How to be a music nerd

Yo La Tengo: a group of music critics who decided to form a band and thus, have unsurprisingly since become every self-respecting music nerd's favourite group.

On the frequent occasions when I refer to myself as a music nerd, people often ask what I mean by this term… Okay on second thought, that’s a lie, I was simply looking for a quirky, hopefully-somewhat-interesting opening sentence to this blog. In reality, they never ask, they merely shrug or laugh politely at the mention of the term. Anyhow, I still have a compulsion to explain myself, so the following is what I like to think of as the definitive manifesto for being a music nerd.

Of course, some music nerds may read this blog and, being nerds, they’ll undoubtedly feel the need to intricately explain why I’m wrong and why their concept of what being a music nerd means is infinitely superior to my own impromptu set of guidelines. But feck it, here goes anyway…

One of the primary rules for being a music nerd lies not just in what music you listen to, but how you listen to it. Indeed, the very fact that you are liable to worry about how you listen to music in the first place means you are quite probably a music nerd deep down… or just pretentious… or both, the two often go hand in hand.

Of course, normal people will primarily focus on a song’s vocals, but then normal people will have never come across Godspeed You! Black Emperor – a Canadian post-rock collective who, as music nerds will know, tend to eschew vocals. Thus, music nerds formerly accustomed to simply focusing on the vocals are faced with a considerable dilemma and are forced to alter their listening habits entirely. Yet, they secretly love this type of revolutionary music, and by ‘revolutionary’, I mean music which most people would pay to avoid listening to.

For instance, GYBE’s seminal double album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, consists of only four tracks, each of which are broken into movements, with the shortest track being just over 18 minutes in length. In order to pass my own, made-up-on-the-spot test for being a music nerd, listening to this album all the way through in the dark without distraction is mandatory. And if you don’t enjoy it, you can never rightfully call yourself a true music nerd.

Mainly because I’m currently sounding like a hipster, it is important, at this point, to distinguish the difference between music nerds and hipsters. Although to the untrained eye they possess similar music tastes, the two groups are in fact decidedly different. Hipsters, let it be clear, are not necessarily big music listeners. They may even be fans of the uncoolest band on the planet (Status Quo, closely followed by Kings of Leon).

However, what’s important as far as hipsters are concerned is that: a) They never admit to their covert Quo obsession and b) They memorise a substantial list of music nerd favourites which they can consequently rely upon when their credibility is put under scrutiny e.g. Danielson, The Beta Band, The Shins and so on… although I suppose the latter group don’t really count ever since consummate hipster Natalie Portman name checked them in Garden State and they got, like, totally commercialised.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Canada's best apology yet for Bryan Adams.

The Natalie Portman effect is a common scourge of music nerds. Oasis are another perfect example of a band whose cool and edgy debut album remains appreciated by music nerds to this day. However, they acquired proper commercial success upon the release of follow-up album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and subsequently, as their general popularity increased, critics and ‘real’ music fans lost faith with the band (as is nearly always the case in such circumstances). Noel Gallagher himself pithily summarised this phenomenon as the moment when “all the dickheads start buying your records”.

And finally, hipsters’ appearance is much different to that of music nerds. Namely, they’re actually conscious about what they wear and generally always end up looking incredibly punchable, even to normally non-violent music nerds such as myself. They are the type of people who wear weird glasses, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and hate anything mainstream (okay that’s me basically, but there are other subtle differences, I swear). Music nerds, on the other hand, are far too inveterately self-conscious to engage in such shenanigans. Think of Steve Buscemi’s creepy character in Ghost World rather than Duckie in Pretty in Pink – the archetypal hipster movie (again, apologies if these references are lost on non-music/movie nerds reading this blog).

Also, look at this definition I just came across on Wikipedia: “One commentator argues that ‘hipsters fetishizes the authentic’ elements of all of the ‘fringe movements of the post-war era—beat, hippie, punk, even grunge,’ and draws on the ‘cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,’ and ‘regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.’” Isn’t that hilarious? Admittedly, this is probably how a hipster would react to such a definition, although I wouldn’t really know being a music nerd.

Aside from listening to Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, another making-it-up-as-I’m-going-along rule for being a music nerd is that you must be an avid fan of The Fall. And by ‘avid fan’, I mean you should learn off the bass rhythm for every track from each of their studio albums (all 28 of them). And you must learn to decipher all of the lyrics for every song in Yo La Tengo’s discography, no matter how incomprehensible they may seem and without looking at the lyric sheet (and excluding the numerous tracks of theirs which don’t feature lyrics obviously).

Finally, in order to be a music nerd, you are required to know, without doubt, the answer to the question which has dogged mankind for several decades now: whether it’s pronounced David Bo-ey or David Bow-ee (it’s Bo-ey). It is only once these integral tasks have been completed that you can truly claim to have established yourself as a genuine music nerd.

I’m aptly ending this blog with a link to a song, which music nerds will undoubtedly admire, by the founder of the quintessential music nerd band (The Velvet Underground), Lou Reed, who is looking worryingly like a hipster in this video:     

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