“What are the bands you don’t like, but you know you’re supposed to?”
That is my trademark grammatically incorrect, consistently conversation-game-changing question. Steal it immediately. It will liven up your dinner parties, improve your conversations, and win you unexpected friends. It’s magical, and really really fun. Enjoy. And to get you started (P.S. Always introduce your band first. It’s a tiny flick of social bravery, and it’s crucial to make this question work), here are my answers.
(***As I wrote this post, every band I listed below appeared in my mind and shamed me with songs by them that I enjoy. The songs below are my one-offs, the ones that made me almost cut these bands and artists from the list. Almost…until I listened to their other songs.)
I ask people this question all the time, and I always get the same answer: Bob Dylan. “What the hell is up with his voice?” people say. “He should’ve been a poet, not a singer” (to which I say you have clearly not read his poetry, and if he heard you and starts sending you chapbooks, no takesies backsies) I like Dylan’s voice, because I like weird, kind of unconventional voices. I like Patti Smith and Jill Sobule, I liked Dave Matthew’s voice in my DMB listening days (we talk about those days on this blog as though they were a shameful musical bender…and that attitude is correct). I like the Jerry Garcia Band and Garcia’s voice is noticably bizarre on a lot of those songs (I’m thinking specifically of their cover of “Accidentally Like a Martyr”) but I appreciate it.
Which is why I was shocked by my reaction to Arcade Fire. They make this big sweeping music, luscious and different, beloved by my co-writer and friends. I want to like it. It sounds like something I like. But then Win Butler’s hollow, whiney voice comes in and I’m done. That voice breaks me out of the experience of the song so quickly that a pail of water poured over my head at that same moment would feel deeply whatever, I’ve already been startled and disappointed, thank you very much.
When we were planning this post, Joshua said “We’re going to fight with people over this post” and I said “I know right? Other people. Totally not each other! Hey no big deal, but Arcade Fire is on my list.”
…we duel at dawn.
Just like everyone answers “Bob Dylan” every time, I answer with the exact same band, and line, every time: “Radiohead. Deduct cool points as necessary.”
They are the reason I came up with this question; I wanted to figure out if there were other people out there like me. Other people who have tried, like every slapdash early teens intellectual and budding music snob, to like Radiohead, and failed. Radiohead’s debut coincided with my own–so for my entire music listening life (excluding early years of Disney soundtracks, and radio dials and record players rendered useless by grubby fingers and early literacy), I’ve been told how much I should like them. I feel like I should have stories about incessantly sporting a baggy Radiohead t-shirt through 7th grade, or poring my allowance into fresh copies of OK Computer and Kid A, because I was definitely that kid, and I had those bands. I tried in high school, I tried again in college, with limited success. I clung to the handful of songs by them that I liked with a sweaty fervor. But in the end, liking a couple songs is not the same as liking a band.
I don’t like Radiohead…I’ll give you a minute to deduct those cool points.
I know I’m supposed to like k.d. lang because I have never made a Pandora station where k.d. lang didn’t swoop in, all mellow and Canadian, and edge out the station’s namesake (k.d. lang, you owe Aimee Mann, Brian Eno, and Best Coast apologies) There are songs by k.d. lang that I really like—Miss Chatelaine has run through my head on an incessant, accusatory loop since I decided k.d. belonged on this list. I even dabbled in defensive listening—I played k.d. lang song after k.d. lang song and except for a few old ones that I already knew and loved, they mostly struck me with the same feeling “This is boring. And I would like to turn it off.” And then I did, though not without guilt, because so many of those videos were peppered with interview clips of lang, who appears charming and funny and truly likable. I would have a beer with her in a heartbeat, but I can’t bear the full three minute sitting one of her songs requires.
Based on my Deadhead upbringing, this next statement could be summed up as “Hi, I’m Alex P. Keaton.” Here it is: I don’t like jam bands. Meandering solos bore me to tears, songs that last for 20 minutes plus feel like a psychic abomination on par with standing in line at the MVA, and the general middle aged dude-ness of it all makes my eyes glaze over. I’ve seen a lot of jam bands. I’ve listened not only to all the albums you’ve heard (you fuming jam band fans, you), but bootlegs you couldn’t imagine, tours you can’t believe you missed, shows that you were at that you repeat in your mind with the ardor of a little kid replaying their birthday party on a manic mental loop. I was there, and I was bored.
I love the Grateful Dead with the same soft, child’s love that I have for Sesame Street and hopscotch. And out of all those bands I’ve heard, there are songs here and there that I like, that I listen to sometimes. And there have been shows that were fun, mostly, with songs I went home and played again. But I’ve never had any of those feelings about Widespread Panic. They live in this realm in my mind with Galactic and all the other tertiary jam bands I can’t stand. If someone asked a question as straight and clean as “So what kind of music don’t you like?” I could point at them and say “Right there” and they would sum it all up.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how I avoided Tegan and Sara for years, then fell hopelessly, song-repeatingly in love with them. This is part two to that story.
So I did it, I opened my ears up to Tegan and Sara, and they in turn opened me up to loads of artists who became the soundtrack to my early 20s: The Weepies, Regina Spektor, Kate Nash, Santigold, Laura Viers, The Sounds, the list goes on. And like I mentioned with Tegan and Sara, all that time I had spent avoiding Tegan and Sara had been made difficult by a boss and a roommate who adored them. Once I took the good advice of those two wise ladies, I thought I would keep taking that good advice and listen to Rilo Kiley. They both liked Rilo Kiley, and “Silver Lining” had spent a year on my blast-it-while-driving soundtrack, so I was sure this would be another musical homerun.
It wasn’t. I find Rilo Kiley really, really boring. Part of me thinks it’s an exposure thing—did I get to the band too late? Did I listen to the wrong things? I love The White Stripes, but if I’d been fed a diet straight off of their darker, noisier tracks, I think I would’ve bolted. Is that what happened here? I don’t know. All I know is that when they come on, I tune out.