Music: My Enemy

22 Mar

If you wrote up a list of all of my characteristics that make it hard for me to relate to other people, first off, I would call you an asshole who’s trying to rub it in and make me feel bad, then you would say I was the asshole for not being able to take criticism, but after I stopped crying and we hugged it out, I’d tell you to put at the top of my list my lack of music fandom.

That is NOT to say I don’t appreciate music, or I am somehow against music. I am neither a wahabbist Muslim nor am I the antagonist in a Kevin Bacon movie (even though I love John Lithgow). If you play me a piece of music, I can appreciate it, and understand what it’s trying to accomplish. I am aware of musicians and music history. I’m not ignorant of music. I just don’t go looking for music. I don’t pursue it like many people I know do.

I’m even puzzled about it myself when I consider my environment. My parents are music lovers, and had both my sister and I take piano and guitar lessons at a young age. My sister got decently proficient at both, even though she ended up quitting the lessons, and ended up playing in a few bands. She ended up becoming music editor for the Miami New Times and now is a free-lance music writer. It suffices to say she’s quite a musical person. I, on the other hand, quit both piano and guitar after a few months, and nothing stuck.

My best friend since elementary school is also pretty musical. He’s always been a big metal head and learned how to play guitar and is pretty damn good at it. Most of my friends in high school seemed to define themselves by the kind of music they listened to: there were pretty well-defined “rocker,” “rapper,” and “raver” cliques, and the section that always seemed to have the most information on any friend’s MySpace profile was “favorite music.” So many of my friends spent every weekend going to concerts.

Not me. I would go to concerts if invited. I would enjoy myself at concerts. I would have really good times at concerts! But for some reason nothing ever stuck that would make me say “I like this band, let me follow what this band is doing and buy their albums” or “let me go to more concerts and find new bands I like.” Music never seemed to take its hold at the center of my life that it did for so many, it remained incidental.

I have an iPhone, and pretty much any time  I am not expected to be interacting with someone, I have ear buds in my ears. Not music. It’s either comedy podcasts or albums. But I learned this isn’t even a comedian-specific thing! Plenty of comedians I know, even my co-host Alex, have very well-defined tastes in music and make music a priority in their creative development. Not too long ago I was at a comedy show and was asked if I could plug in my iPhone to provide some pre-show background music. The only actual music I had on it was Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, two artists I really enjoy, but, again, only really discovered on my sister’s recommendation. The guy running the show asked, “Don’t you listen to more music?” and I answered, completely honestly, “no.”

So what’s my excuse, then? What makes me such a weirdo? Mike Birbiglia has a joke about how nobody should be “the guy at the party with the guitar,” who pulls it out at nobody’s invitation, because there’s a certain amount of showing off or attention-grabbing implicit in the act. I did cultivate a similar feeling towards anybody with a guitar starting in middle school, because I was the fat kid with no creative skills and any kid with a guitar was immediately seen as 100% cuter. In high school, if you were in a band, you were the shit. I couldn’t join it, so early on I psychologically positioned music as something I had to compete with, a nemesis. The act of participating in music became a statement that people liked you and you were desirable and better.

I still feel that way, even though it’s a pretty toxic feeling for an adult to have. I’ll see a good-looking guy busking in the subway with a guitar and before I can even engage any rational mechanism to restrain myself, there’s a strong flash of “LOOK AT THAT FUCKING GUY I BET HE GETS CHICKS BECAUSE OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR THAT ASSHOLE!” I don’t SAY anything, but there is a half-second where it feels like I am trying to will my mind into the shape of a flame-thrower so I can incinerate him.

Because comedy has become my safe zone, I’ve decided that music, much like sports, is comedy’s enemy, even though there’s no rational reason I should think so. It’s just a feeling that even though I’ve found a creative outlet that finally feels like a natural fit with my personality and grabs my interest, a way for me to put myself out there and be appreciated, a guy with a guitar will never be pre-judged with the amount of automatic dismissal and disdain it seems like any stand-up comic gets, even if that guy is a shitty guitar player. I resent that I have to stand out in the cold and work so hard just to get 10 people to come to a show I’m on, whereas some music night at a bar would most likely require half the effort. A musician never has to deal with this attitude of “Oh, you’re a comedian, I bet you I’m funnier!” attitude that everybody loves to bring with them to a comedy club.

A few weeks back, I took some friends of mine to an open mike with me, and they couldn’t understand why the other comedians got mad that they were talking loudly during their sets. I suggested to them that maybe since I was done, we should move back to the other end of the bar so we could talk without disrupting the show. They decided that since it was a bar, they should be allowed to sit wherever they want, and that the comedians were only getting angry because they ‘weren’t being funny.’

I explained to them that it was an open mike, so they weren’t necessarily going to be doing their best material, and one of them responded “yeah, so, fuck ’em.”

They did listen attentively while I was onstage, but hearing them talk that way confirmed that it was only because they KNEW me, and not out of any respect to my craft, so even though they weren’t criticizing me, it hurt. It hurt bad.

If people go to a music open mike, and I have been to a few, people who are just starting out or still developing are encouraged. They’re supported. Comedians who are just starting out or are still developing are just a nuisance.

Now, it may seem that I sort of purposefully put myself on the margins of anything just to make myself feel like a victim, and, maybe… Yes. Maybe feeling like a victim is an easy excuse I have for not putting in the time and the effort to learn something that would make me be accepted. Maybe my victim mentality causes me to view consciously deciding to do something that would make people like me better as the “easy way out.” Maybe when I’m older and I have the free time and disposable income I’ll become a drummer and that’s when I’ll leave behind this comedy bullshit and learn to stop being so annoying. But until then, I’m annoying, and I’m not going to any concerts by myself.

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