As a surly outcast teen, I hated everyone and everything that wasn’t “my music.” In those pre-Nirvana days before alternative went mainstream, we defined ourselves by our music taste. We self-selected into tribes based on favorite bands. A serious topic of discussion was whether or not you could consider dating or even being friends with members of another tribe. Depeche Mode, The Grateful Dead and Bobby Brown did NOT mix. Nor did their fans eat at the same lunch tables.
This belief system was reinforced during my college radio DJ days when we pitted ourselves against the big station behemoths like KROQ who played “the hottest new song” sometimes a year after we’d been spinning it. We considered ourselves the vanguard, the tastemakers, the music cognoscenti. Woe to he who cited a major corporate rock band as his favorite for much eye-rolling derision would follow. He’d never get it. He’d never be one of us, the poor sap.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve relaxed and even learned to embrace the music I once would have decried as derivative corporate pabulum. In fact my Christmas card these days consists of a CD-and-witty-liner-notes compendium of what I consider to be the best cheesy pop of the year and why. (All these years later, I’m still making mix tapes. My music snobbery may have relaxed and matured but the framework is still there.)
In my new life as a music video director I’ve had the good fortune to get to know many wonderful and talented musicians. As the authors of the creations to which we were so devoted, I had long assumed musicians would be even more “my tribe and your tribe don’t mix” than regular music snobs. Instead, I’ve found myself humbled by their openness. Sure, they value craftsmanship and taste. But they are first and foremost lovers of Music with a capital M.
After a recent magical day shooting in the Mojave with a new client, we settled in for the long drive home to LA. I should mention these guys are Progressive Rock artists, a genre I’ve long been intimidated by with its creators who are often highly trained and musically educated. We took turns DJing for each other off our iPhone playlists. The guitarist would play something which would remind me of something which would remind the singer of something and so we’d go. I was tentative at first, afraid my selections would be beneath them. I started with some indie rock, moved into Brit pop and finally ventured into an a cappella Malaysian siren song. They loved it. They commented on specific aspects of the songs, asked me if I knew the drummer to a friend’s track, bounced and nodded excitedly when a track really clicked for them. It was not about the genre. It was simply about good music. All those carefully cultivated and defended tribal lines of my youth have simply vanished; no longer of service. It was freeing, unifying. It was grown-up. I hid my sad whiff of nostalgia for indulging in a little music fan holier-than-thou-ness.
“You’ve got great music taste,” the singer remarked as we neared the engulfing lights of LA. Well, yes, I agreed, thrilled by the compliment. Music genres and their fans may have all blurred into one tribe: sometimes pop-filled, sometimes artist-driven, but defined by quality musicianship, writing or production (hopefully all three). And I may have become a kinder, gentler, more inclusively-minded music fan thanks to my musician friends. But my surly-teen music-snob heart finds solace in the fact that there is one music fan subset I can still deride: the tasteless. And with the wonderful subjectivity that is all art, I get to decide who they are.