It’s not easy being an arrogant know-it-all

Pub date October 12, 2010

WRITERS ISSUE Having to constantly suffer the company of the ignorant, it’s difficult to suppress my condescension. After all, I know about obscure music and books that few others know of and this makes me superior.

For that matter, I must also tolerate the naive with regard to politics and current events. It is a constant struggle to maintain a civil façade, to avoid an outburst. After all, the polite response to the uninformed is not to point out their glaring faults but to gently correct their errors in a subtle, guiding way. Maintaining patience is not easy.

I was talking the other day to an acquaintance (it’s hard for people to actually be friends with one as superior as me) and I was shocked to find he’d never heard of Sainkho Namtchylak. Come on, what rock do you have to be living under to not know of the Tuvan throat-singing virtuoso — a singer who makes Diamanda Galas sound like Whitney Houston — who collaborates with free-jazzers like saxophonist Evan Parker? I tried not to be too disdainful as I informed him of her numerous releases on the British record label, Leo. It’s just so difficult not to get sarcastic when faced with that sort of colossal ignorance and cultural complacency.

Do these people just take whatever is offered them on MTV, instead of digging deeper? I have to laugh at the people who think they’re hip just because they listen to something they consider obscure, like Borbetomagus. Come on, they’ve been around forever. Even some grunge-listening moron who hasn’t picked up a magazine since Forced Exposure turned into a mail-order company knows that.

How did I become as I am: namely, one of the most hip people on the planet, endowed with a broad cultural knowledge? Obscurantists are made, not born. To tell the wounding truth, my strength came from weakness. In high school, I was a geek, woefully ignorant of popular culture and rock music in particular. My reading was predominantly in the genre of science fiction. I listened to the folk and classical music my parents preferred and, for exoticism’s sake, enjoyed the synthesizer stylings of Wendy Carlos and Tomita. Children have no taste. We’re shaped (or should I say twisted?) by our environment.

Once I discovered punk rock, I shot up like a late bloomer whose delayed pubescence doesn’t preclude his growth to a height greater than six feet. I devoured the Trouser Press Record Guide, listened to lots of music from the collections of friends. I started reading obscure magazines that reviewed music none of my friends listened to and I was an early adopter of the Internet: I had email in college in 1984 and my Usenet newsgroup posts archived on Google Groups date back that far, before the 1987 Great Renaming, which reorganized online discussion forums. I was an invited member of a secret e-mail music list called “Music-flamers” in 1986.

Let’s face it, it’s too easy to put someone down for being a fan of Korn or Britney Spears (what’s the difference, really?). I prefer to insult people for being so obvious as to be fans of virtually mainstream 1970s British psyche-folk group Caravan instead of Everyone Involved or fill-in-the-blank with your favorite ultra-obscure, private pressing, un-reissued psyche-folk LP of the early ’70s.

Why should music be something that we have in common, something that might bring us together, when it can be a soapbox to stand on to put us above other people? Why settle for the pleasure of turning on someone to good music when you can use it to put them down? If you can tell me, I’ll let you listen to my copy of Jim French and Galas’ If Looks Could Kill or Orchid Spangiafora’s Flee Past’s Ape Elf

Excerpted from The International Homosexual Conspiracy (Manic D Press, 224 pages, $14.95).