Loving A and Loving B

“My nephew went to Download Festival recently and saw Iron Maiden and also was in the D&B room, consuming all different types of music that were fast and loud and had no other links.

“There isn’t that tribalism anymore, if you like ‘A’ you can’t listen to ‘B’. It doesn’t exist anymore and it’s a good thing. Things rubbing up against each other can be a positive, creative thing, but I’m glad he isn’t going to be beaten up for liking the wrong thing at school.”

– Bob Stanley, author of Yeah Yeah Yeah (still awaiting my Amazon order), interviewed at Waterstones

As one of the few punky-new waver types in my high school (I hesitate to label myself a “punk”; I loved the music but had nothing at all like a defiant personality to match it), I was never physically beaten up over my musical affiliations, but tensions between the rockers and the punks (AC/DC and Van Halen worship on one end vs. Clash and Elvis Costello worship on the other) were very real, often somewhat scary (if, as a punky-new waver you were in the geeky minority), with all the usual intimidation tactics in place. (I mean, sometimes. I wasn’t a total outcast in high school, not by a longshot. Such tensions would play out in certain places — in the smoker’s pit, or at weekend “bush parties” when alcohol was flowing free — and it was almost exclusively a “guy thing,” too). It’s possible that this tension helped sharpen my perspective on music, gave me further reason to pursue my own path with a vengeance. I was looking recently through a musical diary I kept through these years, and the one thing that comes through — aside from some absolutely hideous writing/thinking — is the sense that I’m driven to prove, if only to myself, that my take on this stuff mattered. Would my own love of the Sex Pistols have been diminished or improved if the rest of high school jumped on board? (Well, my impulse is to say it would have been improved, at least in some ways. I desperately wanted punk to take over the world.) Eventually, by grade 13, factions started to resolve themselves, anyway, though it was, oddly enough, the Gang of Four’s first album that converted the rockers to rocker/punks. And, a couple years after high school, spurred on by the Replacements, Chuck Eddy, and a few other things, I broke down the door to my own hidden rocker’s past. So some sort of balancing-out process did occur. But I’m hesitant to dismiss the role that social tensions played in my musical life prior to that happening. (Not that anyone should be beat up over this stuff, obviously.)

8 thoughts on “Loving A and Loving B

  1. If I had to guess, I would say that tribalism has just shifted its forms of identification. If you think kids in A aren’t getting beat up by kids in B, well, I’d like to know what school you’ve been working at.

    It might just be that the social identifiers are different. I visited a school recently where a group of kids self-identified as “fangirls,” which I wasn’t aware was a thing in school hallways. They identified against “hipsters,” but no one seemed to be identifying AS hipster, so I imagine that “hipster” has taken on the kind of weaponization that words like “geek” and “nerd” once had.

    And when you dig into those categorizations, you’re probably still going to find taste clustering, you just aren’t going to necessarily find music itself as the flag that kids get impaled on. (Was that ever really true? Seems like music was always just one component of the general social organization of adolescence — and when music is easier to find and more diffuse, its role will be similarly more diffuse?)

  2. (Which is I guess to say that I don’t think anyone ever got beat up for LIKING the wrong thing at school; they got beat up for BEING the wrong thing at school, liking just a form of evidence of the underlying thing that you “are.”)

  3. We’re all about solving the problems of leisure, Alfred, what can I say? Anyway, the Gof4 story is absolutely true–I recall with crystal clarity the time I attended a house party in grade 13 (this would’ve been a couple years after Entertainment was released) and was shocked at how boisterous all these guys were, dancing and screaming about to “Damaged Goods” and “I Found That Essence Rare,” guys who a year earlier couldn’t voice their disgust with “the puuuunks” loudly enough. It was entirely attributable to a friend of mine named Sean, btw, one of the few people who bridged both camps: he was a total rocker, but was fanatical about punk as well, and he was one of the most popular kids in school, a great athlete and all the rest. (It’s possible Gof4 weren’t even the tipping point. I was in a “serious” relationship in grade 12 and 13 and my social life dwindled down to attending an outside function maybe once every few months; the rockers’ path to punkdom might have already been paved by the Clash… but Gof4 was the first evidence I saw in the flesh.)

  4. I’m not sure about your “liking” / “being” split, Dave — I’m thinking there IS no split, that that precisely was the point. You are what you listen to and align yourself with; music is not merely a “front” for your more integral self, it IS your integral self (or — increasingly — one of your integral selves)… if I’m reading you correctly?

    “Seems like music was always just one component of the general social organization of adolescence.” True, and one thing that was clearly as important in my youth was sports — whether you were athletic, what kind of sports you were good at, what your relationship was to the top athletes, etc., was a super big deal. Nowadays, I have a feeling clothing has taken on a lot more importance. It was always there, of course, I get the feeling that now it’s absolutely a critical factor. But you know, though I’ve been assuming for years recently that music has lost its importance for high schoolers, the truth is I haven’t a clue if it’s actually true or not. I will find out nine years from now, presumably (when my daughter enters grade 9).

  5. Weird, my comment seems to have been eaten by internet monsters.

    I think that liking/being isn’t inherently split. But I do think that being can trump liking in a way that liking can’t (always) trump being. If you have a certain kind of social power in school, you can put music on your part of the map that wouldn’t necessarily “go there.” But that doesn’t make the other kids who like the music necessarily in your circle. Sometimes, in fact, liking the same music differently is what forms the battleground in the first place.

    So maybe what I’m doing is moving away from “liking at all” — which the OP kind of suggests — to something more like “how does the like function in the rest of your world.” The emo kid whose music gets adopted by the jocks might feel MORE alienated now that her music has been corrupted by the kids who she can’t stand. So sure, if you like A, you *can* listen to B, but if you ARE A and you listen to what people who ARE B listen to, there’s still potential for a fight. Liking the same thing might help reduce tension between groups, or it might make it much much worse — depends on who’s doing the liking and why.

  6. Hey Dave, you know how the hipster burnt his tongue? He drank his coffee before it was cool.

    (hipster burn tongue = About 587,000 results (0.31 seconds)

  7. The sign I saw at this school for their “Hipster Dance” (their upcoming middle school dance) was “I could tell you what the theme of this dance is, but that would be too mainstream.”

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