We all have bands that we've secretly never heard. Major artists, cult heroes, Grammy winners, key figures. We know enough to be able to say their names, maybe even to recall their hometowns, to remember a fact from an article or the image of an album cover. Yet we don't really know these bands, perhaps not like we should. For music snobs, as some of us are, it's hard to admit that these bands aren't part of our aural landscapes, our vocabulary -- at least not beyond a fleeting recognition.
One band that comes to mind for me is Galaxie 500. I know the names of each band member. I have seen later incarnations and projects. Yet I don't think I could name a song title or recognize a single tune. I imagine there are other bands, those we feel we should know but really don't. This, I might add, is different from those bands we feel we should like. Instead, these are artists we honestly have never heard beyond a track or two; at best, we only know the hit songs. Artists that tend to end up in this category include Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, My Bloody Valentine, Minutemen, Soft Machine and even Bob Dylan sometimes.
In fact, this phenomenon is particularly prevalent the more famous or popular the artist is -- to feel like you know the music because you know what eked into the Top 40 or onto a film soundtrack. Then, all of a sudden, someone puts on Thin Lizzy or Bruce Springsteen at a party, and unless it's "Jail Break" or "Dancing in the Dark," you're out of luck.
There's nothing wrong with these gaps in our musical knowledge, nothing to be ashamed about. Yet I've sensed real shame from people -- red-in-the-face embarrassment. "Who is this?" they'll ask, expecting the answer to be some new and up-and-coming band, when the answer is simply "Led Zeppelin" or "The Who." And it's true, it's worse when the answer is someone obvious. Personally, I feel braver admitting to gaps in my contemporary music knowledge than I would to huge blank pages from the year 1972. Why is that? I suppose a few years out, the history books and the critics have aided in cementing a list of crucial suspects, which, despite their own faults, certainly makes the task of learning about music -- or knowing what we should learn about -- less daunting.
I recently saw an interview with author Rick Moody in which he's asked about evasion and confabulation. "I'm the kind of guy who lies about having read Henry James' The Golden Bowl," Moody says. So I will turn the question to you with regard to music: What kind of liar are you? Or, if you are a truth-teller, what will you admit to not really knowing?