If there’s one sort of person that I find genuinely unsettling, its those that profess to have a passion for one type of music and one type only. They exist across all genres, although in my own experience I’ve tended to come across them in terms of rock fans. I fully appreciate that tt might sound strange for me to say that I find them unsettling – after all, am I not a music fan? Are these superfans simply people who have a greater passion for music that I have, and who have a much more clearly defined sense of what music they like?
I would propose that anyone that devotes themselves to specific genre of music alone actually doesn’t care anything abut the music itself. What they have bought into instead is the lifestyle that is associated with that particular genre, and uses it to either express or even create their own identity. If this sounds a little too much like philosophical psychobuggery, I’ll attempt to clarify the issue by way of example. Stick with me, because this argument does hold up under scrutiny.
I come across this most frequently with rock fans, but thats mainly because thats the circle within which I mostly move. Rock music is an enormous umbrella which has been remorselessly subcategorized into hard rock, soft rock, metal, classic rock, AOR, glam metal, sleaze metal, black metal, speed metal, death metal, goth, emo… The further down the subcategory tree your superfan exists, the more focussed they tend to be on their consumption of that genre and the more violently they will dismiss music that doesn’t fit into that category. I know fans of glam/sleaze rock with vast record collections that exhaustively include pretty much every hair metal band from the 80s LA scene, but espouse vitriolic hatred of artists who cross over into different genres, particularly modern acts.
Taking this example further, this is the paradox you end up with. Musically, how is it possible to adore a band like Faster Pussycat and loathe an artist like Kid Rock? Pussycat were one of the defining bands of the sleaze genre, and Kid Rock basically epitomises the white trash life style that Pussycat sing about. His music, like all sleaze, is basically about getting laid, stoned or drunk, and preferably all three. Musically a large portion of it is southern-infused blues rock, and he even looks like a glam icon. Not to mention his legendary banging sessions with Motley Crue tub thumper Tommy Lee’s ex-cockpocket Pamela Anderson. Surely Kid Rock is simply the natural successor to the sleaze scene? You can’t point a finger at the rapping, since the song most often identified with Pussycat (other than the Carly Simon cover) is Babylon, which owes more to the Beastie Boys than to KISS. Kid Rock’s lyrics are misogynistic? Not when compared to Guns ‘n Roses. The ONLY thing that truly separates these 2 bands is image, and image is vital to the subcategorization of metal. Its the backcombing and lip liner that defines Pussycat as a sleaze band, and its the gold jewellery and middle-finger waving that ensures Kid Rock will never get his Pink Pass. Therefore to hold that you you love Faster Pussycat and wish nothing but bankruptcy and AIDS on Kid Rock, you’re buying into the genre of sleaze, but not on the basis of the music.
The second paradox is in the quality of the music. Now this is not an argument that any genre offers any more musical legitimacy than any other. I can fully understand why people adore grunge or hip hop, the fact that I don’t like it is down to what sort of music I prefer to listen to; its about how I like music to affect me. No, the point about quality is that that an awful lot of all music is basically shit. All genres have their trailblazing artists, but a large proportion of artists in any genre are simply padding, there to meet a quantity demand. If a person has an exhaustive music collection spanning just one genre, what does that say about the individual’s ability to discern that genre’s gold nuggets from its chunky floaters? I have no problem with people digging glam bands like Warrant or Vain, yet I see Wrathchild’s StakkAttakk nestled between Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and No Respect more often than it ever should.
So does it make sense to anyone that you would add a band to your record collection based on what they look like, if what you’re really passionate about it the music? Of course not. The only way that would happen is if its the image that you’re buying into. All genres of music have an image which is completely intertwined with a lifestyle portrayal, and its impossible to buy into one without buying into the other, which is why you’ll find Motley Crue superfans dressing like Nikki Sixx or Vince Neil (although – understandably – never like Mick Mars) – it all about the image. Suggest that Theatre of Pain was a shit album and you’ll likely be challenged to a fight. Point out that the band themselves basically admit that its shit in their own book, then the contradiction becomes apparent – even more so if thats the album cover painted onto the back of their jacket.
Don’t think I’m singling out rock music for undue treatment – its simply a genre which I know best and can more accurately draw an example from. This image over music exists across all genres; there will always be a handful of dedicated Volvo-driving tank-top wearing individuals who insist they only listen to music that has “value”, that “speaks to them in an intellectual and emotional level” which flies in the face of the fact that any real person that has ever met one of the latter examples will know that it is virtually impossible to talk to them as a human being on a meaningful level, let alone a piece of Belgian Jazz being able to do so.
So why are these people unsettling? Having identified that their passion for music is a lie, it must either be a conscious lie, or they are being unconsciously led. Everyone must have some artist or piece of music that they grew up loving that doesn’t fall into their genre paradigm. So denying it means that they would rather you see them as part of their constructed musical identity than admit that perhaps The Doobie Brothers were an important part of their childhood. And this is the part thats unsettling – the creation of an identity and the intention to live within it even when its a) constructed by someone else and b) that construction can be contradictory to your own judgement on what sort of music you like. And because musical genres tend to come with their own peer group, it becomes unlikely that you’ll look to hard outside that genre unless you are prepared to risk peer alienation, so it becomes a completely closed culture.
I predict I’m not going to be invited in for a cup of tea and allowed to browse CD racks quite as often …