Trust me; you don’t want to learn everything about rock and roll. It’s a pain in the ass having a brain filled with worthless trivia about worthless art. It’s impossible to learn more about rock and roll without hating rock and roll more than before. That’s how I became the twisted old monster that I am today: knowing stuff. I used to be a fresh-faced teenage genius, in love with music and in love with the world. Then I started learning more and more; now I see every rock band as an exotic symptom of a diseased culture, and if I could sign some sort of order to have them all thrown in a volcano, I’d do it in an instant.
Luckily, there’s really no actual need to know anything. If you want to impress people with your boundless wit in the field of popular music, all you have to do is convincingly fake it. It’s not hard at all. Just like anything else worth knowing, from tying a necktie to building a nuclear bomb, you can learn to do it just by reading a single stupid article on some two-bit Podunk website. I’ve been watching people do this for years; it’s impossible to have conversations about music frequently without running into quite a few sly bastards who have mastered the art of faking musical knowledge and quite a few more who are at least half-assedly attempting it.
There are a couple of main aspects to seeming more pop-savvy than you really are. First of all, you have to break through the more-indie-than thou barrier: sometimes, people are going to bring up a band that you know nothing about, and you have to be able to beat them at their own game. Secondly, you’re going to have to create an air of pretentious snobbery in order to assert the superiority of your taste (and who would know more about that than me?). Finally, you must fake a sick obsession with some sort of musical cult figure. Once you’ve done these things, you’ll be virtually indistinguishable from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.
Part One: What to Do When You Don’t Know Anything
If you’re trying to come off like a musical hotshot, people are going to start poking at you a little bit to test your boundaries; it is critically important to know how to deal with this, so I’m putting this section first. If you mess this up somehow, your cover is blown, you’re back to being Ronnie Retard, and you might as well just admit to everyone that you listen to Evanescence.
A) The importance of Double Dare.
Suppose someone says this: “Hey, have you heard of Flop?” Obviously, we’re also going to suppose that you haven’t heard of Flop, because you haven’t. How would you react to this? Your first instinct might be to say “Yeah, I’ve definitely heard of Flop.” This is bad idea for many reasons: first of all, it might be a trick. There might be no such band as Flop. Worse yet, your interrogator might have all manner of follow-up questions about Flop, and they’re going to be increasingly difficult to weasel your way out of. It might also be tempting to say “I’ve heard of them, but I haven’t really heard their records.” This is a wishy-washy compromise, and it’s an essentially meaningless answer. Basically, the only way to win at this game is to play it like Double Dare. You supposedly know everything about music. They ask you about Flop: dare. It’s time to put them on the defensive. “Hmm, Flop… what label were they on?” Double dare. Chances are, they don’t know. For all your opponent knows, you might know all about Flop, but he has failed to give you enough simple information, such as the name of their record label, for you to correctly identify them. Even if your opponent does know what label the band in question was on, you still can’t lose. “Ah yes,” you can say “I am almost certain that I have a compilation released by that label that has a few Flop songs on it.” This at least buys some time; the worst that can happen is that you’ll have to go home and look up Flop on the internet (this is known as the “Physical Challenge”). Your opponent is foiled, and you live another day.
B) Never let a stranger get a handle on what you like.
Next, a significantly more dangerous situation: suppose that someone unfamiliar asks you “So, what bands do you listen to?” Obviously, if you don’t know the person’s taste well enough, you can’t tell him what bands you actually listen to. When you’re faking your knowledge of music, that’s a huge risk; for all you know, the bands you listen to are complete shit in this guy’s eyes. Luckily, there’s a simple way out. Make up a band. This might seem dangerous, but if you do it right it’s a lifesaver. There are, however, a couple of tricks to it. Firstly, the name has to be plausible. Don’t say “The Magnificent Penis Rangers,” because that sounds like a fake band. Don’t say something overly simple, like “The Trolls,” because it’s too likely that it’s actually the name of a real band. Come up with something esoteric and meaningless, like “The Alabaster Swans” or “Cornbread Farm.” No matter how much your opponent knows, he can’t call you on it. What is he going to say? “I know about every band, and Cornbread Farm isn’t one of them!”? All your opponent can do is either acknowledge that he hasn’t heard of Cornbread Farm or press you for more information. This is where the second important aspect of it comes in: have at least a rudimentary biography built up for this band. What years were the active? Try the early Eighties; it’s far enough back that their records might not be out on CD and the internet might come up clean for information on them. What label were they on? Make one up: Catbird records. What sort of music did they make? Mix up a bunch of unrelated terms until you get one that sounds acceptable: proto-shoegaze jangle-pop. If you want to put some icing on the cake, make up a critic who loves them. “Cornbread Farm is actually John Simon Dodge’s favorite band. He talks about them at length in his book.” This will make your opponent feel clueless and poorly read.
Part Two: How to Be a Bastard
Faking factual knowledge of music is one thing, but you haven’t got the complete package until you also know how to be a snob about it. One of the most important aspects of fake snobbery is never to let on that you like anything. You may have noticed in my articles that I rarely admit without bitter sarcasm that I actually like anything; this is because I am a real snob, but faking it isn’t too hard. Remember: conversations about music aren’t really about music, they’re about you. Always steer your conversations toward your own personal taste. In this case “taste” just means “superiority.” You can’t help it if your standards are too high.
A) There’s no such thing as a straight compliment.
Never bring up a band you like without a backhanded compliment. This is extremely useful, because if the person you’re talking to hates the band, they will assume that you’re smart enough to dislike them too. If they like the band, they will assume that you like them a little bit as well, but you’re simply too cool to like them all the way. For example, if you’re the kind of irreparable idiot who listens to Muse, you might say “Muse really have their sound figured out. I guess that happens when you make the exact same record three times.” Even if you enjoy a rock band, you enjoy them despite their glaring flaws.
B) Nothing is as good as it used to be.
Remember: You preferred their first album. They totally sold out. They were better before the original guitarist left. They’re just a rip-off of Big Star anyway. Keep in mind that rock and roll has been in a continuous state of decline for the past 30 years or so. Every band just gets worse and worse until they collapse under the weight of their own failure. Every band is essentially an inferior version of an older band. Even if a band used to be a good, they suck now. They’ve sucked for years. They’ll never get their old spark back. You might as well give up on them, because they’re just a grotesque parody of their former selves. Does this mean you should start liking older rock? Certainly not! Everything made before 1978 is primitive, uncool, and culturally irrelevant.
C) Every genre is artless, boring, lame, or pretentious.
Personally, you can’t understand how anybody could listen to something so tedious, pretentious and masturbatory as progressive rock. Does this mean you prefer punk? No! Punk is for tin-eared plebeians and retarded, politically clueless teenagers. Electronic music is for boring white geeks with no souls. Jam bands are for burned-out stoner hippies. Industrial music is for Dungeons & Dragons-playing social rejects in trench coats.
D) If anyone’s heard of it, it’s crap.
Nothing can possibly get on the radio or on MTV without being watered-down for easy consumption by frat-boys, hicks, and teeny-boppers. Anyone who owns a radio and has it tuned to anything but the local pirate radio station or college station is a reprehensible consumer whore who wouldn’t know art if he ran face-first into Michelangelo’s David. Pop music is for children and yahoos.
E) If nobody’s heard of it, it’s crap.
The kids who do shows on the local pirate radio station or college station are a bunch of idiot scenesters with an infantile and ridiculous fear of pop music. Unable to appreciate pop music on its own terms, they turn instead to tuneless indie crap and ridiculous obscurity pissing-contests. The shit they play has no standard of quality; maybe that’s why only fifty people bought it.
Part Three: Hitching Your Wagon
This aspect of being a fake music geek is perhaps the trickiest and most dangerous part, because it will open you up for criticism. I’d recommend that you stick to the first two sections of this guide for quite some time before you even attempt this, because it’s not for beginners. Basically, you need to find some band or artist with a cult following to fake an obsession with. If you’re in a political party, you have to hitch your wagon to your party’s candidate, despite his flaws. If you’re religious, you have to accept your God despite your doubts. If you’re going to make a convincing music expert, you’re eventually going to have to latch on to a cult figure and defend him or her vehemently at every turn. Don’t ask me why. You just have to. If you don’t have a sick devotion to some strange and inscrutable artist, all the real music geeks will eventually be able to smell your deception. You don’t even necessarily have to pick a good artist, but you have to pick one. Find somebody with a broad and varied body of work, because you’re going to have to at least pretend to own a bunch of their records.
A) Pick an artist of medium obscurity.
Picking the right one is a difficult task, and pretending to like them is going to have its consequences. If you pick a widely-known cult hero like Morrissey or Elvis Costello, you might accidentally meet another fan and have to pretend to know things about the artist. Unless you’ve done your homework, your ignorance will be exposed. If you pretend to like somebody more obscure, like Captain Beefheart or Scott Walker, people may fail to be suitably impressed by your slavish devotion due to their ignorance of the artist’s body of work. I would recommend picking an artist of medium cult status, like Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle; he’s involved in so many worthless side-projects that you could easily evade his fans in a verbal maze of made-up album names and non-existent collaborations.
B) Become frighteningly obsessed.
Once you’ve picked your cult hero, the only thing left to do is bring him up in every single music conversation. Compare every other artist unfavorably to your hero. Lament the fact that your hero has “lost it” and “will probably never get it back,” but express your opinion that his early body of work is enough to counterbalance any mediocre material he may have released later. Your hero is the only one who ever really got it right, and as long as you live you’ll never see another artist like him.
I hope this brief guide to pretending to be as smart as me has been useful to you. I’m sure you’ll all have fun impressing your friends with your newfound knowledge of rock and roll. I’ve tried to outline the basics, but if you can think of any more particularly good methods for pretending to know about music, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “How to Fake It.” Any particularly funny or useful advice might later be added to an addendum to this article, if I ever get around to reading my mail.
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