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What Do You Mean You Don’t Like [Insert Band Here]? Dealing With Musical Blind Spots

October 7, 2016

I don’t wash my legs.

From the knees down, that is. Is this not normal? I had never contemplated this until a recent episode of FX’s You’re The Worst. In the episode, the show’s main protagonists, Jimmy and Gretchen, are worried they don’t know each other as well as they think they do. Upon Jimmy’s urging that she tell him something about herself, Gretchen tells him she doesn’t wash her legs in the shower. Jimmy’s reaction is equal parts shock and disgust.

I immediately paused the show and turned to my girlfriend. “I don’t wash my legs in the shower,” I said. “Is that weird?”¹ She laughed and said that she wasn’t sure. She didn’t say it, but her lack of disgust makes me think she’s not a leg washer either. I really don’t know why I don’t wash my legs below the knee. Laziness? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s as Gretchen responded when pressed by Jimmy, “…what am I? A sucker? … What am I going to do, like, bend down and wash my legs? Who has the time?” Exactly, who has the time? As she and others also point out, the soap runs down your leg. Why wash?

Sometimes we assume certain things about people based on the things that we have direct knowledge of. (Sorry to disappoint those of you who thought I pivoted to personal hygiene.) As far as Jimmy and Gretchen are concerned, Jimmy likes Gretchen and vice versa. In many ways they are similar. Given that body of knowledge, Jimmy assumed Gretchen washed her legs because he washes his legs.

Often times, if someone likes X and Y, we’ll assume the person also likes Z because the majority of people who like X and Y tend to like Z. If you tell my you love Phish, I assume you do drugs. If you tell me you love Katy Perry, I assume you don’t like any of the bands I like. If you tell me you like Trump, I assume you’re… I’ll let you do the assuming on that one. If you tell me you love some form of guitar-based music, I assume you like The Beatles. How can that not be the case? I like guitar-based music and I like The Beatles. So do lots of people I know who have similar tastes in music as I do. That assumption must be accurate, right? But what happens when it’s not?

Musical Blind Spots

By definition, a blind spot is “an area or subject about which one is uninformed, prejudiced, or unappreciative.” Maybe I like X and Y, but don’t care for Z. In this case, if X, Y, and Z were bands, Z is what is known as a musical blind spot. Basically, it is an artist you are aware of, but don’t listen to for one reason or another.

I have a friend who on countless occasions has told me that he “doesn’t get Radiohead.” I get the impression that he feels like he should like them. Everyone else seems to. He knows I love them. Critics fawn over each release. I have made him mixes of the best Radiohead songs, but to no avail. They will forever remain in his musical blind spot. He doesn’t care for their music…and that’s fine, but it’s interesting to me that he wants to because he feels he should like them.

I’ve been asking friends to tell me what bands are in their musical blind spot and why. I’m interested in what bands people feel they should like. I’m also interested in the reasons why those bands remain in their musical blind spots. The bands mentioned are varied, but the reasons generally fall into a couple of categories.

Back Catalog Size

One of the first things I noticed was how many “classic rock” bands those I asked listed as being in their musical blind spot. More times than not, this was due to the size of an artist’s back catalog. Someone mentioned Bob Dylan and I was not surprised. Let’s assume this person was born in 1980. By the time this person entered high school, Dylan had already released 29 albums. Twenty freaking nine albums. Where does one start?

A piece on NPR Music titled “How Can I Conquer My Musical Blind Spot” suggested starting with the album that contains the song(s) you know you like. It also suggested going in chronological, or reverse, chronological order. Going to YouTube and starting with a song you like and then letting the site’s video suggestion algorithm guide you was yet another recommendation. I have often found it helpful to look up album reviews / ratings on a site such as AllMusic.com and start with the highest rated albums.

Time

I was listening to a Marc Maron podcast earlier while cooking dinner. The guest was Chuck Klosterman (one of my absolute favorite thinkers). Before the interview, Maron was talking about pondering his own death and how it relates to time, or the possible lack thereof. He commented that someone tweeted to him suggesting he interview Trey Anastasio of Phish.

He went on to say he never really got into the music of Phish and simply didn’t have the time to invest in listening to “another jam band.” By and large, conquering a musical blind spot is a young person’s game. Maybe not exclusively, but it is certainly easier for the young. Why? Time.

At 37 years old, I simply don’t have the time to listen to as much music as I did when I was 17. It’s hard enough to find the time to listen to the music I already know I like, let alone dig into an artist’s back catalog. Let’s use Phish as an example. I’d consider them to be in my musical blind spot. I don’t really understand the appeal. To date, they have 15 albums in their catalog. As most Phish fans will tell you, it’s their live show that sets Phish apart. Lucky for those fans, the band releases official “bootlegs” of every show. However, for someone like myself, that means there’s hundreds of hours of Phish concerts to which I’d have to listen. I could never devote the time to listening to all that music. Even if I did, what happens if after all that listening, I decide I simply don’t like them?

Taste

Not liking an artist’s music might be the most common reason a band remains in your musical blind spot. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of time, timing, or the size of an artist’s back catalog, but a matter of taste. Even if two people share the same opinion about most bands, they don’t have to share the same opinion about all bands.

We don’t know why we like what we like. Sometimes it makes sense. For example, I loathe country music. I couldn’t name one country song or artist that I enjoy listening to. Therefore, I don’t expect to like a country artist, regardless of critical or commercial success. Other times, it makes no sense at all. Take a band like The Strokes. Their albums did well commercially. Critics and taste makers seem to enjoy their music. They make guitar-based music that shares qualities with many artists I do like. By all accounts, I should like them…but I don’t.

Interestingly enough, our tastes change over time. When it comes to music, this usually means liking an artist less over time. Limp Bizkit was surprisingly popular for a couple of years in the late 90s, but it’s safe to assume there aren’t many big Limp Bizkit fans these days. Sometimes, the opposite can happen. No, that doesn’t mean you’ll start liking Limp Bizkit now if you didn’t like them then. It means that as you get older, you may start to appreciate artists that used to be in your musical blind spot. That’s happened to me with countless artists. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc. Oftentimes, taste is all about the timing.

Timing

The first REM songs I can remember hearing were “Shiny Happy People” and “Losing My Religion.” I didn’t care for either. They weren’t bad songs per se, but they didn’t appeal to 13-year old me. At that moment, I decided REM wasn’t for me. In the years since, I have come to realize the high regard many people hold REM. I now feel I missed something by not giving them a chance. They are still in my musical blind spot and I refuse to look at them.

One of the people I spoke to told me that Pearl Jam was a band in his musical blind spot. He told me that he was heavily into rap when Pearl Jam came out and didn’t listen to them much at the time. In the 25 years since, his tastes have changed and he’d be more likely to listen to a band like Pearl Jam if they were in the early stages of their career now. He said they have too many albums at this point and he wouldn’t know where to begin.

As I mentioned above, timing and taste often go hand in hand.

“What do you mean you don’t like Wilco?”

As you can imagine, I talk about music a lot. On occasion, someone will assume I like a band because of the bands that they know I like. “What do you mean you don’t like Wilco?” someone will ask incredulously. I am aware of their music and I don’t dislike them. I feel I should like them based on critical reception and the opinions of those who like many of the same bands that I like. For years, they have been in my musical blind spot.

Recently, I made another attempt to get into Wilco. Of all the bands in my musical blind spot, they seemed the most likely to gain my listening affection. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, “You Are Not Alone” by Mavis Staples should have been reason enough. Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s lead singer and songwriter, wrote the song that appeared on Staples’ 2010 album of the same name. It was one of my favorite songs that year.

Unlike the suggestions above, I didn’t begin liking Wilco by mining their back catalog or by falling down a YouTube rabbit hole. How I came to like Wilco was not a deliberate act, but rather a bit of chance. Either earlier this year or last year, the New York Times ran a special feature, “25 Songs That Tell us Where Music is Going.” In it, the author George Saunders wrote a short essay about the Wilco song “One Sunday Morning.” I had never heard the song and decided to give it a listen. I was blown away. It was the first Wilco song I had heard that I could honestly say I loved.

I didn’t start listening to Wilco after that, but it definitely changed the way I thought about them. It was their 2016 release, Schmilco, that got me listening to them. Even though I never considered myself a fan, I decided to listen to their newest LP. Much to my surprise, I found myself giving it repeated listens. Only then did I start going into Wilco’s back catalog. At this point, I’ve found a lot to like and no longer consider them one of my musical blind spots.

I still have plenty of other musical blind spots. Some I expect I will learn to like someday. Others I don’t anticipate ever liking. This is one of my favorite things about music. A band you like one day, you may not like years later. A band you never liked may end up being one of your favorites. Music speaks to us differently at various points throughout our lives.

¹As we all do when we seek solace, I turned to the internet to answer the question to which I did not receive an answer from my partner. Is it weird to not wash one’s legs in the shower? Sure enough, I found this article from E! Online in which their staff debates leg washing. Seems pretty split, but the poll at the end of the article sheds more light on the subject. 55.8% of respondents said they do…not wash their legs in the shower. Not that it would change my shower routine, but this brought a sense of relief to me. It felt good to know “dirty leggers” weren’t a small minority.

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