If you don’t know this band, you don’t know anything about music – really?

I literally had someone say that to me the other day. My head almost exploded.

So if I am not familiar with a band that you happen to know or like, that means I have NO musical knowledge, whatsoever?

What is worse is that this is not the first time I have heard this from someone.

Imagine living in a city like Austin, Texas, or in my case, the Seattle/Tacoma area where there are so many bands they are more likely to break up and start a new band before you get a chance to hear them. I have several friends in a variety of bands, and I regularly tell them that I don’t have time to listen to their CD or go to their show. I was recently invited to play trumpet in a band, was given the sheet music, and found out that the band disbanded. I get dozens of CD’s a month having the job I have, only to be dwarfed 100-fold by the amount of music that my music director gets in the mail.

Where does the expectation come from that everyone should know about a band that a particular person likes, and furthermore, where does that person get off being pretentious about it?

Every day I deal with loving particular kinds of music that my friends/coworkers don’t feel the same way about. Michael Brecker, Dave Matthews, Brad Mehldau, Notorious B.I.G, Doc Severinsen, Ben Folds, Terence Blanchard and Jewel (yes, Jewel) are all examples of musicians I love, but at the same time could easily name 30 people in my life that can’t stand them or have never even heard of them.

I have a friend who loves Steely Dan, which I happen to think is the worst band in the history of music, while I love Fleetwood Mac, which he happens to overwhelmingly despise. Do you know what we do? Respect each others opinions. Our friendship does not hinge on liking the same music, nor should it.

Excising smooth jazz 

When I first got hired at KPLU, long before I was ever put on the air, one of my first jobs was to go into the music office, go through the coffins of jazz CD’s, and remove all of the smooth jazz.

Regardless of how you feel about smooth jazz, we are not a smooth jazz station therefore we do not need smooth jazz in our coffins. I came across a CD of a guy that I never heard of, and asked my music director at the time “Who the hell is this guy?” He responded with “Oh he probably ranks as one of the top 5 bass players of all time of any genre.”

He could have been more harsh, but he wasn’t, because if I hadn’t heard of the guy, then I simply hadn’t heard of him. There was no need to make me feel inferior, so he didn’t. He simply informed me, because I asked.

Ten years later, I still walk into the office of my current music director with a CD I came across and ask him if he had ever heard of the musician before.

Make it personal (the right way)

So why does there need to be a superiority complex when it comes to music? There is a particular jazz blog in mind that I can barely stomach reading because just about every post emphasizes the fact that the author knows about a band that very few have ever heard of.

Instead of it being presented in a way where the author introduces his readers to new music, it is presented like the author knows something that others don’t, therefore making him superior. It becomes so much more about the “knowing” and so much less about the “sharing” or “enjoying”, that I often wonder if the author even likes the music he is writing about.

Music is supposed to be one of those things that is personal.

As I stated in my recent post Hearing, more than smell, brings (my) memories to life, a song that has emotional attachment to me could mean something completely different to another person. But it defeats the purpose if I were to try and force my feelings about a particular song or band onto another person. Sure, it would be great if everyone understood and felt the same way I did, but it certainly isn’t necessary, and it certainly doesn’t mean that that person has no musical knowledge.

I hesitate to say this, but under these circumstances it almost feels like religion and politics. You are either with us, or you are against us, and there is no middle ground. You know the band and you like them, or you don’t know them and you are a fool.

My feelings are (just like with religion and politics), that you start by making music personal, and if someone asks you about it, then by all means, share your feelings on it. But don’t push it. You are likely to push more people away by trying to force your personal feelings on them and expecting them to feel the same way, rather than just telling them why you feel the way you do and letting them figure it out for yourself.

12 Replies to “If you don’t know this band, you don’t know anything about music – really?”

  1. Excellent post, Kevin. This is a tiresome game to play with people. I happen to like Steely Dan and feel kind of “meh” about Fleetwood Mac, but I respect your taste! Thanks.

  2. Thanks to Mark Hayes for re-tweeting this excellent post and to Kevin for putting into words what I have often thought. Personally, I find the need to establish one’s “coolness” by maligning a band or an entire genre of music to be not only narrow-minded but also a sign of insecurity. Being “cool” means understanding that music not to your liking is just music not to your liking, and not bad music to be thrown in the trash can. The comparison to religion and politics is very insightful. Polarization and the concurrent intolerance for experiences outside of one’s own are cultural trends that are unfortunately affecting many aspects of our lives.

  3. Excellent post and follow-up comments. Far too many people need to elevate themselves by diminishing others,.and those who do flirt with moral bankruptcy.

  4. I don’t know if it was or wasn’t your current music director, but last year I heard what I considered to be one of the worst cuts I’ve ever heard anywhere from a band named The Bad Plus on your station.

    I emailed your music director (or I think that’s who I emailed) telling him that I couldn’t stand that cut and that I hoped never to hear it again. I asked him please not to play it again.

    I got back what I considered quite a defensive and snarky email saying that some “experts” thought they were wonderful; he thought they were wonderful; and he would keep playing this cut.

    I didn’t bother to respond to him that I am a university trained musician, have worked in a number of live music clubs, including jazz and blues clubs both here and in LA, and that I couldn’t find much in the way of glowing praise for The Bad Plus with a google search.

    I agree with you that we must respect others’ tastes and choices. When I emailed him, I did not expect to receive such an imperious response. To me it said that because “experts” liked this band, I must be stupid if I didn’t. I consider that I have at least as much taste and musical expertise as anyone else, and I certainly believe I’m entitled to express my opinions without someone else denigrating them in favor of those of unamed “experts.”

    I don’t know if your current music director is the same person who responded to my email, but I would suggest if so, he doesn’t totally get that yet. And, by the way, I later saw that he was collaborating in something with The Bad Plus, so I also thought it disingenuous at best that he didn’t bother to disclose that when he responded to me (if he was already involved with them). Altogether an unsavory experience.

    After that, whenever I heard the opening strains of that cut, I simply changed stations or killed the volume.

  5. Excellent post, Kevin. I don’t happen to share your opinion of Fleetwood Mac (are you talking about the “old” FM, or the Stevie Nicks/Lindsay Buckingham version?), but it took courage for you as a musician and jazz DJ to admit you like their music.

  6. Thanks for writing this. Telling someone that they are wrong to like a type of music is like telling them it is wrong to like the color blue…music, like art, is personal preference. Please save me from the holier than thou people who need to show their superiority by waxing pedantic about how much knowledge they have about music…I don’t have to know a lot about music to know what I like.

  7. An, yes, the Insufferable Music Snob transcends all genres and styles (Jewel? Really? You are brave…) but at the end of the day, it’s what reaches you. It might be one element of the track — the solo, the groove, the words or the singer’s voice — or the whole thing. And an artist’s output can be uneven. Probably is, if they’re taking chances. And then there are the many styles and sub genres within jazz… There’s a reason it’s called America’s Classical Music.

    Right now, I am listening to your neighbors at KEXP as they play listener chosen albums from their 40 years on the air. It’s a diverse mixture

    Admittedly, Steely Dan are pretty polarizing, and Fleetwood Mac have a pretty diverse catalog: fans of Rumors may not like the Peter Green era at all. But I can’t imagine telling a music director their job and being surprised if they replied in an other than deferential tone…

  8. The term “classical music” did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to “canonize” the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Beethoven as a golden age. The earliest reference to “classical music” recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1836.;

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