Confessions of a music snob

Have you ever had one of those moments where you unexpectedly get a good hard look at yourself? I mean a really candid look, without all those barriers and filters that we all put up each and every day between our inner selves and the outside world. Now, don’t play innocent with me. You know exactly what I’m talking about here. The kind of barriers that keep us from yelling at the barista who got our order wrong, from telling our boss what we really think of him, and from lecturing our friends on why they should convert to one of our chosen philosophies. Some may call it conscience, others may call it politeness, but it’s a survival tactic really. You know, the stuff that keeps us from being boorish and makes us suitable for civilized company. We all put up these walls, although not always consciously (and there are a few people out there who could stand to add a couple more coats of varnish to theirs–you know who you are). However, because the placement and use of these mental screens is not always premeditated, we can sometimes be shocked at what we see when they are casually swept to the side. It usually happens in an off moment, directly after you’ve opened your mouth about something. You give your opinion to your audience  and then a little voice in your head pops in and asks, “Do you really mean that?” And your answer may catch you off guard.

Today I amazed myself by having one of these moments of sudden and brutal clarity. How did I pull off such a feat, you say? Well, this morning I got the sudden urge to text an old friend and ask what her top 5 bands are right now. We live across the country from each other, are at different points in our lives, and have very different beliefs–things that in this day of rabid partisanship have been known to tear friendships apart. We have weathered a lot over the years and still share one of those close bonds that time and circumstance do not seen to touch. But lately our conversations haven’t progressed much beyond how-are-yous, happy-birthdays, and condolences. Not from lack of affection, more from lack of time. And I realized that I had no idea what she was into these days. This seemed simple enough to remedy, so I thought I’d find out. What followed was a lovely and long conversation about what she is listening to now. She dropped names, some I knew and some I did not. But on the whole, there was much we had in common and I even got a few names of artists who–from the sound of it–I should know (something I am working on rectifying, let me assure you).

I was impressed and pleased that we had so much in common musically but still had new songs to share with each other. I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter what religion she prescribes to or that she is a member of  the other political party, her music taste passes muster and that is what really matters.

That’s when it happened. That little voice in my head popped up and said, “Do you really mean that?” And I stopped… and I realized that yes, I really did mean it. And then I groaned!

When I was a teenager, I was accused by several friends of being a music snob. For me there was no worse insult, even then, but I admit now that I more than earned the title. I’ve talked about it before in previous posts, how I used to whine and moan and grimace when music I didn’t like was played in my presence. I was an awful little pain and I thought I had grown out of it. I truly did… but it seems that I was wrong. At best, I am a recovering music snob who happens to relapse every now and then. Apparently today was a relapse day. It appears that sometimes when those internal barriers come down, we find out that there was actually a second layer shielding us from ourselves.

On the bright side, I also reaffirmed that I do not need to be in the same ideological boat with someone to be their friend. I may be a music snob, but I guess it could be worse. And now while I go do some research on 12 step programs for the musically pompous, you get to see an amusing video from one of my friend’s current music picks: The Walk by Mayer Hawthorne (NSFW).

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Three days from New York City

If you are anything like me, then it has probably been a lot longer than you’d like to contemplate since you’ve had a real vacation. Not the fake kind of vacation where you visit family, go to a conference, or squeeze in a little sight-seeing after a job interview. No, I mean a real vacation–when you take time off school or work, travel to a city you’ve never been to before, and go exploring. Well kids, I’m long over-due and I’m really excited to be able to say that this problem is about to be addressed. In case the entry title slipped past you, I’m going to New York City! I’ve actually never been there, my only experiences with the Big Apple being several drive-thrus (read: slowly losing my mind in stop-and-go traffic) when going back and forth between Boston and Charm City and a lay-over at JFK with a huge plaster cast on my leg (long story). Sadly, this time is still not quite ideal in that I’ll only be there for a little under 48 hours and for most of that time my poor husband will be working. But he’s made his peace with it and I’ve been busy making plans for a solo exploration of Manhattan.

I’ve decided to take a page from Anthony Bourdain and treat this like a real layover. On the advice of several people, I’m going to avoid most of the usual tourist stops. My goals are few and flexible, which I hope makes them doable:

1. Go to the New York Public Library and see the original toys owned by the original Christopher Robin of A.A. Milne fame (to make the little 5-year-old me immensely happy)

2. Get a real New York City bagel for breakfast

3. Visit Strawberry Fields in Central Park (my very first real Beatles pilgrimage! Somebody pinch me!)

4. Visit my buddy from grad school (she’s been trying to get me up here for about 2 years now. How can I refuse?)

Everything else I do will be incidental, unplanned, and hopefully delightful. I do hope that my husband will be able to pal around with me in the evenings, but I’m not holding my breath. Honestly, I’m just thrilled to be getting away from my normal life for a little while. I’m sure I’ll be exhausted when I get back, but it will be well worth it.

So now in honor of my maiden voyage to the Empire City (and for your entertainment, of course), here are my top three picks for songs about New York City. Enjoy!

First up is the impeccable Joni Mitchell and her 1969 classic, Chelsea Morning. Hailing from her second album, Clouds, this song showcases that amazing lyrical magic that Mitchell is known for and which helped to cement her reputation early on as a hit-making songwriter. Originally covered by Judy Collins in 1967–for whom it charted higher, I might add–I find that I much prefer Mitchell’s version. The combination of her simple orchestration and complicated lyrical rhythm make for a pleasant listen every time.

Next on my list is the often energetic and always eclectic Vampire Weekend with 2008’s (holy crap! Is it really that old already?) A-Punk. Their strangely obscure and at times unintelligible lyrics do in fact have something to do with New York City. And I’d like to think that the hyperactivity of this frenetic song reflects something of the city’s bustle. Either way, the video is creative and will make you smile.

And last–but certainly not least–is a little Canadian indie rock girl band called Cub that chances are you may not have ever heard of. But if you’re a nerd like me, you’re probably familiar with They Might Be Giant’s cover of their song, New York City (I know! I was as shocked to discover this as you. This is why I am not allowed to call myself a hipster). Cub was a short-lived trio from Vancouver who favored a soft brand of pop-like punk that some critics apparently dubbed “cuddlecore”. Personally, I think the name is both fitting and adorable. But what do I know? Oh well, Cub broke up in 1997, but first they made an equally cutesy video for this song in 1995. It is ’90s-tastic. Enjoy!

Wish me safe journey! I’ll try to post some pics next week.

On my radar

So the past couple weeks have been kind of a mess. Between intense 16 hour a day seminars at work, a recurring migraine that just WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE, and a bit of rather inevitable writer’s block, I’ve been hard pressed to put together the necessary brain cells for a blog post. But never fear, my dear readers for I am here. I am alive. I’m okay, I swear. Now I realize that crippling concern for my whereabouts is probably not what has been keeping you up at night, but I know that when I don’t write I start to itch–even if it doesn’t bother anyone else. Bringing to mind that ancient mystical question: If an unread blog doesn’t get updated, does anybody care? Ah well, I care. And I guess that is what matters.

For the last few days I’ve been desperately wracking my poor tender head for ideas to write about, but handy ideas have truly been feeling scarce lately. And despite a few recent purchases and quite a bit of casual listening, I wasn’t really feeling strong about much of anything musically. Or so I thought… and then the other day I got the (if not brilliant, at least positive) idea to post a few of the songs that are just coming on to my radar. Well, as with every good list, once I got started it quickly became hard to stop. But in the interest of reserving stuff for future entry fodder and to practice that useful skill called self-control, I’ve managed to cull the herd a bit. And so my friends, here’s a short(er) list of new-to-me artists who are currently getting me excited:

Cheerleader – St. Vincent

I’d heard the name bantered around the last month or so, but had no idea what I was in store for when I first encountered this video. I absolutely love the concept and am now leaving myself notes to grab a copy of this album.

From Now On – The Features

I didn’t realize it until browsing on YouTube just now, but I was totally into a song by these guys last summer. I failed to pick up on them at the time and ultimately forgot about them–shame on me! But I’m definitely putting them on my music store list now. Truly a fun and raucous song that is reminiscent of the more upbeat songs by Kings of Leon; although apparently that is not their normal sound. And the energy level this one inspires in me more than makes up for the fact that it appears to only be available on the Twilight Breaking Dawn Soundtrack.

That Old Black Hole – Dr. Dog

I love the playful lyrics in this one. Very clever and it pretty well mirrors my mood the last few weeks. No video yet, but here’s their recent performance on Conan.

Don’t Let It Get To You – Rostam Batmanglij

A quarter of New York City’s Vampire Weekend, Batmanglij (isn’t that just the best name EVER?) is also a promising music producer with what sounds like a very promising solo career in the offing. I love the layered organic sound of this song. Think of a bunch of people playing empty plastic bottles instead of instruments, then pair it with an orchestral string section. Creative is the very least that I can say about this guy.

These are just a few of the songs I find myself randomly humming these days. Who’s on your radar?