Ardent music fans are a strange breed. We don't always play nice with others. We tend to horde, gloat, obsess, fetishize, boorishly opine and prematurely judge. There have been several points in my life where I have found it nigh on impossible to hold my tongue when I've heard people discussing music. And not just in circumstances wherein I was actively acquainted with the people involved with the discussion either --- oh no. I've been prone to butting right into conversations I've eavesdropped on in record stores or in elevators or in other places where my opinions weren't being solicited, forcing complete strangers to hear what I had to say about that new Iggy Pop album or which Lollapalooza it was that Lush played at or how abjectly overrated Pavement were or why they should be as appalled as I am that the first Belfegore album was never released on compact disc, etc. It's gotten me in a spot of trouble on a few occasions.
For some reason, the fact that some of us (and I say "us" because I know I'm not the only person that does this) spent inordinately too much time in front of our record players growing up, pouring slavishly over lyrics and liner notes than the average person seems to lend us a puffy-chested sense of entitlement. I've caught myself saying entirely outlandish things ("why don't you do your homework, you novice!") at folks who simply hadn't cared to invest nearly as much time as I had (i.e. they had better things to do and lives to lead) into their appreciation of some random band. Music just isn't the same end-all/be-all to a lot of people. And they shouldn't be punished for that, especially not by some sanctimonious loudmouth like myself. Factually up to date or not, no one likes a knowitall.
For many music-obsessives, I can't help thinking our fervent record-collecting and arcane trivia consumption are an indirect means of compensation. Speaking for myself, I was never a particularly athletic kid (surprise!) and found absolutely nothing of interest in professional sports (much less jocks in general -- with whom I've always shared a mutual antipathy). Music, meanwhile, captured my imagination at an early age and I summarily immersed myself in it. I was into other things as well -- geekier pursuits like sci-fi, comic book collecting, role-playing games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons -- but music was something that superceded and outlasted them all. And it was something a thousand times more universal. I was invariably more likely to encounter a kindred soul as equally moved by the stentorian whallop of Black Sabbath or the subversively skewed anti-pop of vintage Devo than I was a big fan of Cerebus the Aardvark or "Gamma World" (to say nothing of the fact that the music fan would more likely be less geeked-out than the comic fan or the gamer -- hell, they might even be female!) I don't think it was ever a conscious decision, but my drive to know all that I could know and hear all that I could hear of the music that captivated me may have been partially inspired by my repressed naive need to own and master something in the same way that the popular guys in my high school reigned supreme on the basketball court. Here was something I was good at. Here was something I could excel at.
Some years ago, I knew a similarly inclined (albeit much more extreme) individual at a magazine I was working for. A font of musical knowledge, this guy had been to more crucial shows, seen more seminal bands, conducted countless interviews with influential artists and boasted a record collection that put most radio stations to shame. At the same time, he was a bit of a chore to be around. His constant need to one-up anyone during discussions about music bordered on needlessly aggressive brow-beating, and his tireless hunger to possess virtually every album, single, cassette and compact disc under the sun had unhealthily crossed the line into flat-out mania. By this stage, the music itself had become incidental. Sure, he might've owned some entirely limited edition pressings of wildly rare, out-of-print classic albums, but damned if he could hum a note off of any of'em (or even remember that he owned them). They were just items on the vast pile that occupied nine-tenths of his apartment. I remember a cab ride with him once when, in a rare moment of bluster-free candor, he confessed that he'd invested so much into his music collection because he knew that it was never going to let him down in the way that so many people had. I found this profoundly depressing.
Around the same time, I was gradually gleaning that being a "rock critic" -- despite my frothy-mouthed adoration of writers like Lester Bangs, Nick Kent, Ira Robbins, John Leland and Legs McNeil -- was maybe not the ideal career that it has previously seemed like. And so wanting not to be like the guy I described in that last paragraph, I started to try to change my ways. I was still obsessive in my pursuit of music -- spending every thin red dime I earned on pricey import releases and related ephemera, routinely going to shows two...three....four times a week and even flying to the UK to catch concerts. Hell, in 1993, my friend Rob and I flew to London almost exclusively for the purposes of checking out British record stores. But by the same token, I started being a bit more sheepish about my appreciation. I started to treat my music obsession more like a monkey on my back than like a shiny sheriff's badge that allowed me to lord my arguable expertise over others. And my "expertise" was just that -- arguable. Sure, I knew all about the stuff I liked, and could tell you more than you'd ever want to know about, say, the Circle Jerks, Kiss or the Lords of the New Church, but if you were looking for insight regarding artists like Emmylou Harris or Al Green or Gram Parsons or Danko Jones, I'd have nothing for you. And I'd probably compensate for my lack of knowledge by being dismissive about the artists in question. It's an old trick.
In time, my unwieldy disc collection started to be more of a burden than a library to boast about (especially when it was littered with dubious discs by one-hit-wonders, guilty pleasures and whole catalogs by artists I've since gone onto all but renounce). I'd already clogged my Mom's basement and a storage space downtown to the rafters with all my vinyl and cassettes (and, pray tell, why on god's green earth am I still holding onto my cassettes?), but now my shelves and shelves of compact disc were starting to resemble a Sisyphusian boulder, especially when my wife and I moved apartments in 2002. Scarred from an experience in college when some of my precious vinyl was damaged during shipping, I insisted on carting my discs to the new apartment myself, an endeavor which took a ridiculous amount of time and struggle. For a more in-depth account of my disc-addiction, click here.
Somewhat ironically, here in 2007, I'm working for MTV. Though bitterly maligned in certain circles of the hipster cognoscenti (which I've aligned myself with at one stage or another), MTV played a huge role in nurturing my own music appreciation. I'm not sure if it has that same effect on budding music fans today --- music and popular culture have changed so much since I was a teen -- but I know the ardent music fan is alive and well within the walls of the institution, and I've met many a kindred spirit therein. As a 39 year old father of two, I don't have nearly as much time (let alone money) as I used to devote to the music that I love. I still roam the internet and involve myself in needlessly heated discussions about music. Someone on the Firewater list, for example, recently suggested that they couldn't hear any difference between the bands Keane and Muse and, being a fan of much of Muse's work, I got all red-faced and incredulous. Similarly, on the Gathering (the Killing Joke list) one member made a disrespectful comment about Alien Sex Fiend (`cos yknow.....god forbid!), and I felt obligated to put them in their place for it. I doubt I'll ever be able to stop myself from having an pronounced opinion about music, given that it still means so much to me, but I'm trying to keep it all in perspective. After all, I may own a lot of discs, but music ultimatelly belongs to everyone.