- Published Aug 31, 2013 in Signal Flow
- Read time: about 2 minutes
Just because the entire world tells you listening to a certain kind of music will make you smarter and more cultured doesn't mean they're right.
So I'm tooling along in the car the other day listening to whatever. All of a sudden my iPhone starts pumping The New Yorker podcast throughout the cavernous interior of my chariot. The subject matter was a look at Wagner's epic Die Walkure. Even those who don't know opera have heard this piece's most famous excerpt, Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now, etc).
Richard Wagner, like many of the famous composers stuffed down my throat in music history class, was brilliant. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. They gave Western harmony shape and form. They wrote some of the most influential notes ever to grace a staff. They changed the world as we know it and music will never be the same without them.
You know what I listen to whenever I have the chance? Not them.
I listen to Radiohead or Jay-Z. I take in some classic Steely Dan. I might even dial up some Sting if I'm feeling contemplative and stodgy. What I do not listen to is Wagner, Mozart or Beethoven. In fact, I wouldn't be caught dead with an MP3 of Tchaikovsky's 9th symphony if I worked for a company that made elevator music for tall buildings. I can't stand the stuff. It doesn't speak to me. It doesn't elicit any emotion. I can't identify with it.
"Oh dear!" they'll say. "He's uncultured. Uneducated. Uncouth!" Maybe I am. But I'm not alone.
Coffee is awesome. I love coffee.
Malcom Gladwell gave a talk at TED about the way people see themselves in relation to products. He gave an example of market research about coffee drinkers. He said, if you ask the average coffee drinker to describe their perfect cup 'o joe, ninety percent of them will tell you they want a rich, complex Kenyan roast with a dark, malted color, espresso-like clarity, untouched by condiments as pedestrian as milk and sugar.
But when the researchers looked into what people actually drink, it was weak, milky coffee-flavored-water with enough sugar to induce a diabetic coma.
People want to believe "better" of themselves. They want to be the kind of person who listens to La Traviata while perched on a Louis XIV armchair reading de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. But visit them at home and you'll find them listening to Beyonce while perched on an Ikea sofa-bed reading TV Guide. And you know what? That's ok.
It's ok because people who listen to, sit on and read things they think they should be listening to, sitting on and reading, instead of things they want to listen to, sit on and read usually turn out to be assholes. Whereas those who have the presence of mind and the strength of their convictions enough to admit that Phoenix, not Stravinsky, is the new high-art, go on to lead happy, fulfilled and culturally dynamic lives full of the pure joy that can only be induced by art that truly speaks to us.
So go ahead and drop that oily facade of superiority. Drink bland coffee, listen to bubble gum pop and read trashy romance novels. After all, I believe it was Cher from Clueless who corrected Heather when she quoted Hamlet who said, "to thine own self be true".