I am a contrarian by nature. Hardcore vegans make me want to eat raw meat and shoot deer, extreme political correctness brings out my inner crudeness and insensitivity, and when I witness public displays of affection, my instinct is to swear off dating for good. Basically, if you're doing or saying something, and you're doing or saying it LOUDLY, then chances are, I will refuse to do it or say it along with you. In fact, I might do or say the opposite. Why? Because life is more fun this way.
As a contrarian, I am hardly alone. And music contrarians make up a large portion of us. You know the ones I'm talking about, those people who can never simply agree with popular, commonly held beliefs. Someone who insists that Chad Channing was Nirvana's best drummer, that Bleach was better than Nevermind, that the answer to "Beatles or Stones?" is The Kinks, that Springsteen's Tunnel of Love is one of his finest albums, that Bootsy Collins out-funked George Clinton, or that Soul Asylum was somehow the quintessential Minneapolis band. (Really? Over The 'Mats or Husker Du?)
Contrarians get even more infuriating when it comes to members of legendary bands, often claiming that the "genius" title has been misapplied. They'll tell you that the Buzzcocks were superior with Howard Devoto as their singer, and that Pink Floyd was at their peak with Syd Barrett. But were they? Was Fleetwood Mac actually more awesome before Stevie Nicks? Is Son Volt really a better offshoot of Uncle Tupelo than Wilco?
I can't answer those questions, but a music contrarian can, and will. In fact, their argument as to why Fugazi never outshone Minor Threat or Rites of Spring will be the contrarian's calling card, their 10-minute lecture at social events and why they'll never get asked to speak at a wedding.
But why? Why must you or I or our friends resort to such puerile incantations? Merely for the sake of argument, or to assert our individuality? Do we really mean it? Do we really care? I think we do care. I think that for people whose identities have been shaped by songs -- by songwriters, by bands, by cover art, by stage banter we live by and repeat the next day to our friends; by lyrics that make absolute sense or make so little sense that we worship them all the more; by those hours of memorization and by the effort it takes to embrace music, not just momentarily but to hold onto it for life -- that is not something you give up easily or readily. You fight and you contradict the norm not just to be an ass, but to defend all that's held you up over the years. Even if you're totally wrong.
So what contradictory musical beliefs do you hold? What contrarian musical opinions do your friends or co-workers have that drive you crazy? And what contrarian arguments do you find the most ridiculous or the most valid?
4:10 PM ET | 02- 4-2009 | permalink