Dan Brooks appeared in the New York Times last week to air his grievances about Spotify and women. Brooks’s article, in case you missed it the first time he wrote it, bemoans the way in which previously obscure and inaccessible music has been made widely available since the rise of streaming sites and mp3s, making it difficult for Brooks to identify other diehard “indie-snobs” (as he so identifies). It’s by no means the first (and, sadly, probably not the last) article by a male music nerd who is disappointed that decent music has been democratized; their iron grip of good taste loosened by the “leveler,” as Brooks calls it, of increased access. That leveler, of course, has also helped to break socioeconomic class structures, making it so that discovering new music is no longer reserved for those who can afford it. But that doesn’t seem to concern Brooks, who is quite unembarrassed by his masturbatory nostalgia for the good old days; the ones when only he and his “pointy-haired youngster” anti-conglomerate buddies could bond over the Brian Jonestown Massacre, eliding the idiots who were bopping along to Third Eye Blind.
But Brooks has a particular axe to grind with mass access to music in the Internet era: It has made it harder for serious indie kids to find each other, making it difficult to identify the right type of people to befriend, and, most importantly, hit on. According to Brooks, “esoteric taste was a measure of commitment” back in the good old days, and not any just any old girl in a manually-distressed Joy Division T-shirt could play with the big boys. For starters, music was still a physical phenomenon, which meant that fans had to carry around CD wallets that could be whipped out to prove one’s mettle; a quick, flip-through test for whether your taste was good enough for boys like Brooks to want to befriend (or bone) you. And Brooks didn’t want to befriend (or bone) just anyone. He wanted to be spared the sheeple listening to crappy popular music made by women, for instance; he demanded “a more nuanced reading of the human experience” than shitty girl-music like Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby.” For Brooks, one’s taste in music is not a simple matter of aesthetics, but a potential for shared values: CDs acted as a kind of shiny, rainbow-reflecting mating call for attracting similarly anti-consumerist mates. And how bitterly disappointed Brooks was in the people — well, the women really — who didn’t share his exact values:
I once attended a party at the home of a poetry professor who, in her meticulous preparations, happened to leave out one CD: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. It was a gutless choice, the act of a person who reads music magazines. Any other album would have revealed her taste, but instead she had only shown that she understood what our kind liked.
Gutless women and the music magazines they read — who can stand them?! What a flat, two-dimensional woman this so-called poetry professor must have been, picking out a relevant album to leave lying around but having the nerve to be so contrived and obvious about it. She not only failed to impress him — her transparency “scandalized “him! It was worse than that time in college that Brooks learned that a “smart and culturally sophisticated woman” he had been “dating” owned “just six CDs”!
Poor Brooks. Imagine having curated a pristine music collection, meticulously and from scratch; one that proves your flawless taste and well earned sense of superiority. How bitterly frustrating it would be to feel that you’d discovered your potential mate, that perfect fine arts major with thick-rimmed glasses and a succulent record collection, only to later learn that she had more mp3s than white label test pressings. It might start to feel like she wasn’t even trying to impress you! Almost like your “esoteric tastes” were totally irrelevant to her, and she was just autonomously choosing music that she liked for her own benefit. No wonder Brooks felt “scandalized.” Years later, when he and his friends discussed the “powerful and surely arbitrary forces” that had kept them single in college, they deduced that it was because women simply had crap taste in music, and that it had nothing to do with the fact that they were insufferable elitist bores.
You know, I’ve disappointed my fair share of men like Brooks. When I was in my teens I’d inadvertently impress guys a little bit older than me with my inside-out knowledge of David Bowie’s discography, then let them down when I revealed that I knew all the lyrics to “Umbrella.” These days, I pique the interest of self-professed hip-hop heads when I let on that I listen to rap, but lose their respect as soon as I tell them, truthfully, that I find Nas, Talib Kweli and most other “real hip-hop” boring. It’s not a crushing loss to displease men who hide their sexism underneath a thin veneer of musical taste, and it’s not a huge disappointment to be deemed unsuitable by men you would have never given the time of day to anyway. Still, though, here’s a message for Brooks and other men like him: Consider that your boner-inducing poetry professor might not have left that Jicks CD out for you. She may have left it out for a guy less easily scandalized, or — and I’m just throwing ideas out there now, so bear with me — she might not have been trying to impress anyone at all.