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Aug 02 2008

Popular Tastes Frighten Me

I took some time away from the blogging to mess about with Project Playlist and my Amazon recommendations. The results have been instructive.

First off, it disturbs me that Amazon thinks I want Madonna CDs just because I bought Duran Duran and U2. They need to develop a smarter program, one that can look at the totality of purchases and say, “While Dana might appreciate a few cheesy pop bands, things like Madonna are right out. Let’s not make her want to projectile vomit this evening.”

Second thing, I can pretty much tell just from the search results if I’m going to like the music. If the artist search returns more than a few selections, it’s probably not my cup o’ tea.

It’s an interesting aspect of my psychology. There are a few things that take the culture at large by storm that I adore – take Batman, for instance – but my tastes usually run to the obscure. I don’t usually run with the pop culture crowd. When I worked for a bookstore, I was able to determine which books would make me want to flick a Bic by the number of people salivating over them. That helped me avoid a lot of utter crap. Like John Gray. *Shudder.*

Music’s no different. People love to ask me what I listen to, and when I tell them they’ve never heard of it, they get all puffed-up. “I have eclectic tastes!” they announce. “Bet you I’ll know it!”

After I’ve bludgeoned them with Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Nightwish, Operatica, Epica, Sirenia, and Blind Guardian, they usually give up, eyes glazed and neurons fused. There’s only so many times you can ask, “What kind of music are they?” before you realize you owe me a dollar.

Thanks to Amazon and Project Playlist, I’ll now have a new batch of fun. How many here have heard of Delain? Combichrist? Helium Vola? Estampie? Jon Oliva’s Pain?

I thought as much. But that’s okay – my tastes aren’t your tastes. Understandable.

The thing that really climbs up my nose is when people who listen to every pop phenomenon that hits the airwaves, watch every episode of Survivor, and read whatever tripe Danielle Steele’s spewed out now try to claim they’re eclectic. Loving everything everybody else does doesn’t make you eclectic – it just means you’re a trend slave. Which can be fun and fulfilling, I’m sure, but for fuck’s sake, know your limits. Don’t try to go head-to-head with a black metal chick with a heavy appreciation of the symphonic who didn’t pass out when read Chuck Palahniuk’s story “Guts.”

It’s an accomplishment:



While on his 2003 tour to promote his novel Diary, Palahniuk read to his audiences a short story titled “Guts”, a tale of accidents involving masturbation, which appears in his book Haunted. It was reported that to that point, 40 people had fainted while listening to the readings.[13] Playboy magazine would later publish the story in their March 2004 issue; Palahniuk offered to let them publish another story along with it, but the publishers found the second work too disturbing.

Yup.
And if you want to know the truth, Chuck’s works disturb me a lot less than pop culture. I just don’t get pop phenomina. And it frankly terrifies me that millions upon millions of people’s imaginations get captured by such things as Brittany Spears.

Paris Hilton.

American Idol.

Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Excuse me, please. I suddenly feel faint…

3 comments

  1. 1
    Woozle

    As a longtime (amateur) musician myself, I’ve been repeatedly disappointed by the failure of the internet to give rise to some kind of venue where unknowns could become knowns solely on the basis of merit, i.e. how good their music (or comedy, or audio drama, or news reporting, or whatever) is rather than how good they are at self-promotion.A number of sites came along, each of which sounded like they might be that site — mp3.com, garageband.com, jamendo.com — but they always disappoint in crucial ways.I think a variant of InstaGov might be the solution: let listeners create their own musical categories, and vote songs (and albums and artists) into those categories. Listeners then subscribe to various categories (anything from “Top 40 Dreck” all the way out to “Dana Hunter’s Musical Prey”) until they find the ones that consistently make them happy. Each channel could have a constantly-updating stream — radio by consensus — and a collection of automatically-generated downloadable compilation CDs for listening in the car or wherever.Artists make money off ads, listener donations, and merch sales; site makes money off percentages of the above (and maybe paid memberships for downloading lossless content or something); everyone wins.That may be my next project, after I get InstaGov running.

  2. 2
    Andrew Vienne

    The problem is that taste in various materials is a terribly subjective thing. Most folks don’t bother investigating other varieties of music, just like they don’t bother thinking about anything else.Of course, the folks who don’t even bother to think about it aren’t as annoying as the people who think that knowing one or two bands that nobody else does increases their ‘street cred.’ I generally keep a few bands that I barely like on the mental backburner that nobody other than myself and a handful of my friends know, just to play that game better.Really, mainstream stuff doesn’t bother me. It’s the stuff that you take like a shotgun blast to the face every time you turn on the TV, radio, or what have you. I’ve just grown to the point where I don’t care if it’s popular or not, just if it’s catchy or interesting…. Which is probably why I don’t feel dirty when “Hey There, Delilah” echoes in my head for hours.

  3. 3
    Anonymous

    For me, ‘popular tastes’ tells me what to avoid reading/viewing/hearing. Also, if you like Mr. Palahniuk’s work, check out Clown Girl by Monica Drake.

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