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Dear Joel: Am I a douche? Am I crazy? What should I do?

You think you got problems? Send your music-related quandries to  

Dear Joel,
I have played in bands for a long time but never took the technical side of music very seriously until about two years ago. Now that I have and can do things like describe rhythms and name notes and refer to a “coda” or what-have-you, I'm finding the old-school rock band vocabulary (“OK then the thrash part there and then back to that other Slowdive thing”) frustratingly vague. How do I get my bandmates on board without being a douche? Am I a douche?

Well, you're becoming a douche. You’re actually becoming something worse than a douche; you’re becoming “that guy.”

What you can do, see, is share things that you’ve learned with your bandmates in a non-pretentious, enthusiastic way with the hope of getting them excited or interested in discussing music more succinctly. For instance, you can point out to your friend that you’re really psyched that she chose a certain chord to put in a certain place in a certain inversion because you recently learned how it functions/moves/substitutes/colors/prepares or whatever it does and now you get to see it in action.

This is a delicate operation, though, for a couple of reasons. The first, and biggest problem, is that most people who don’t know how to speak technically about music have this I-just-feel-the-music-brah/once-you-start-thinking-about-it-too-hard-the-magic-is-gone thing; it’s the same element that makes religionists mad when you explain to them why there isn’t a God. The other side of this coin is the possibility that, though you mean to sound excited, collaborative, and enthusiastic, you’re really sounding like a know-it-all-shitface-know-it-all-shitface-know-it-all, which is the kiss of death as far as a band dynamic goes. I am one of these people and my band has been kissed by death -- deeply frenched, actually. Like, tonsil-lickingly frenched. It’s as if we have band-Mono now.

The other thing you can do, seeing as you’ve recognized the problem, is to just sit down and have a chat with ever’body. You can say, “Look, I’m learning all of this stuff and I’m really into making this music, but I’m having trouble separating the two and it would really be very, very helpful to me and my personal development as a musician if I can start talking about this stuff with y’all using my new musical vocabulary.” If it goes well, they should be excited that you’re feeling so bonkers about your education. If it goes poorly, they’ll think that you think you’re too good for them, which might just turn out to be true.
Dear Joel,
I realized this holiday season that I actually enjoy Christmas music (depending on instrumentation and arrangement). Does this make me a crazy person?

It makes you a crazy person that you apparently don’t use capital letters, which I saved the rest of the world from having to suffer through.

This is a weird question because “depending on instrumentation and arrangement,” I might enjoy the sound of my parents having sex. I think you’re underestimating precisely how much instrumentation and arrangement have to do with what you’re hearing. We’re talking about the difference between “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Wings and the version Paul McCartney orchestrated for his Working Classical record; one is disappointing, but gracefully and graciously afforded the title of “polyp” on the rectum of rock n’ roll history -- the other is a step up from listening to someone torturing a very loud, very unhappy animal.

So, is it weird that, given certain parameters, you enjoy certain Christmas music? No. It would be as weird as someone thinking that they didn’t like any of the heavy metal songs they grew up on when they’re stripped of guitars and drums and played with sleigh bells and those weird wood-knocker-things. Essentially, what you’re asking here is, “Does it make me crazy to like what I like?” Again, no. I mean, obviously.

Do you know what I mean? Are you picking up what I'm laying down? Are you catching my jive? Are you feeling the cut of my jib?

I think this question isn’t about the music. I think there’s a question behind the question here and it’s this: Am I lame for having a little of the ol’ holiday spirit? Decidedly not, is the answer. You’re doing fine.

Dear Joel
My daughter isn’t showing the interest in mastering a musical instrument that I had hoped. What should I do?

You should ask yourself how important it is to you that she learn a musical instrument. I’m not a parent, but I’m a victim/survivor of parenting. From what I can tell, it seems like there are certain things parents think are extra important and things that they think are this: not. It’s your job to decide what your child needs to know to get through what Prince refers to as “this thing called life” (or what I prefer to call “whatever this peculiar condition is that is happening to all of us”).

Oh no let's go [crazy (or if you prefer, let’s get nuts)]. Take mathematics as an example:

I highly doubt that there are many mathematically-themed advice columns that -- well, um, first of all, I highly doubt that there are many mathematically themed advice columns at all. Secondly, if there are, I can’t imagine that there are questions they receive from concerned parents that go like this: “My daughter isn’t showing the interest in mastering arithmetic as I had hoped. What should I do?” The answer is clearer than the voice in your head that tells you not to look directly at the ark of the covenant when and if it’s being opened by googly-eyed Nazis right in front of you: You simply sit your kid down and say, “Your feelings regarding mathematics matter only insofar as they will aid us in choosing a learning style for you. Simply not learning math is not an option.”

Now, culturally speaking, music isn’t a deal-breaker for most parents like math or history or comprehensive sex education (OH BURN!). As far as I can tell, most parents are way more interested in their children learning . . . um . . . man, you know, I don’t know what the fuck parents are thinking or what they consider important, as a matter of fact. What I will do for you, however, is to inform you that there is no shortage of good reasons to insist that your child learn music* or a musical instrument. Those reasons can easily be summed up with what I like to call “Kuh-Craps” or C.C.R.P.S. (Coordination, Concentration, Relaxation, Patience, and Self-Confidence). And, yes, I am aware that masturbation can provide all of these things (apart from the self-confidence -- which, ironically, you’ll never need if you masturbate effectively).

The thing that doing-it-to-yourself can’t do, though, is reinforce the history, mathematics, and art curriculum your daughter is most likely already attempting to avoid in school.**

So, just to reiterate, this is one of those things that doesn’t have to do with what your daughter wants to do -- unless you sense that there’s some serious, like, Many Lives Many Masters shit going on and every time she’s in the same room with a musical instrument she starts hyperventilating or panicking. If it’s just general disinterest, you need to take her by the hand, give her a “Fuck all the haters!” and chow down on some mother fucking Ives.

* We must leave the door open for the possibility that your daughter might enjoy the role of music theoretician/educator over that of the instrumentalist.
** Did you catch that? Whenever I talked about masturbation, I slyly directed it toward a general “you” even though it was illustrating a point directly related to your daughter. That’s just a little writerly trick to keep you from summoning certain uncomfortable imagery! You’re welcome.

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  • Wow Master said:

    Joel Roston wrote: The first, and biggest problem, is that most people who don’t know how to speak technically about music have this I-just-feel-the-music-brah/once-you-start-thinking-about-it-too-hard-the-magic-is-gone thing; it’s the same element that makes religionists mad when you explain to them why there isn’t a God.

    This is the most ill-informed, heavily biased, bullshit statement ever printed on the Phoenix website.  I would like to debate you on this claim in a public forum. Please have your handlers arrange this and post the details under this comment.

    January 16, 2009 9:18 AM
  • GarykPatton said:

    Hello. I think the article is really interesting. I am even interested in reading more. How soon will you update your blog?

    June 16, 2009 2:35 AM
  • Nicuafud said:

    sbjktK comment6 ,

    June 28, 2009 10:27 PM
  • Odyccbfu said:

    YIT3HK comment5 ,

    June 28, 2009 10:28 PM

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