel even more so when you realized these folks were even dorkier and more awkward than you … and that they sneered at you for not being dorky and awkward enough.
Oh, you think you’re goofy because you still collect baseball cards as a 25 year old? Meet Ray, in the goatee, Buddy Holly glasses and (authentic) Atari t-shirt – he collects King Kong Kards
from the 70s and calls your hobby “jejune” … just like that jock thought (apparently), the jock who made fun of the baseball cards in your back pocket in the lunch line in 10th grade, right in front of J., the girl who you thought maybe considered you cute a minute ago, before she burst out laughing when this Muscled Moose informed you that his 9 year old brother doesn’t play with his cards anymore, and he could bring them in for you tomorrow, if you wanted …
You think you’re a little too into Bugs Bunny cartoons? Meet Stella – she collects Warner Brothers animation cels, but only the ones from before WWII and NEVER Bugs, who’s humor, she insists, is “too obvious … you can’t seriously like that shit, can you?”
These folks had been mocked and assaulted – verbally and physically – for their other-ness for as long and as hard as I had, but whereas I tried to suppress my dorkocity, and tried to camouflage myself as “normal” wherever I could, these folks responded by stockpiling their geekness and molding it into a heavy club, making weapons of their Pez Dispenser collections, graphic novels and ironically-worn small-town-diner t-shirts.
And they clubbed first and asked questions later, assuming every new person they met was the lunch-line jock – even a guy like me, in sky blue Chuck Taylors and a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt. And music appreciation was the arena in which the Hipster Bullies really flexed their nerd muscles. Bring up any band to any of these guys (and gals) and you were sure to get one of three responses:
1) (Dismissive snort). They suck.
2) (Dismissive snort). They USED TO BE good
3) (Dismissive snort). They’re okay, but they’re really just a rip-off of (insert obscure band from Japan/Finland/Ann Arbor).
I had been “bullied” often in my life, but usually it was for things I couldn’t control (or at least not very well): my hair (which wouldn’t comb right), my clothes (which were cheap), my body (which was chubby). But these hipsters were the first people to bully me solely on my taste in the arts – something that I maybe could control.
Now I should point out here that 1) I was never so seriously bullied in school that I hated myself or felt threatened (regularly) or suicidal – I had friends and pretty much got along okay with everyone; and B) when I moved to SF I was an adult, and so I found the Hipster Bullies more amusing than threatening. But speaking with them about music made me feel like I was an utter dilettante. (Me: “The best new band I’ve heard lately is Guided by Voices.” Hip Bully: ((Dismissive snort). “New? They’ve been around for years, but their new stuff sucks.”) [This was when Bee Thousand was released, which was their first release distributed by Matador, which was/is a tiny label. Prior to this, the band had released a total of MAYBE 5,000 copies of records/tapes/cds. The band’s leader, Robert Pollard, still held his job as an elementary school teacher!!]
These conversations sometimes made me think that I was wasting my time with the music I liked that most other people didn’t like when I could be listening to music that most other people have NEVER HEARD OF and would ACTIVELY HATE if they gave it a listen.
The good consequence of these Hipster Bullies was that they helped me consider listening to music I otherwise wouldn’t have heard, and that I ended up loving. And I have tried to keep an open mind about new artists and make it a point to try to buy music from obscure acts I like, like The Shazam, All Day Sucker and The Detroit Cobras.
The bad part about these folks is that they made me wonder if my musical tastes were out of whack. Is there something wrong with me that I like this band here, but I don’t like that band there? I became a little ashamed sometimes to say which acts I liked and which I didn’t.
But I got over that. Now I’m comfortable with my own tastes. Even when fancy, well-respected rock critics disagree.
This post about a fancy rock critic pretty much sums up my attitude toward rock critics. They often seem to me to be more interested in making sure they appear cool than in simply telling us what it is they like/don’t like about a record. They seem like Hipster Bullies.
In my last post, I confessed to enjoying a record that many people dislike: 90125, by Yes. I’ll close this post by confessing a few other tastes that I may have been ashamed of back in 1993, but that I freely admit nowadays.
Musical Stuff I Should Like But Don’t, and Some I Do That I Shouldn’t
1) I don’t get Bob Dylan. He can’t sing. His lyrics can be great, but they can also be just bizarre. He has a few good songs, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Maybe I’m from the wrong era. I guess he writes good songs, but you know who else did? Marvin Hamlisch, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and John Phillip Sousa. But they knew enough not to sing them.
2) I like Seals & Crofts. They make me think of happy, carefree summer days in my youth, going to the pool. They have good melodies and nice harmonies.
3) I think Patti Smith is just plain awful. Although, I do have an admiration for artists who pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and cause critics to pretend they appreciate their genius. Plus she seemed to inspire a song by Candy Slice better than any I ever heard from her.
4) One of the first songs I ever bought when digital music came about was “Cherish,” by Madonna.
5) I think Springsteen is okay. That’s it, okay. As with Dylan, what’s all the fuss?
6) I like 70s prog rock. There, I said it. I don’t listen to it much anymore (I mean, who has time to listen to 26-minute mock-baroque soundscapes about the Middle Ages these days?) but I still have a place in my musical heart for Yes, ELP, old Genesis, Jethro Tull … all the music hated by most everyone.
Okay, these are my musical confessions. It’s all out in the open now. I feel like a weight has been lifted …
By the way, the band I was in that broke up, The April Skies, instigating my move West, re-formed shortly after the break up, and it’s still making awesome music today. Hey, maybe they broke up just to get me out of the band due to my shitty taste in music???