How Defining Yourself By The Art You Consume Is Destructive
When I was growing up, I hated the Dave Matthews Band. If you don't understand the magnitude of that statement, then brother, you didn't live in my town.
In certain parts of Massachusetts in the early 2000s, Dave Matthews Band was the best band in the world. This wasn't an opinion. To challenge DMB's perfection was like arguing that the sky wasn't blue or that sailing wasn't the best thing ever or that Toyota pick-up trucks weren't reliable. And yet I hated DMB. Passionately. Really just couldn't stand to listen to a single goddamn track. And this was probably the most difficult period of my life. I'm glad that I get to share it with you now. Hopefully I can finally get some closure (but probably not). If you were like me and hated something that everyone else loved, then you know the following steps. It goes something like this...
You Try To Retrain Your Brain
I'm not kidding about "everybody" loving DMB. To 15-year-old me, it really was the entire goddamn world. People I was already friends with, people I wanted to be friends with, girls I wanted to make smile at me, even people I didn't really like -- all of them loved DMB. One guy I met even got the cover of Stand Up tattooed on his calf like 45 goddamn minutes after the album came out.
How can it have had that much of an impression on you, guy-whose-name-I-can't-recall?
So listening to DMB, and even going to DMB shows, became a de facto part of socializing. And if I admitted that I couldn't stand their music, I wouldn't have been able to participate without seeming desperate or weird. For a man who craves the approval of others the way most people crave clean water and oxygen, that simply wasn't an option. So I began trying to trick my brain into liking "The Dave."
Some context about me: I don't make friends easily (because I'm "too real" and "an insufferable snob"), so I tend to stick to pretty tight-knit groups. So when everyone I knew and cared about loved DMB, and yet I didn't, that meant I had to either a) make new friends, or b) retrain my brain to like this shitty jam-band bullshit. And since a) seemed like the scariest thing possible (despite my innumerable failings as a human being, my high-school friends are top-notch, Grade-A folks, aside from their unfortunate taste in music), I tried to do b) as well as I could. Here's a true story: I bought all the DMB CDs, put them on a loop in my bedroom, and tried to train my brain to enjoy them. I played StarCraft and re-read old Discworld books, hoping I could tie this shitty, shitty music to positive memories.
Did it work? Of course not. I mean, listen to this fucking garbage.
It is simultaneously self-indulgent, stoner-rock garbage and radio-friendly dad-music at the same time. What smug, insufferable tripe. I can't believe I put myself through this as a child. I'm sure I did more damage to my brain during these jam-band binge sessions than in all the reckless mid-20s drug binges that followed. But I honestly thought that not liking DMB was a problem akin to asthma or diabetes or being into anime. I thought there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed through corrective musical therapy. I was, and this can't be overstated, very dumb.
And you know the really weird part? The bands I preferred to DMB were groups like Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, and Green Day -- all bands that are both cool and have pretty big followings. There was nothing weird at all about my musical tastes. It was actually more in line with what 14-year-olds should love, because DMB is, again, total dad music. (I know this because my dad loved DMB).
And yet, I clung to my insecurity like Warner Brothers clings to their dreams of a coherent DC Comics Cinematic Universe. You know what comes next.
You'll Lead a Double Life
I really don't know if I'm effectively communicating my shame to you. I imagine being a secret Dave Matthews Band hater is probably psychologically comparable to being Jewish in Nazi Germany or Muslim in America for the next four years. I'd spend my days listening to endlessly noodled guitar riffs and laid-back vibes, while ejaculating pretentious gibberish like "yeah, dude" and "tight!" and "They're just jammin,' man -- so chill." The words tasted sour as they left my mouth, but nobody else seemed to notice.
"Bro, he played so many notes. That's how I knew it was good."
And then, every night, I'd scurry home to privately enjoy my collection of strange, outsider music, like Battle Of Los Angeles (#1 on Billboard) and In Utero (Also #1 on Billboard. I cannot overstate how small the world seems when you're young and shy). All music that really meant something to me, and all music I'd pretend to hate if anyone challenged me on it.
In retrospect, this is like the opposite of music snobbery. Most doof heads my age were pretending to love obscure bands and hate the popular stuff, while I was doing the exact opposite -- for no goddamn reason. I reached out to some of my high school friends to see if they knew that I hated DMB, and here's what they said:
T: Ahhhh yeah I think I remember you not appreciating his work. But then again it could be my vision of your personality that created that image/memory in my head.
J: I can't think of a specific instance of you making that clear, but I'd believe it. Is this important for clarifying your image or something?
Notice that J realizes how important my image is to me, and he hasn't even seen my collection of expensive hair products (it's not that impressive but it would be if I had more money to spend on hair products).
The Resentment Drives You Insane
Hating DMB while pretending to love them taught me a valuable lesson: Everyone who has ever been a dick to you was being a dick for an intensely stupid reason. Allow me to explain.
Or, if you prefer, "mansplain."
The double life is emotionally taxing. No matter how hard you try not to, you will eventually resent the people you're lying to. Even though it is you who is wrong, because there's no excuse for hiding your true self. That's the terrible, dark secret of lying: The person you hurt most is always yourself.
And that's why, when I went to college, I discovered my true self as hard as I possibly could. I knew a guy who came out in college and described it as "exploding out in a ball of glitter." That's kinda like what I did, except with songwriting and, one time, eyeliner (I was drunk and this cute girl asked if she could put it on me -- cut me some fucking slack, all right?). It was insane. I had no idea you could love music and still hate DMB. And then I went home, saw all my old friends, and man ... I was not super cool. One time while driving home from a movie theater, I completely fucking snapped and made my friend "P" listen to The Used's A Box Of Sharp Objects at max volume in my car. I remember that the windows were shaking with the bass. Conversation was completely impossible. Thinking was completely impossible. This is among the worst things I've ever done to another human being.
It gets really good at 0:55
So anyway, I'm sorry, "P," that abbreviating your name down to a single letter turns your name into "Pee." But I'm also sorry that I made you listen to a song that I knew you'd hate, just because I had to prove to you who I was.
Everything Gets Weird
If you think about yourself in the future, or yourself in the past, your brain imagines them as a different person. And that can cause some weird shit, I'm pretty sure. More on this later.
When your entire identity is wrapped up in what kind of music you love and what kind you hate, it's super easy to become a huge dick. And since I love to do easy things, I became a huge dick. I was one of those guys sitting outside coffee shops, smoking cigarettes, drinking espresso, and arguing about whether Tool was better than A Perfect Circle. But we weren't really arguing about who was better, we were arguing about who knew more about both bands, and then Puscifer would get brought up. And then Diabolical Masquerade -- and once that happens, boy oh boy, your conversation has gone to a weird place. Diabolical Masquerade is a symphonic black metal band, and symphonic black metal bands are the cross-country skiing of music -- nobody enjoys it, they just endure it so they can act superior to their lazier friends.
If you think I'm exaggerating just try and get through this:
Haha who am I kidding. That album is crazy nostalgic for me because I listened to it hundreds of times in college. But I dunno if that's because I actually enjoyed it or because it was so different from fucking Dave Matthews Band that I was getting back at past-Sarge for all the years I wasted listening to stuff he didn't even like. Because fuck that guy. And I was also training future me to enjoy more interesting, weird stuff. Because that guy was gonna be so cool. He might even drive an Acura one day!
Anyway, all this is behind me now, but it's left present-me in a weird place in regard to what kind of pop culture I like. Specifically...
Turns Out What You Like Doesn't Matter At All
Somewhere along the line, the part of my brain that connected what I liked to who I was burned out like the fuse for a Geo's windshield wiper. Nowadays, I listen to all kinds of music. Even country. Even country. After years and years of stimulating a perceived rivalry, I can now enjoy The Dillinger Escape Plan just as much as I enjoy something like this.
Turns out that through all this pettiness and cruelty and time wasted discussing Maynard James Keenan and smoking Pall Malls, I learned something kinda important: What you like is not a reflection of who you are. What you do is a reflection of who you are. And if that seems smug or condescending, please, dear God, just remember that I make list articles on the internet, keep my cat and fish mostly alive, and that's it. That's what I do. That's what I see in the mirror every morning, behind all the weird filmy streaks that I don't even know how to clean off because I live like a baby.
The point is, you can't get caught up in stupid bullshit or what other people are doing. You gotta make something on your own and not care if people hate you for it. Actually I know a pretty good song about that.
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