[The Sunday Supplement springs forth from the sparkling keyboard of Dianna Robinson this week. You'll remember Dianna from her review of the Men Diamler and Animal Magic Tricks House Gig. This time she's comparing and contrasting life in two key Toad locations...]
Dylan asked me if I’d write a Sunday Supplement for Song, By Toad about a million years ago. At the time, I wasn’t very keen. I had several papers due, a few of which had the ability to cause me to fail out of school. Now I only have a dissertation due. No big deal. Plenty of time to write complete shit about nothing much.
He wanted me to write about the experience of working at the “official” Song, By Toad pub (the King’s Wark. Obviously). I feel there are two large problems with this topic, however. The first, and I feel the most important, is that this is a bit overly-pretentious and the basic concept makes me feel too groupie-ish for comfort. The second, and the most important in actuality, is that I don’t work at the King’s Wark anymore.
I now work in Anstruther, hometown of Homegame, at the Dreel Tavern, which is owned by Chris, an ex-chef from the King’s Wark and his girlfriend Ewa, an extended family member of the King’s Wark. However, I still live in Leith with Shonagh. And I’m still friends with everyone at the Wark and eat a couple of meals a week there. And still refer to it as “the pub.” Just a caveat.
Basically what I’m saying is that I’m not only kind of going to write about that. I’m also going to write about bonding over music in Fife, and the strangeness that is the music nerd-dom.
Beginning at the beginning, though, we can discuss the wonder that was serving the Song, By Toad crew. I’d like to say that it was continually enlightening and that I learned about cutting-edge bands and met fascinating people. What actually happened was that we always ran out of Anapai Pinot Noir and gin, Mr. and Mrs. Toad ended up swearing far too much and usually too loudly, Dylan talked absolute drunken shite and got into arguments about the Sugar Babes, Shonagh hid her head in her hands, and various members of Meursault came along for the ride. The music choice gets alternately slagged and lauded (the latter due to my legacy of cd mixes (I like to think)), and the staff table (which they usually occupied) becomes a loud, no-mans land where the staff fear to tread in case they’re mocked for saying ‘erbs instead of Herbs (in my own bitter experience). Because you know what never gets old when you’re an American living in Scotland? Being teased about how you say things. Just a barrel of fun. A laugh-riot you could say. I wouldn’t.
I won’t lie, it was nice having music people who were also my friends hanging out at my place of work, which also happened to be a really cool pub with awesome food. But I have no grand illuminations into the inner workings of the Edinburgh indie/alt folk scene. Other than they tend to get drunk. A lot. Which everyone probably already figured out by this point. As I’m not usually impressed with ideas of coolness or (relative) fame, I probably wouldn’t have realized that what these gin-soaked people were saying was anything other than nonsensical ramblings. But I digress. Very cool for some, though.
Which leads me to my next topic. Music nerds. They are intrinsically different than other sorts of nerds in that there is a patina of coolness to them. Sometimes, a rather thin patina, but a patina none the less.
Now, this concept of the music nerd should not be confused with the cool kids with the hair cuts and the slouchy jeans. I speak of what Americans call “hipsters.” Who also wear slouchy jeans. And have hair cuts, but it’s different. Anyway. Hipsters rely almost entirely upon knowledge of obscure indie bands from the mid-80’s onwards. But not prior to. Because old music is bad. Especially jazz. Yikes! Anything but that. Not that it’s the basis for quite a lot of modern music or paved the way for “controversial” themes in music which constitute several things that the hipster holds sacred. Never mind, that’s an old chestnut.
The music nerd, in my opinion, is the UK’s answer to hipsters. Mostly because I don’t really have a label for them and hipster isn’t quite right.
I should probably mention that I am one. Not to the degree that some people reach where they know every member of every band and what their favorite color is. I really cannot be fucked with any of that. I usually don’t even know the names of the lead singers of most bands that I like. I don’t really see the point – my brain can’t hold all of that information and still remember what day it is, and it doesn’t really affect how I feel about the music the band produces. I like music because, for whatever reason, I connect with something in it, not because the bassist of X band, which was highly influential in the Seattle scene in 1998 is now in Y band with the singer of Z band, which never really made it into the mainstream, but that only makes them more obscure and therefore cooler.
Obviously, other people don’t feel the same way. Those people probably can do all sorts of things like walk and chew gum AT THE SAME TIME, which is more than I can handle. More power to them.
BUT. They are still nerds. Encyclopaedic knowledge of anything is nerdish behaviour. It’s just…music is cool. Therefore, the music nerd is the coolest of all of the nerds in nerd-dom. And when they wear Chuckie T’s and Journey t-shirts it’s ironic. In fact, nearly everything the hipster/music nerd does is ironic, and therefore cool. Irony is the coolest of the literary devices, after all.
The music nerd is a socially awkward being by nature, and they tend to flock together like near-sighted seagulls around a Joy Division record. When two music nerds meet, they must judge each other to see if their particular nerdish beliefs conflict or correspond. It’s almost like a mating ritual, you could say, except that these are nerds, and if mating were involved, it would be a maladroit occasion and no-one really wants to think about it. But, as the relationship between music nerds contains a bit of the “us against the stupid world” mentality, mating ritual is a pretty good approximation of the event. Although, if it all goes bad, I would probably say that it’s a territorial dispute. Or something. I’ve sure Levi-Strauss has an opinion on the subject.
I shall use an example from my life to illustrate this phenomenon.
The setting: the fun side of the bar at the Dreel Tavern (you know, the drinkin’ side)
The players: me and my new Dreel comrades
Graeme was going to Argos, and Mike decided to take the plunge and purchase his first iPod. However, he didn’t have much music on his computer, so he asked me if he could take some from mine to fill the tiny music machine.
What ensued was a solid hour of subtle jabs, recriminations, defensive positions and guarded approval until mutual respect was achieved. Because, you see, two music nerds had just stumbled onto the border of their mutual stomping grounds. And it was on, just like Donkey Kong. “You like them? They’re shit.” “Yeah, but have you heard this…” “You should really just plunge an ice pick into your skull if you think that’s good.” “I can’t believe you know this band! No one knows this band.” etc., etc.
Mike’s friend Matt, and outsider to the process, attempted to become involved with the conversation. And, in a typical guy manner, tried to protect me from the insults my music collection was receiving, with such helpful things as “Don’t listen to him, he’s an ass. You can like whatever you want.” All very well-meaning and noble, I’m sure, but completely lost in the game. This was the testing grounds of music nerd bonding, and there is no place for hurt feelings, only strong defences and pointed observations.
You can all visualize it, because you all – to a man – have experienced a similar thing. Maybe it wasn’t your iTunes library, probably it was your wall of cd’s. Or, if you’re the coolest of the cool, your vinyl collection. Or just a scroll through someone’s iPod when they’ve left it around unattended. Music nerds know this ritual in their very souls, because it’s a part of us. We love to geek out over music, and we like it when someone actually gives enough of a shit to play along. And when they do, we’ve found a comrade in arms, someone to shake our fists with at the corporate shit machines that produce pop music. A temporary soul mate, for a few moments in time.
And they all get together and drink far too much gin.
Photos: King’s Wark © Shonagh Massie 2010, Dreel Tavern © Dylan Matthews 2010