If I mathematically extrapolate based upon the number of emails I receive and upon how important I feel when I look in the mirror, I could conservatively estimate that about seventy million people read this column. I am not a vain man, so I am willing to admit that of these seventy million, at least two or thee of my readers are in my intellectual league. You know who you are, because if you’re anything like me, you’re plotting to kill me because you know that I am plotting to kill you first. It is to these fortunate doomed few that I address this column.
Many who read my classic article “How to Fake it” clamored for more advice on pretending vast knowledge of rock and roll, but only the cream of the crop are qualified to benefit from any further training. My previous article was a starter guide for those too lazy or smart to actually learn anything about rock and roll, and it was extremely effective in instilling the wiles necessary for an utter beginner to dazzle record-store clerks with his seemingly vast knowledge of music. The advice was so effective, in fact, that it seemed to breed an entire generation of witless, hyper-pretentious musical chauvinists (you’re welcome).
But could a young snob reared on my technique go toe to toe with a true-blue how-do-you-do rock and roll supernerd? Of course not. In the eyes of a zealous pop obsessive, even my tried-and-true techniques would be mere parlor tricks. While my methods of faking musical knowledge could fool 99% of the people 99% of the time, there would always be those who would spot the ruse and bury it under a mountain of horrible, horrible knowledge.
So it is only to my elite readers that I impart the following advice on how to further fake it. These techniques move beyond the realm of mere razzle-dazzle; I daresay they scale the lofty heights of true razzamatazz. To those two or three of you who might be pausing only for the fifteen seconds it takes you to read this column before resuming your mission to kill me, you may pretend that I am grooming you as my successors. To the rest of you, just go ahead and just pretend that I am grooming you like apes, picking the nits out of your scabby hide while you purse your lips and blow contented Bronx cheers.
These concepts are far more abstract than those in the previous column, and cannot be explained in simple directions or bulleted lists, so those of you who only read Something Awful for the bulleted lists would be well advised to give up now and head for the nearest Josh “Livestock” Boruff update.
I: The Personality
The very essence of the musical elitist is the combination of smugness and inscrutability. These two elements instill true music buffs with their veneer of authority and mystery, and learning to fake them is essential if you hope to join the ranks of the elite. Anyone who dares challenge your views will find themselves totally disarmed by the powerful combination these traits bring: they will feel a vague sense of shame for questioning someone so sure of himself, and they will almost certainly panic when they realize that they can’t get any kind of handle on your personal taste.
How inscrutable must you be? Think of the most inscrutable thing you can imagine: the Sphinx? The universe? Morrissey? Nay, you must be more mysterious still.
The number one rule of musical inscrutability is to carefully flout the conventional notions of what’s good and bad. Pretending to hate good music is easy enough, especially to those who read the first installment of How to Fake It. Pretending to like bad music, which may occasionally be necessary, is a little trickier. If you fail, you’ll just wind up looking like a philistine with terrible taste, or even worse, an ironist. You can’t merely prance around telling everyone The Beatles are terrible and Kelly Clarkson is great; you have to dress it up a little. Talk about stupid music in meaninglessly erudite terms: “Def Leppard brilliantly conveyed the foundation of existential despair which necessarily lurks beneath a life of hedonism.” “If Foucault were alive today, he would undoubtedly listen to Hoobastank.”
Occasionally, you must vehemently disagree with conventional wisdom and critical consensus. There’s a persuasive counterargument to everything, and if you can think on your feet, it’s possible to refute even the most ironclad rock notions. Everyone knows, for example, that the Rolling Stones have lost it. Not you! You think they’re better than ever! “The Rolling Stones do our culture a much greater service now, as a commentary on the West’s insecurity about age, than they ever did as a bland young rock outfit.” Be confident of your fake opinions, because the bullshit detectors built into music snobs are like mild polygraph tests. If you’re worried that thinking on your feet might take too much actual knowledge, don’t be ashamed to prepare your opinions in advance.
Most people who try to fake musical expertise do so only by not admitting that they like anything. While that’s a good start, it’s also an eventual dead-end. It’s equally important to your inscrutability to be cagy about what you don’t like. Be quick to defend even the most worthless pop music, and do so completely without irony. If someone quite reasonably complains that the Ying Yang Twins are medically verifiable retards, scold them as if they’ve just called Martin Luther King Jr. an ape. Not only will this pull the rug out from under any rational person, but it will create an air of superior liberal open-mindedness toward all varieties of music.
The ultimate goal of all this isn’t simply to have something good to say about anything bad and something bad to say about anything good. The goal is to make your taste and opinions completely baffling, unpredictable and impenetrable. Being ridiculous and contrary all the time might just make you look insane, so don’t overdo it. Engage in normal, civil conversations about music and then spring a bizarre opinion on your adversary like a mental rat trap. Make sure you pepper your lies with the truth: defend universally panned albums by critically beloved artists, like Neil Young’s “Trans” or Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.” Say you like Bob Dylan, but only for his voice, not his lyrics.
If your inscrutability is convincing enough, smugness is easy to fake. Always remember that you’re the expert. Your opinions are the correct ones, no matter how bizarre. As I mentioned in the previous installment, always steer the conversation toward your own opinions.
II: The Grand Declaration
Speaking in grand declarations is an excellent way to be smug. Every sentence you utter is an expression of some well-thought-out conviction which you demand to share with the world. Say everything emphatically and then look around to see if anyone has written it down so they can quote you later. You might think that grand declarations are risky, but if handled properly they’re as tame as kittens. Here’s a handy guide:
Wrong: “Matchbox 20 was better than the Beatles.”
While it may be tempting to make grandiose claims just to court controversy, you’d only be shooting yourself in the foot. A declaration like this just invites questions like “by what standard?” and “are you an idiot?” Remember that controversy isn’t the goal. The goal is simply to impress upon those around you that you are a person with Big Ideas.
Right: “At his best, Robyn Hitchcock was every bit as good as Bob Dylan.”
While not as risky or controversial as the previous one, a declaration like this is plenty bold. You are basically saying “yes, I am in the position to include or exclude artists from the critical canon at my whim.” Canonizing random artists is a perfect way to establish authority, even if the person to whom you’re talking has never even heard of the artist in question.
Wrong: “The Clash was better than The Sex Pistols.”
A statement like this is simply comparing apples to apples, and at least 50% of the population would be inclined to agree with it. It’s merely an opinion, not a grand declaration.
Right: “The Smiths were better than The Sex Pistols.”
Unlike the Matchbox 20/Beatles comparison, this one involves two entirely dissimilar bands with a similar level of critical acclaim. Although both bands are firmly entrenched in the canon, most people wouldn’t bother comparing them, since there’s no particular logic or point to it. But such concerns need not deter you, for it is your god-given right to hierarchically file bands however you see fit.
Wrong: “Magazine was the best band of all time.”
Such a declaration is bold and tempting, but once again it is too controversial and might require some form of actual support. “Best-of-all-time” claims are to be avoided, because they’re a sure-fire way to start an argument you can’t win.
Right: “Magazine is one of the ten best bands of all time.”
This cleverly circumvents the pitfalls of a best-of-all-time claim while at the same time implying that you’ve figured out exactly what the ten best bands of all time are. In most cases you won’t be pressed to reveal your entire list, because people involved in music discussions don’t actually care what other people think, they’re merely concerned about the politics of domination and submission.
III: The Barometer
If you’re going to convey an impression that you’ve got everything figured out, you need to remember that every band or artist in history is either underrated or overrated. Only you are the true arbiter of how to correctly rate any given band, since you are immune to the hype, nostalgia, and politics that make up the critical reputation of a musical act. Within you is the single flawless barometer that reveals the true quality of every band in the universe. Make sure to use it whenever possible, for it is a mainstay of smugness.
In keeping with your persona, it goes without saying that you need to be perfectly inscrutable about your over/under barometer. Remember not to go for the obvious choices.
Saying that a band is underrated is a good way to advance them for consideration in the critical canon (which, of course, you control). As a benevolent dictator, it is wise and just to allow a fair number of underdogs and obscure indie bands into your hallowed halls of underrating, but you must also throw caltrops in the path of those trying to get a handle on your taste by admitting some odd ones, too. Sammy Hagar? Underrated. Michael Bolton? Underrated. What’s even more confusing is to accord underrated status to extremely well-liked bands. Nothing confuses your adversaries like calling The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix underrated. It’ll spin their heads. They’ll have no choice but to think you’re two steps ahead of them.
Anything liked by anyone but you is overrated. Keep in mind that there are unlimited degrees of overrating, and you can employ them based on how much you want to offend and belittle others. If you’ve got a clean shot at some goofball liking Nirvana, don’t hesitate to point out that they’re disgustingly overrated. He knows that they are. He won’t be able to argue; you’ve got him cold. However, if someone mentions liking an underground favorite like Television or The Velvet Underground, you’d be treading on thin ice to claim that their critical acclaim is unwarranted. Instead, you can use the most devious trick in the smug bastard handbook: “They’re definitely good, yeah. But a little overrated.” Checkmate!
If you take these lessons to heart and combine them with the teachings of the previous installment, you can walk among the true music nerds of the world with little fear of exposure. If any true snobs out there would like to contribute any of their advanced music snobbery techniques, I encourage you to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. However, I realize that this is a ridiculous request, since the secrets of music snobs are closely guarded, and in the wrong hands, potentially devastating to the honorable caste system of snobs and plebeians.
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