Those of us who spent our formative years, our college years or both in music communities and amongst music aficionados tend to make certain assumptions about other people. The assumption goes like this: If you dress a certain way, or are hanging around in any sort of artistic milieu, then you must know a lot about music. Actually, many of us — myself included — got so used to hanging out with music nerds, and being music geeks ourselves, that we feel like everyone must love music with the same fervor we do, and possess encyclopedic knowledge of it to boot. (The assumption of music awareness based on wardrobe stems from a time when diehard fans of punk, ska, goth, '60s mod, metal, hip-hop and the like often identified themselves and one another by subscribing to codified aesthetics. Nowadays, however, leather jackets don't predict knowledge of Judas Priest any more than skinny jeans indicate an affinity with Johnny Thunders.)
Personally, I still walk around with the naive notion that if someone mentions Rites of Spring, they're talking about the band from D.C. and not alluding to Stravinsky. And once we start talking about D.C., we might as well mention Ignition and Autoclave. If you say STP, I know that means one of Julie Cafritz's bands post-Pussy Galore, not Stone Temple Pilots. You want to talk about Kim Fowley? Kevin Rowland? The connection between Dolly Mixture and The Damned? Howard Devoto, first with the Buzzcocks and then with Magazine? Yes, lets! Tubeway Army? That's Gary Numan at his best. Really, I get you; we have so much in common.
Recently, however, things were put in perspective, and I was reminded of why coming of age musically — first in Seattle and then in Olympia — has its drawbacks.
For a friend's birthday, we sung private karaoke at a bar in Koreatown. If you've never done karaoke in a private room, imagine this: more alcohol, more dancing and more attempts at rapping. Despite having one or two friends with me, I was mostly surrounded by Ivy League graduate students with whom my friend goes to school. The singing selections were fairly pro forma: a little Journey, some Beatles, an occasional show tune; nothing that would indicate or predict the group's overall musical tastes either way. Feeling confident after a successful and well-received attempt at Creedence Clearwater Revival, I decided to dig deeper into the karaoke songbook.
That's when I saw "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by The Stooges. Everyone knows The Stooges, I thought, particularly this classic tune. I typed the selection into the machine and waited for my turn.
I knew I was off to a bad start when the name of the song appeared on the screen and no one cheered or gave any sign of acknowledgment. But it was too late. Whereas I had sung "Bad Moon Rising" from the safety of my booth, acting casual — as if I spent all my days sitting on cushioned seats with a mic in my hand — for The Stooges I had already put myself in the center of the room. All eyes were upon me, everyone curious about the song with the words "wanna" and "dog" in it. The guitar riff began and I hoped it alone would inspire a head nod and a fist in the air — or, better yet, jar someone's memory. "Oh, THIS song," someone would think, admiring my courage for taking on Iggy Pop, whispering to his or her friends until everyone in the room knew how awesome this was going to be.
None of this happened.
As people watched, I sang along, hitting every yelp and intonation. I.Could.Not.Stop. And the lyrics, which to me are as embedded in the musical canon as the ones to "Like a Rolling Stone," were laid bare, totally out of context, making me seem, I realized with horror, perverted. "Now I'm ready to feel your hand," I saw flash across the screen, and I could hear myself saying it at the same time. Then I had to stand there and repeat the chorus. Again and again. No, really: I want to be your dog.
Thankfully, people looked away after a while, or they smiled at me the way you would at a developmentally disabled person riding a pony.
When it was over, I took my seat to the sound of sparse applause. Seconds later, someone launched into Third Eye Blind. It was a huge sing-along hit. "I want something else," everyone sang. Yes, they certainly did.
Has your vast musical knowledge or music snobbery let you down or put you in the position of assuming that everyone else is just like you? Please tell the tale in the comments section below.