Artwork by Calgarian artist Stephanie Damus
THERE ARE UNSPOKEN RULES, SON
When you meet a chef, you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about food. Right? So when I happened to cross paths with a classically French trained chef at an engagement party of a mutual friend, I jumped at the opportunity to learn his culinary secrets.
“Wanna know a great mac n’ cheese recipe?” he asked.
How did he know I loved mac n’ cheese?
“You bet your ass I do!”
He quickly set about his teachings. He laid out the steps with the skill of a master storyteller, keeping my ears on the edge of their seats throughout. His hands moved swift and smooth like Tai Chi, motioning every action; the drizzle, the dusting, the ever-elusive pan flip. Ingredients I had never known flowed from his mouth with intimate knowledge; the finest aged cheddar from the borders of Bristol, Boar’s Head delicatessen style mustard, free range pulled pork shoulder, and hand-washed providence Oka cheese formed by only the most faithful of the Trappist Monks. It was a wonderment of culinary expertise that left me as astonished as I was starving.
Food crazed and hyper excited, his sharing sparked a burning need to reveal to him my very favourite, and very secret mac n’ cheese recipe. Like a kid with a brand new toy to show off, I clumsily hurried into the details.
“So I like to cook a box of KD, right. And uh, like I don’t cook it too too much, cause I, umm, like, I like when it’s el… el… you know that Italian word for hard. Then I grab one of those big honking spoons and throw a glob of Cheez Whiz in the mix. That’s the secret, dude. A HUGE glob…”
I didn’t even notice the cringe on his face.
“…Then toss in the powder stuff, and like a cup of milk, a ton of milk, so it turns in to this super strong cheesy soup. It’s awesome…”
The cringe turned to shock, and before I could realize what I was saying, he threw up his hand to halt my punch drunk rambling.
“Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this straight. Your favourite way to make macaroni is to boil a box of KD and mix it with flavoured powder and Cheez Whiz? Man, there is something seriously wrong with your palate” he said with earnest concern.
My face reddened slightly, and I struggled to find a response. I quickly laughed to appear less insulted, and gave a chuckling “trust me, it’s great” to passively respond to his criticism. His face remained puzzled, deeply troubled, almost disgusted.
Later at the party, nursing a warming Kokanee, I quietly stewed over the interaction. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else though, after years of Food Network consumption, I understood that all those TV chefs had one golden rule: fresh is good, processed is bad. If you are to be recognized as a true connoisseur of the culinary world, at least in the eyes of every chef I’ve heard speak, you must toe the line of that culinary doctrine.
“What a dick” I thought to myself “like he never dove into a bag of Doritos!”. I turned to my fiancee and bitterly snarked “Does he think the millions and millions of people who love to devour a bag of Cool Ranch have palates that are inherently bad? Elitist douche!”
In a particularly cheeky mood, she responded “Would you say that people who love Lady Gaga have bad musical palates?”
Still in my angry train of thought I ignored the comment.
“I would love to just catch that guy orange-handed. In some locked room with no windows, binging on the ‘peasant snacks’! I would take a picture and force him to confess to his hipster customers that he loooooovvvveeessss processed cheese.” I carried on with a bitter pout.
Smiling with only the love a life partner could provide, she patted my head and asked “Would you admit to IMVERYAPE readers that you like Kylie Minogue?”
I swished down the cheesies in my mouth with the remainder of my room temperature beer.
“Shut up” I muttered defeatedly.
OUR CLOSETS ARE MORGUES
I walked away from that party with a renewed belief in woefully sad statement – there are acceptable things to like, and there are unacceptable things to like. And I am not talking about how society frowns upon people who find pleasure in car jacking, I am talking about the things we enjoy that are harmless to others, but “experts” in those given fields criticize our tastes as “less than”. The gentlemen drinking wine out of a box, the movie-goer with a secret love for Adam Sandler flicks, or the teen who prefers the fit of his T-shirt with the Adidas logo over the ironic Banksy art of Mona Lisa carrying a bazooka purchased at a vintage clothing store in a developing area of town. These poor bastards fall victim to high-nosed connoisseur snobbery, so much so that they are embarrassed to reveal their true preferences.
Nowhere is this more true than with the appreciation of music. We withhold some of our true loves out of fear of judgment. In social gatherings I hear the calculated replies of the closet-cases when they are confronted with the loaded question – “What kinda music do you like?”
“You know, the basics, Beatles, the Stones”
“The White Stripes. Black Keys are cool too”
“I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan”
Universal and safe answers from the guy who was just blasting Steve Winwood in his car, or the woman whose favourite song is in fact Spice Girl’s Viva Forever.
Of course that is just amongst the average person. When it is a conversation between two people that label themselves music lovers, it becomes a ridiculous chess game of trying to out-cool each other.
“Have you heard the new Kanye album?”
“I’m more in to underground hip hop like Deltron 3000.”
“Oh, so do you like MF DOOM?”
“I liked his early work with DJ Subroc. Since he worked with Madlib he got way too commercial.”
This repugnant phenomenon of one-upmanship in the music world clearly reeks of douche-baggery. However, I would argue the hipster music consumer that spreads the message of audio elitism is in fact the lesser of two evils, and it is the Alpha Plus lecturer orchestrating the message that is the real culprit: the music critic. Yes, the beard-toting music dictator that manufactures consent from the comfort of his office chair. The guy with the backstage passes and advanced albums that with a half hour and a laptop could bury a band’s Metacritic score, and leave them doomed to obscurity with the scarlet letter U for ‘unexceptional’ branded on their asses. The Pitchforks, the Drowned in Sounds, the NMEs, the Spins of the world. They wield their pens like Michelin Guide writers. And although they swear an unspoken oath to their followers that they will seek great music without prejudice, like any person they fear judgement. And the more followers, the safer they will play it. Just look at Rolling Stone, they made one too many “uncool” reviews, and now they are relics in the online competition for viewership. In this fickle modern world, you have to stay hip, you have to maintain an image, or you will be two or three posts away from the fate of the Laserdisc. Do you think a Michelin Guide critic would keep his job if he promoted a restaurant making macaroni with Cheez Whiz? For the music writer there are doctrines as well; the pop must be indie, the radio coverage must be small, and the R&B must be edgy. So as long as that is the case, music elitism will persist, and we will all keep our less-than-acceptable music crushes under lock and key.
Or, we could all come clean. We could all confess. Let the musical skeletons topple out of our closets like so many tumbling Jenga blocks. Punch a hole through the lattice and let the priest see your Crazy Town albums. Take your Les Miserable CD out of the Public Enemy jewel case, and fess up that you have never even heard a Public Enemy album. Concede that when you hear a Blink 182 song on the radio, you let All the Small Things play out before plugging in the iPod. Say “sometimes I’m not cool, and it’s okay” while your guts spill out onto the house party floor. And then maybe, just maybe, Mr. Rocks Out to Steve Winwood and Miss Loves Viva Forever will feel a sense of decreased solitude and increased solidarity, and with new-found motivation and liberation unzip their stomaches to let their innards be unbosomed to the world.
So for all the Adam Sandler fans, Steve Winwood sing-alongers, and Cool Ranch eaters, let me lead by example, and give my IMVERYAPE confessions:
CONFESSION #1 – SOMETIMES I DON’T GET IT
I recall walking around in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I remember gazing purposefully at the Black and White photographs of dismembered Barbie dolls, or observing inquisitively at the flat affect of a woman sitting motionless in a chair. I distinctly remember spending a large portion of my time there secretly scanning the room, watching the faces of the patrons, with their crispy clean dress shirts tucked neatly in crispy clean denim, and wondering – can they all see I don’t get it?
And that is exactly how I feel as a “music writer” when I don’t understand the accolades bestowed upon particular albums. When Janelle Monae’s Archandroid earned an earth-shattering 91/100 metacritic score, I kept playing the songs waiting for something to click. I am a music fan! How could I possibly not recognize the genius? But every time I ventured through the songs I heard a miss-mash of styles, and not one was done particularly well. And when the melody struck a chord, Monae provided a vacant delivery that offered the emotional richness of a LMFAO single.
Like a man who laughs despite not understanding the joke, I pretended to understand why Deerhunter’s Microcastle earned a 9.2 on Pitchfork. I would never admit I found eighty percent of the songs to be murky sludge without the faint hint of a redeemable quality.
I nodded in false agreement when The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual received critical acclaim. Of course! Of course! Every album that purposefully replaces melody with twenty-minute songs of ambient noise is genius, you would have to be an idiot to disagree!
And because Kanye West swung for the fences, I had no choice but to release a pretentious hum of agreement when the clearly imperfect My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy received a standing ovation. Like everyone else, I loved the beats, but I felt like I was on crazy pills when nobody else recognized that Chris Rock ruined Blame Game, or that Kanye’s lyrics on Lost in the World were ridiculous, or that Runaway was three minutes too long, or that Devil in a New Dress and Gorgeous‘s production was boring.
Could it have been that my poor palate had struck again? Did I simply need to concede to the subjectivity of music, and realize I won’t always agree with the masses? Or was something far more silly happening? Could the critics have been like me in the MOMA, watching everyone else’s faces, waiting to see how they react? Watching the Super 8 footage of a dog running in a circle being projected on an oil painting of Stalin, and waiting for the first person to proclaim “brilliant!” so that we may follow suit, nobody ever knowing we had no idea what it meant.
I confess, although it may make me look simple, sometimes I don’t get it.
CONFESSION #2 – FORGIVE ME FATHER, FOR I HAVE BEEN SACRILEGIOUS
Lucky for me, modern music is not yet sacrosanct. It is not held in the godly esteem of older albums that have risen in ranks due to years of compound groupthink and reality-altering nostalgia. The Sgt. Peppers, the Thrillers, the OK Computers. These behemoths, these giant shoulders of which all new music stands upon, became untouchable in the eyes of music aficionados. A product of commonly held positive opinion that transformed into holy truisms. To deny their greatness would be sacrilegious. To deny these truths would be ungodly. So I suppose I should confess my sins so that they may be absolved.
Well, it has been a long time since Sunday School, but I think this is how you do it…
Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been twenty-two years since my last confession. My musical sins, though venial, must be confessed, and they are as follows:
1. I must admit, I enjoyed The Strokes album Room on Fire more than Is This It.
2. I thought other than Accordian, Meat Grinder, Raid, Figaro, Strange Ways, and All Caps, Madvillainy was a boring ass album that you would have to be America’s most blunted to enjoy.
3. In my heart, Flaming Lips’ renowned ninth album The Soft Bulletin was just a glorified, well produced, Yo Gabba Gabba soundtrack.
4. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde had some beautiful songs, but overall, I thought it was “meh”. And that damn picture is blurry!
5. I kinda think Check Your Head, Hello Nasty, and Ill Communication‘s improvised stuff was pure garbage.
6. Secretly, I can only stand about two or three Eminem songs. The beats are childish, and he is most often either annoying or cheesy.
7. My favourite Wu-Tang solo is Return to the 36 Chambers.
8. And other than a few tracks, I thought Liquid Swords was just okay.
9. I can’t stand J Dilla’s stupid siren.
10. I think half of Stankonia stanks.
11. Almost without exception, I feel two minutes could be cut from the beginning of every Sigur Ros song, and nobody would notice. They might even say “man, I forgot how good Sigur Ros is”.
12. Oh my, The Streets can’t rap.
13. Plain and simple, I don’t like the Sex Pistols.
14. To me, half of Tom Waits songs sound like a cracked out Cookie Monster banging on pots.
15. I’ve never been able to make it through a Miles Davis album. Not once.
16. This is gonna get me in trouble… I thought half of Abbey Road was filler.
There. Now I will wait in fear for Lord Apollo to smite me.
CONFESSION #3 – MY IGNORANCE KNOWS NO BOUNDS
I suppose you would be upset if you took your car to a mechanic for engine problems, and he said he only knew how to fix brakes. There is an expectation that when a person has the gall to call themselves a source of education in an area, they have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge in said area. For the music writer, should he not have enough grasp on music history to know whether an album is truly innovative, or a complete rip-off? Heard enough songs to be able to say with confidence which ones were the best? Have a Questlove/Nardwaur expertise of recording and instrumentation to break down the song for their readership?
Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly don’t. Truth is, when most people hear I have a music site they ask me “have you ever heard of _____?”, and my answer, more often than not, is no. It is not that I have fickle taste, I love music of all times and genres. It is simply that when I find music I love, I like to listen to it over and over and over, so much so that my wasted time only allows my catalogue to be a narrow slice of the musical smorgasbord. The shameful result is that some artists and albums that are considered essential by the musical elite only get brief attention, if any at all.
Led Zepplin? I have only heard two or three songs by them. Pink Floyd? Never heard an album. Exile on Main Street? Couldn’t name a track on it. I have only dabbled in the Pixies catalogue. I have never, ever, listened to one, even just one, Public Enemy album. Believe or not, I also have never once heard an Elvis record (I understand Public Enemy might be happy about that). De La Soul is Dead? Nope, I’ve only heard 3 Feet High and Rising. Muddy Waters? Ramones? Patti Smith? The Band? Other than their stuff on the radio, nope. I am completely unfamiliar (other than the two first songs) with Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. I would get a 0% on a test about John Coltrane. And I know more songs Johnny Cash has covered than songs that Johnny Cash has written.
Oh, well, Confucius said real knowledge is knowing the extent of your own ignorance. And I must be pretty smart ’cause I know exactly how stupid I am.
CONFESSION #4 – I LIKE ME SOME KYLIE MINOGUE
About once a week I have a dream I am going about my day, at work, at school, in the mall, and suddenly realize I am stark naked. I do my best to cup my manly bits, and scurry the halls for a place to hide, scared and blood-flush, but never find cover by the time I wake up in sweats. The common belief is that these dreams reflect a sense of vulnerability or shame. And if I have them once a week, I must be embarrassed about a good number of things. So why add music to that long list? Why not be proud of the songs I dig? Why not man up, and admit I like Kylie Minogue? Just because a song isn’t edgy, or cool, or… ahem… masculine, doesn’t mean they aren’t in fact sonically pleasing. And therefore, I really shouldn’t be embarrassed about liking them.
So in an attempt to reduce music stigmas, IMVERYAPE will run through the metaphoric halls naked, and reveal my most controversial likes.
Yes, a number of the comic music likes I mentioned above were actually foreshadows of my darkest confessions. I dig Steve Winwood. Really, I do. It may be such a ridiculous idea that it became joke fodder for It’s Always Sunny in Philedelphia, but I grew up listening to my father play the tapes, and I listen to them too. My childhood happiness is connected to feel good tracks like Valerie and Higher Love, and that is a deep rooted link that is difficult to shake. Bring me that higher love, Stevie!… wait, no, that sounds bad.
Not super embarrassed about liking Third Eye Blind, most people enjoy it when it gets on the radio. But it is kind of embarrassing to admit I love the album, and will often rock it, front to back, in my car.
The critically panned Folklore was not only surprisingly my favourite Nelly Furtado album, but, believe it or not, one of my favourite albums period. It just had so much energy and great beats. Oh my, these admissions are getting bad.
For IMVERYAPE readers, it is no surprise that I love Antony and the Johnsons’ I am a Bird Now. And since it is such a critical darling, it may not seem like much of a confession. But it may not be known that when my car windows are closed, and I have a sound-tight seal, I sing along to this album at full volume.
Speaking of singing at full volume. Having seen this musical three times, and heard my mother play it on countless road trips, I have grown to love Les Miserable. I know every single word, and will sometimes imagine I am Jean Valjean. Dude was kick ass. Am I right?
Okay, so, ya, I really like Kylie Minogue’s album Fever. Can’t Get You Out of My Head was the first song I ever heard when travelling as a university student, and it reminds me of the euphoria and sense of reckless abandon I had while living the late night club scene in Taiwan in the early 2000s. The cover helped too.
It’s not bad that I like Madonna’s True Blue, it is a classic, but it may raise an eyebrow or two that I would occasionally workout to La Isla Bonita and Open Your Heart.
C’mon! I can’t be the only one who loves Pure Shores. It was the perfect beach song. C’mon!
It may show a cool retro appreciation when you say you like the Stand By Me soundtrack, but you don’t get as many high fives when you say you had an affinity to the Beaches soundtrack. As an eight year old, it was the first movie to ever make me cry (shut up), and with the exception of Wind Beneath My Wings, I enjoyed listening to my parents’ cassette of the soundtrack. I even thought Oh Industry was kinda NIN style badass.
Okay, this one is tough to explain. Let’s just say Matt Berninger is not the only guy who goes through awkward phases. As a gansta rap and alt rock loving teenager, I had bad acne, no social skills, and a bizarre and confusing enjoyment of Viva Forever. Sorry, Matt, but that is a real awkward phase.
THE NEUTRALIZING EFFECT OF MUTUAL EMBARRASSMENT
Wow, ripping off that band-aid actually hurt a lot more than I thought! Felt like I got a bunch of hairs on that one. Now I am naked and my guts are all over the floor, and to boot, it is documented on the net for everyone to see. A little intimidating.
But I gotta say, it is liberating. The name IMVERYAPE was chosen as a reminder of the kind of music writer I never wanted to be – the guy busying himself trying to look anything but naive. The kind of guy who boasts “I’ve seen it all, I was here first”. The music elite. And it feels good to not be that guy. No expectations, no airs to put on.
My real wish for IMVERYAPE was to show that great music can be anywhere. Melody and a great hook can be found with art house indie bands. Layered refinement could be found in boy bands. Connection can be found in the corny. Throwaway can be found in the classics. Cheez Whiz can taste good.
Furthermore, I wanted to show that music should never have five star hotels, music shouldn’t have hierarchies. It is a far too natural and mystifying of a connection we all have with sound and melody to believe that only a particular group could create an enjoyable sonic experience. And it is far too personal and subjective an experience for us to ever be embarrassed about loving something others don’t.
Now, If you happen to be a music writer yourself, and you agree with everything I just said, and you don’t appreciate being described as a bourgeois follower, then I apologize. If you truly don’t believe you have jumped on a bandwagon to appear as a true music connoisseur, if you have never felt embarrassed by your musical likes, and have never been hesitant to post everything you enjoy, then you are a better man than me, and I hope to follow in your footsteps.
However, if you relate to that sense of embarrassment, or that desire to appear more knowledgable than you are, then I suggest coming clean. I suggest sweeping out the skeletons, and running across the metaphorical halls naked as the day you were born. Yes, it may be mortifying, but the more we are open about it, the less it has a stigma. It is far less embarrassing to be naked when you are on a nude beach, and it is far less embarrassing to sing La Isla Bonita with the windows rolled down if the guy in the car beside you is singing Viva Forever.