J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Notes From Underground - #6
Pretentious Tension

Much like Marty McFly and being called a 'chicken,' I sometimes get uppity when labeled 'pretentious,' especially about music. It's a label that's been thrown at me many times over the years, mostly by people who don't know much about music to begin with. (Was that a pretentious thing to say?) And it is this name calling that has pushed me over time to take a reserved pattern when talking about music. I almost never get into music conversations outside of a few theatres (certain friends, the station, this blog). Sometimes it makes me sad, especially when something enlightening hits me and I don't have anyone around me to really share it with. It's human nature and our desire to have shared experiences with the rest of the race.

But every so often, even I have to recognize the way my thoughts about the importance of music monopolize my life. And these checks will show up in the oddest of places. Ask me sometime about my attempt to meet a girl I saw in a book store and my journey to find just the right book to be holding when I approached her.

But today's story takes place in the spring of 2003. Blackalicious had been procured as the headlining act for Guilford College's Serendipity festival. This was my senior year and as head music director at WQFS, I had certain advantages others might not. In this case the advantage was being asked to drive over to the hotel where Blackalicious was staying to help carry members of the group over to the college for the show.

I was asked several days in advance if I could do this, and agreeing to do so, began a painful and agonizing process. If Blackalicious..or certain members thereof...were going to be in my car...something good needs to be on the stereo when they get in. But what? Should I play hip-hop? No, no. What if they think I'm just a white boy trying to pander to them? So should I stick with indie-rock, or alt-country, or metal? I don't know what other types of music they might enjoy. So I decided to stick with hip-hop. But then more questions - old-school, more recent, underground, mainstream? If I went old-school, am I pandering again? The agony was awful.

I finally decided on a mix tape that I had made while copying songs from friends' music collections. This particular mixtape was a jumble of Iron Maiden, Big Black, the Angry Samoans, Andrew WK and then finally, most importantly, a string of 5 songs from the Ultramagnetic MCs' classic Critical Beatdown.

It was classic without being obvious, underground without being too obscure and it was a perfect choice. On the ride over, I didn't play the tape. I only had 5 songs or so on the cassette and I had it cued up so that it would last the entire ride back. I felt proud of myself - sure of the thought and knowledge that I had used in order to make my 'casual listening' seem spot-on for someone carrying Blackalicious around in my car.

We got to the hotel and as we brought them out, the various members of the group split up amongst the cars we had. I was noticing that no one with a complexion darker than mine was coming towards my car. Rather, a dour, angry, mid-40s looking, balding white man was sitting next to me. This was their road manager. And I forget his name at this point - I was crestfallen. After all that work, just to cart around the manager? I resigned myself to just getting this over with. I started the car up, Critical Beatdown coming on just as planned, and began to pull out of the parking lot.

The manager rubbed his temples as he griped a bit about travel or some such - then paused - and said "No, none of this," and reached over and turned off my stereo.

He didn't ask if we could not listen to it. He just reached over. And turned off. My stereo. And that about summed up my attempt to look cool in front of Blackalicious. A white man turned my stereo off.

If only it were that easy to turn off my brain sometimes.

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