>I’m Not With the Band

>A while back I was talking with some friends about a local singer/songwriter who, for these purposes, we’ll call Scott Latte. Said friends are fans of Scott Latte. I am not.

I’m not a fan of Scott Latte for several reasons. Most of them I’ve enumerated in the past. Some I’ve kept quiet because, why piss on someone’s sundae? I said that I didn’t enjoy Latte’s music because I find it dull and humorless and borderline offensive and left it at that. The reply:

“But do you know Scott?”

Of course I don’t know Scott. I don’t want to know Scott. I wager–right here and now–that I’ll never know Scott. But it ultimately doesn’t matter if I know Scott Latte, because I know something else: his music.

——————————————————————————————————

Ten years ago, mainstream sportswriting was dominated by Old White Guys. Like professors with tenure, the Old White Guys were entrenched at their newspaper/periodical/magazine, and had been for decades. They knew their beat, they knew their organization, they had personal relationships with everyone involved with the team, and conventional thinking was that this was a good thing. Because of their familiarity with the team, their unparalleled access, and their years logged behind the scenes, they could give fans a perspective that they couldn’t get from their living room. That intimacy theoretically gave us better insight to the game we were watching.

Eventually, the opposite became true: writers made friends of the players and executives and lost their objectivity. For example, most noteworthy American sportswriters have an unadulterated mancrush on Brett Favre. When Brett lost his fastball and still tried to force throws, he began throwing interceptions on crucial drives. His team lost games because he was making bad decisions. He simply wasn’t the same player anymore. Even great players age. It happens.

But to anyone watching a Green Bay game–hearing it called and reading about it afterward–it wasn’t happening. The Packers were losing for seemingly every reason except Favre’s turnovers. The gap between commentary and reality was stunning. Football fans everywhere thought, “I know what I’m seeing. I’m not crazy. Favre’s past his prime, he’s throwing picks on crucial drives, and they can’t win consistently like that.” But the coverage itself focused on the defense, the offensive line or, if it had to, the consummate brilliance of Whatever Team Favre Just Played. The writers loved Favre, and they weren’t going to report objectively about his demise. They couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

When the internet hit, sportsbloggers everywhere used this to their advantage. They saw the gap between reality and mainstream media’s perception, and figured, “I know what I’m seeing. I don’t need media access. I don’t need the locker room. I’m going to write about exactly what I see transpire on the field.” They figured that fans everywhere experienced sports this way–thoughtfully, devotedly watching the game itself–and doubled down on that viewpoint. Of course, they were right. Sportsblogs have become the mainstream sports media, with even SI and ESPN adopting their own blog-system and hiring the best and the brightest of these former “amateurs” and “armchair quarterbacks.”

And what I’m trying to say is this: I don’t need the backstage pass. I don’t need to know Favre’s birthday to know he’s throwing picks in a 2-minute drill. I don’t need to know Scott Latte’s wonderfully enigmatic persona to hear his music. All you need are two ears that work and a finger to hit play, and nothing about personal familiarity changes what actually happens when you do.

The issue, I fear, is that more people need to experience music this way than they do sports. So while sportsblogs take a staunchly objective viewpoint, most music blogs do the opposite: they write about the artists themselves rather than the music. And, to an extent, I get it: artists build their image and construct their persona. They’re selling themselves as much as the music. To some degree, we all buy in to a cult of personality when we buy a record. But why hasn’t pop culture’s dialogue with music evolved like it has with sports? Why do I have to like or dislike a record through the prism of how I feel about the person who made it? Why does seemingly every conversation begin and end with, “But do you know Scott?” Or, why is it important that I feel like I do?

———————————————————————————————————–

Last week I watched some YouTube videos of Kings of Leon. To promote Only By the Night last fall, they released home videos of them making the record, talking about the record, rough-housing and prank-playing between sessions, etc.

They were semi-entertaining and largely uninteresting until I got to Day 22, in which Caleb talks about the song “Cold Desert.” He describes in great detail the process of recording that song drunk. How drunk everyone involved was. What a moment of inspired drunken genius the performance was, etc. It’s the type of video a KOL fan would love, because it fits their persona as simple-minded, fun-loving alcoholics who constantly stumble into success despite their ne’er-do-well antics.

But what comes across on the actual record is something else. Everything about the song–from the tightness of the performances to the mid-song fadeout–is done deliberately. Anyone with two ears and a finger to press play can hear it. There is nothing accidental or thoughtless about their decision to fade the song out in its middle and fade it back in. The song is, by definition, the antithesis of “incidental boozy afterthoughts.”

And while it’s marginally amusing to say, “I feel like I know Caleb and was with him the night he got so drunk and just felt it and out came ‘Cold Desert,'” it’s a less rewarding way to experience music. People themselves will let you down. They’ll give a different interview every time. They’ll self-mythologize. They’ll bullshit, cop-out, play-up, and change daily. They’re people, after all. But Track 13’s the same every time you hit play. It’s constant, and identical whenever you come back to it. It’s there as a self-contained experience ready to meet you wherever you need it. If you feel fatigued and drowned out, you can revisit that fade-out and know you’re not alone.

No, I don’t know Scott, and I don’t know Brett, and I don’t know Caleb.

And if I’m lucky, I never will.

Too young to feel this old,
CM

P.S. Songs for May will be up on Monday, plus another YouTube concert! Tons of updates next week, so check back early and often.

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>I’m Not With the Band

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