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Misconceiving Music

Hi, my name is Arjun and I’m an alcoholi… oh, wait, wrong meeting. I like to fiddle with gadgets and repeat jokes like
“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Tom Sawyer’s underwear.”

I love people with preconceived notions about music. You know the ones. Rock is noise. Britney is gay. Punk kills people. 50 Cent is a gangster. Their convenient classification and claustrophobic vision makes it easy to label anything with a particularly irrational stereotype. Politicians are corrupt. All south Indians are good at math. The sum total of Punjabi food is a plate of butter chicken and lassi. Now sure the country’s polity is a mess and yes, half of Silicon Valley has the surname Vedumuthu, but when it comes to music, one really does get the feeling that the bar is set just that bit higher.

Genre classification has always been difficult for the uninitiated. Post-hardcore screamo means something entirely different to someone who watches Indian MTV and someone who listens to Rise Against. So while one considers the possibility of penetrative pornography that’s very painful afterwards, the other jumps around to the sounds of The Sufferer and The Witness played at loud volumes on his/her headphones.

The misnomers about particular kinds of music can lead to some terribly interesting conversations.

Scenario #1: Generation Gap
Father: Why do you keep watching these videos with girls in bikinis?
Son wearing oversized jersey: Dad, it’s about the music. The lyrics are great.
Father: All I hear them singing about is money and girls.
Son wearing oversized jersey: *looks sheepish and changes the channel*

Scenario #2: Ignorance
Friend A who listens to pop music: Have you heard Dido?
Friend B who watches Indian MTV: By whom?

Scenario #3: Anger
Rock fan: Black Sabbath rules.
Indifferent: Mmm.
Rock fan: *mimes the ‘Paranoid’ riff*
Indifferent: Mmm.
Rock fan: Black Sabbath rules or… or, I’ll bite the head off a pigeon.
Indifferent: Mom! Sachin is behaving like a prick.

I was listening to Jose Gonzalez the other day and someone commented “Why are you listening to classical music?” The development of these stereotypes always intrigues me. How does one come to assume that all rock music is about war and killing and if you play it backwards Satan will give you instructions on how to terminate Barack Obama? Is it a function of the imagery of popular rock icons? In which case have Axl Rose and hair metal killed the pleasures of rock music for thousands of closeted masses? Or is it a function of personal experience? In which case why wasn’t the song playing at the moment of judgment ‘Scarborough Fair’ instead of ‘In The Belly of a Shark’ (Gallows, go listen to some post-hardcore screamo)?

Obviously, we Indians never feel ignorant and therefore the fear of looking like a buffoon when one remarks “Pop is gay” is never there. We get on with our daily lives making engaging banter like
“Which are your favourite Rock bands?”
“I like many, many bands. I have heard almost all the Rock. But I don’t like cheap poseurs like Linking Park and Limp Bizkit. They are not even using the right way of singing. I also don’t like the Backst(r)eet Boys and the Boysons. But I am liking the hard Rock. That is good. I like Metallica and Guns and Roses. Those three bands are my favourite.”

It’s great if you know your music. If you don’t, do us a favour and just listen.

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