Where Are The Cool People At? Sincerely, Soze

A rant for the weirdos of the world… 

As a disclaimer, before I delve into my seemingly pretentious stream of conscious about music tastes, know that I would never judge someone for what they enjoy. I am friends with liberals and conservatives, heavy metal headbangers and classical music aficionados, straight edge people and hippies alike. While it is somewhat immature to ostracize and judge folks with different opinions, every human being likes people who agree with them. We surround ourselves with people who have similar mindsets, interests and values. A dedicated bodybuilder will seek out gym partners to discuss training techniques and diet. A stoner will hang with others who smoke. A medieval historian will have long discussions with colleagues who share knowledge and interest in that era. An animal lover will be drawn to others who have a similar passion for animal protection and rights. It’s human nature. Our passions define us, they give us life, and often, they even give us purpose.

You can strike up conversation with random passerby’s on the street about the weather. You can go to work and talk about Tom Brady’s legendary comeback in the Super Bowl. These are examples of topics that just about everyone can relate to and share their thoughts on. But what happens when you have a burning passion, or an interest that you’re dying to discuss, but no one shares your interest? It is frustrating, and at times isolating.

Picture me in the crowded bar rubbing shoulders with people who are shouting, “Rain drop, drop top, something something something”. I don’t know the words. I find the song annoying. I didn’t know who it was by until a recent google search told me that it was Migos. Everyone’s bobbing their heads and rapping along, and a friend looks and points at me expecting me to know the next lyric and rap along like the rest of the crowd. I don’t know lyrics. I simply smile, nod my head with a “yeaaaaa man” type of expression. I don’t hate it. I’m not a buzzkill. It’s just not for me.

So when I’m in the bar and all the sudden, in the chance that after a thousand songs that I don’t know or don’t like, I hear Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen” blasting through the speakers, a deep internal burst of excitement swells throughout my body and I do my best to act natural and suppress my urge to be the only weirdo singing along. Like a biblical hallucination, I notice a guy’s similar expression of joy. We make eye contact and I give him a knowing smile and nod. He breaks the silence – “Dude, you like Tame Impala too?” “Yes! I saw them at Bonnaroo at 1 am this past year”. “Broo, no way! I was there too!” We then share the typical Step Brothers – did we just become best friends moment. While the interaction is brief, I have already determined that I like that guy. He’s a good dude. He knows whats up.

The only problem is that these interactions are few and far between, and therein lies the frustration.

It doesn’t matter if you jam out to Jason Derulo or freaking Avril Lavigne for all I care. You can have the lyrics to a Rihanna song tatted and your ribs and a Chad Kroeger poster hanging on your bedroom wall. I don’t care. Do you. Everyone has old nostalgic childhood favorites. Thats not a problem. I would not judge someone or dismiss them for such a surface level trait that doesn’t say anything about their character beyond the fact that they are not really into music. We can still be best friends, I promise.

The only thing that does bother me, is when people dismiss good art because it doesn’t align with their preconceived notion of how music should sound. Often, people who hate on the music I listen to cannot even form a complete sentence about why they actually dislike it aside from, “it’s weird”. Dismissing stuff because you’ve never been exposed to it is a basic thing to do.

Or even disliking things because theyre not generically happy. I don’t expect to meet a girl and hear her tell me “My favorite band is the Velvet Underground, because their experimental gritty style and subject matter was pioneering and timeless. They were ahead of their time, and its too bad people don’t appreciate things in their time because its unlike anything thats been made, for instance, Julian Casablancas and The Voidz album Tyranny, ever hear of it?” I do not and never have expected that. What I do actually expect (or hope for) in people is an open mind.

I understand, because most people simply aren’t exposed to “different” music, and therefore don’t understand it, let alone have an interest. If all you heard your whole life was top 40 radio, the latest fire rap mixtapes, the token popular grammy-winning album, and whatever shit is pumped into your ears at the bar, at the mall, and on TV, you’re not going to know a whole lot about someone like The Velvet Underground.

It is important to note that I do not dislike popular music. I’m a fan of Chance the Rapper. I love when The Weeknd comes on the radio. Justin Timberlake is the man. The problem is that most popular music is not good. I wish better music were popular, but quality is not what sells, and I understand the business of it. I am not some hipster holed up in a coffee shop hating on everything popular. I am just a normal med student who loves music.

So where did I start?

I am a weirdo. Always have been. I don’t remember much about the seventh grade, but one thing I do remember is that Lil’ Wayne was inescapable. Wayne was all the craze back then, but even 13 year old Soze didn’t really vibe with it. However, on the bus rides home from school, what else was there to do besides throw on the big over-the-ear headphones, plug them into your MP3 player (the beloved pre-iPhone era), and drift away into some tunes likely downloaded from LimeWire. I gave ’em all a chance – Lil’ Wayne, Young Jeezy, Lil’ This, Lil’ That, any other rapper that had a radio hit. I noticed that I’d find myself impressed when I heard words rhyme, liquid flow over a beat, and the infamous double entendre. Still, I figured there had to be something better. Something I didn’t know about.

As an inquisitive youngster, I’d soon discover a myriad of other rappers through searching the internet. Tupac and Biggie were the obvious household names that deserved a listen. The aforementioned icons led me to Rakim, Big L, The Wu Tang clan – and before I knew it I had begun my study of the art, the origins, and the classics of hip hop. By the end of junior high, I could rap the entirety of Illmatic front to back.

At this young age, I no longer downloaded random singles from YouTube and mixtapes from DatPiff.  I understood the beauty of the “album” – a carefully arranged collection of songs that are a thematically linked and sonically cohesive experience. When I say an album is an experience, I mean that the songs were composed, chosen, and grouped together to be listened to in its entirety. Singles are for marketing – the album is the final art.

So it went – I downloaded albums, starting with the classics (Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, 36 Chambers, etc) and worked my way up. I’d listen to the albums in full many times over to digest and fully appreciate them. From there on, I could differentiate between an album that was forced with filler songs around a couple singles versus an actual artistic vision in which each song, from the intro to the most popular, was equally important to the final product. Everything else seemed empty, hollow, and transparent – like an unwitting porn star with fake boobs inviting the TV repair man into the house and proceeding to moan like she was having the best sex of her life. Yeah, it was the difference between the acting in a porno and Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in There Will Be Blood.

I didn’t do this to go against the grain or be edgy. I did it because I was drawn to the music and I had a fascination with the artistry. Most (i.e. not all) of the popular music simply didnt do anything for me. At best it was listenable, at worst annoying. When I tried to show my friends what I discovered, I was met with laughter and ridicule – “this sucks”, “this is old”, “you’re weird”. Whatever. None of my friends shared my interest, so I kept it to myself.

Soon this new understanding and appreciation for music compelled me to branch out from rap. So I Googled, “best songs of all time” and of course stumbled upon “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time. I can remember sitting at my family’s living room desktop computer, replaying the song over and over again for hours. It was heroin to my soul. Pure euphoria.

With a whole new world to discover, I kept searching, downloading, and listening. When I first discovered Pink Floyd, I don’t think I listened to a single other artist for months. The classics were the thick roots of the sprawling tree of music that I consequently discovered. When I was 17 my greatest joy in life was burning a J and digging into a new album. Always craving something different. Anything that made me “feel something”.

But no one liked anything I liked, ever. And if they did, it was long after I’d stopped listening to it and moved on to the next phase. It took years to hear people start saying, “you know what, Nas is actually really good”. And only now do I have friends ask, “dude, you know so much about music, can you recommend me anything” (still rare). It’s funny to me that the same people I tried to introduce to Kendrick Lamar’s music back before Section.80 came out in 2011 said, “He’s a nobody! He sucks!” and now they’re his biggest fans. Because for some reason most people feel that artists need to be popular to be talented. Which left me with a passion that no one else shared.

So what did I do? I turned to anywhere I could find to talk about my obsession. The internet was my only outlet. I read music forums daily. I loved it because it was a place that I could read about people discussing music from Arcade Fire to Joy Division to Kendrick Lamar to The Avalanches. I started writing on my own blog (now defunct) about music doing reviews and thought pieces. I just wanted to talk about my passion. Anywhere. To anyone who would listen.

There’s a feeling I get from music, and from art. I can’t describe it. I see it differently than most. Its sacred to me. When I find something that makes me feel like I got punched in the gut or maybe dancing on Molly, either way, its the best feeling in the world to me. And I feel compelled to talk about it.

Why doesn’t anyone else feel the same way? I don’t understand people. I don’t understand singing along to a song that has the exact same progression and structure as 10 million other radio hits with mildly switched up lyrics. Seriously, how many times can you hear an artist use the cliche phrase, “I want to be young forever” or “we aint ever getting older” without wanting to vomit your intestines out? I think to myself – don’t these people know they’re missing out on some of the greatest achievements and art in human history? Don’t they know they’re eating a slice of white bread covered in sugar when filet mignon exists?

So when I meet a person, who probably also grew up the same, and they “get it”, i feel connected to them. For example, one evening while I was bartending last year a group of guys came to the bar, and through short conversation, they told me they were a band touring the country. After asking them what kind of music they played, we talked about music and what we were into. It was as if everything I said, they enthusiastically agreed with. It went on and on. The four of us were all shocked, finishing each others sentences like it was a freaking rom-com. I had just met them, but the feeling of when someone you meet in real life gets what you are saying and understands you, an instant connection is made. We were best friends for an hour. When people like us come in contact, we internally rejoice.

I just wish people would see things through a different lens. You have to try to understand the art. What it means. Why they made it. What it makes you feel. It wouldn’t create world peace, but the world would sure as hell be a lot cooler. And I’d have more friends. I get bored talking about the weather. I get sick of discussing med school. But I would love to debate which Radiohead album is best and why. I would love to talk about how Interpol recorded their debut album trapped inside a little basement studio during a snowstorm while getting drunk on cheap vodka together and writing beautiful music. 99.999% of the world would say, “umm… who cares lol”. But that’s cool as fuck to me. I love that stuff. I would love to talk about how much I hate the fact that many popular musicians are boring tools who figured out how to press on a drum pad without the ability to write a single meaningful song. I would love to talk about how LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great” is somehow makes me want to dance and smile despite the fact that the song is about his friend dying – how he juxtaposes disco sounds, modern recording mastery, and jubilant harmonies with “with someone new I couldn’t start, too late for beginnings”. Its fucking genius. These are the creative masterminds of the world. These are the Einsteins, the Ghandis, the Lebron freaking James’s of music.

Why doesn’t anyone else understand?

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