reluctance and a concert

pop culture isn’t for everyone

I don’t listen to music. Or, that’s how I explain it. The reality is that I do listen to music—mostly to drown out other sounds—but I don’t particularly like it. What I really mean when I say that I don’t listen to music is that I don’t care about it, that no, I haven’t heard of your favorite obscure band, or if I have, I don’t remember (the latter being probably more likely). In fact, I can’t tell you the names of any top songs right now, and I can’t tell Katy Perry’s voice apart from Miley Cyrus’s. I even had to Google Miley Cyrus to make sure I spelled her name right (although to be fair, I did have it right; the signature red squiggly line on Word is what made me second-guess myself).

It’s not that I don’t have access to any music, either. I have about 600 songs on my iTunes account, a substantial portion of which are classical music and at least one of which is an MP3 of my rabbi singing my bat mitzvah portion from seventh grade. But I also don’t have Spotify, Apple Music, or even a Pandora account, and most of those hundreds of songs were given to me by various friends and exes who, aghast at my lack of musical knowledge, tried to educate me. Each one believed that if I just heard the right song, the edgy enough track, the clever enough lyrics, that I’d find my musical bearings.

So far, it hasn’t happened. But that’s okay. Hey, I did play cello for a while. I know at least some rudimentary musical theory.

Unfortunately, I am similarly inept in other cultural spheres as well. I can name sports teams from my hometown, Atlanta, but I don’t know which sport belongs to which team. I am mildly knowledgeable with regards to soccer, but that’s just about all I can say for myself on the sports front. When editing an article on baseball last year for the Brown Political Review, I suggested the author make a sports pun—only to realize my joke would fall flat, since it had to with hockey, rather than America’s National Pastime. This summer, I even had to read the Wikipedia page for baseball before going to a minor league game with the company where I was interning, a project I undertook in the hopes that I wouldn’t embarrass myself when my boss inevitably asked my thoughts on the game. He did ask. I probably embarrassed myself. In August, my parents took me to my first-ever football game, a preseason contest between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Diego Chargers. We arrived late and left after halftime; my dad and I agreed that the best part of the whole experience was the marching band. Or maybe the soft pretzel.

And it gets worse. I didn’t finish reading the Harry Potter books, and I only watched the movies, or most of them at least, because a close friend of mine was obsessed. (After several movie nights with friends this year, however, I am proud to say that I have now officially watched the whole kit and caboodle of them.) But I’m still behind on watching just about everything else. I don’t have a Netflix account, and I rarely watch TV, much less ever finish a whole series. Once, in high school, I watched all of “Lost” rather than studying for exams. That has to count for something, I tell myself. Then again, I still don’t understand most of the plot lines that happened in that show. Then again, I still studied for those exams enough that I probably could have fit in another series if I’d really tried. And to cap it all off, my advisor recently told me that I really ought to watch “The West Wing” before I can be considered a proper political science student. I definitely do miss a lot of references in class.

I understand that there’s something important about being culturally literate (and not just in terms of being able to tell a Gauguin from an Anquetin). Yet, in spite of myself, I find it very difficult to care. There are only so many hours in a day. I don’t have much of a desire to spend them searching for the next great tune, not when there are friends to see and places to go (and homework to complete and a thesis to write and a job to acquire).

And so, it was much to my surprise that this year I finally enjoyed a concert.

One of the few bands whose music I do own is Of Montreal. Telling of my interest in the band, in the first draft of this article, I couldn’t remember the name of the group and instead wrote Of Mice And Men.

Nevertheless, I do own their music. An ex was a fan of them, maybe because they are (or were?) based in Athens, Georgia, and so I was gifted a handful of probably illegally acquired tunes (I didn’t ask), which I have since rarely listened to. I’ll skip offering a description of the band in order to save face with any readers (if it is not too late), but Wikipedia describes their current sound as “joyful noise recordings,” so do what you will with that information. They’re definitely not that popular, at least based on the paucity of attendees at the Columbus Theater, so maybe I’m a hipster now. I do own three flannel shirts.

But then again, I’m probably not—if the label is still in use at all. It requires a certain level of cool that someone who voluntarily checks the Federal Register probably can never have (until that someone is old enough to also be powerful, maybe, like Obama, who I think is probably cool).

Anyway, I went to the concert because I had decided attending a concert was on my senior year bucket list. I went because it seemed like a normal thing for a normal person to do and enjoy. I went because it was my friend’s birthday and because she didn’t want to be a third wheel to the other two friends who had already decided to go.

But before I went, I took a tequila shot, which—other than my inaugural drink at the GCB after my twenty-first birthday (hey, I didn’t order it)—I don’t think I have done since freshman year.

At the very least, I can say that the concert was joyful and noisy (and might even have been recorded!). We arrived late enough to skip the opening act and to not have to wait long for the main event, both of which I consider great successes. The band promptly arrived on stage in amazingly flashy outfits, accompanied by backup dancers I can only describe as uncomfortably enthusiastic, with subtly subversive imagery projected onto the whole mess. Pictures of money and a woman spinning around a pole were interspersed with sordid-looking faces and psychedelic patterns that made the whole thing seem like a convoluted critique of capitalism that I liked, but didn’t quite get—and besides, we had all paid to be there, and two of my friends would soon pay for their T-shirts, sold by bored-looking employees who seemed to laugh, albeit without expression, at the very concept of monetary exchange. At one point in the performance, Donald Trump’s face flashed before the crowd, who roared back in what I hope was sarcastic and not sincere delight.

I couldn’t hear the lyrics, and all of the songs, if they had ever been distinct beings, blended into one cacophony of joyful noises. But I was interested, and more importantly, I wasn’t thinking about the infinite list of things I had yet to do or about all of the adventures I could have had instead. What I was doing, standing there, watching a projection of a burning eagle flit across the face of the lead singer, was thinking about the band, my friends, the music, the visuals. What I was doing was thinking about how, in that moment, I was precisely where I wanted to be.