I recently sat down for lunch with an old friend. It was going well, and we were having a great time, laughing and catching up, until the discussion turned to music. That's when she released the kind of fury that you really only see in those old John McEnroe tennis videos, where the ball bounces out, and the judge calls it out, and then McEnroe spends the next few minutes telling the judge to get cancer.
"You like THEM?!?!?" said my friend, with the same level of disgust you'd expect to hear from someone who just learned that The History Channel is coming out with a new show where people engage in puppy-eating contests. "REALLY??" she repeated. "THEM?!??!?!" Then came the anger, the frustration, the indignation, followed by a series of suggestions about what kind of music I should like.
It was the single stupidest conversation I've ever personally experienced.
Here's the thing, ladies and gentlemen: music, more than just about any other art form, is subjective. This means that you like the music that you like, and I like the music that I like, and there is some small, inexplicable subset of the population that likes Nickelback.
I think we have trouble with this because most things in life really aren't subjective. For example: anchovies. Anchovies are objective. There isn't a single person, living or dead, who actually likes anchovies. You can still get them on a pizza, for some reason, even though nobody wants to see them, or touch them, or smell them, or generally spend time around them. They are the oceangoing version of the friend who criticizes your music.
So this is a very black-and-white issue. Anchovies are awful. Society hates anchovies. This is instilled in you from a very young age, much like potty training, or eating solid foods, or – if you come from the Midwest – sitting down on an airplane and asking the complete stranger next to you about his job.
Even though you'll find a few people who will tell you otherwise, I think that most art pieces can also be judged in roughly the same objective, good-or-bad manner. For instance: you walk into an art gallery, or a museum, and there, on one wall, with a bright light illuminating it for everyone to see, is a masterpiece by F. L. Flugenhafer, an artist who is talked about in hushed tones, as if the mere mention of his name might cause Harry's lightning bolt scar to start throbbing.
Except it isn't a masterpiece: instead, it's one single canvas that has been painted bright red, with no other adornments except for a few uneven black lines going across the center. You see this sort of art all over the place: in galleries and museums, representing the beginning of the transcendental opaque period, or the elemental snollygoster movement, or the primordial blunderbuss era, and it is, therefore, highly important and worthy of only the finest art collections.
So you sit there, staring at this seminal work of art, these randomly placed black lines on this red canvas, and you can't help but start to wonder: Is F.L. Flugenhafer really just an orangutan with a paintbrush? But you don't say this out loud, because you don't want to be disrespectful, and also you wouldn't want to give these art people any ideas.
Well, I have news for you: you're not the only one who thinks this sort of art is ridiculous. I think it's ridiculous. Everyone I know thinks it's ridiculous. Society thinks it's ridiculous. And you have to assume that when the gallery owner shuts off the lights in the evening, and sets the alarm, and her eyes catch the Flugenhafer, she must think – even if it's only for a brief moment – my first-grader could've painted that. And he eats dirt.
But music is an entirely different story, which is why we should all stop arguing about it.
For proof, I ask you to consider Eminem, a rapper from the Detroit area who, I can only assume, has stabbed people. Whenever an Eminem song comes on the radio, this is an approximate description of what I hear: really loud bass, and an angry guy yelling into a microphone. There are also occasionally bizarre lyrics, such as:
I like happy things, I'm really calm and peaceful
I like birds, bees, I like people
I like funny things that make me happy and gleeful
Like when my teacher sucked my weewee in preschool
I swear these are actual Eminem lyrics. Now just imagine them yelled into a microphone, bass turned up, and you have this guy's career. It's fascinating, really, and it makes you wonder why you spent all that time in college learning about the elemental snollygoster movement, when you could've been making millions by rhyming "people" with "preschool."
But anyway, here's the thing: yes, it's true that I don't really like this stuff. And maybe you don't really like this stuff, either. But there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who hear the loud bass, and the microphone yelling, and the weird lyrics, and they think: "Your teacher? Sucked your weewee? In preschool? I HAVE TO ATTEND YOUR CONCERT!!!!" And then they run out and spend hundreds of dollars to see Eminem perform in a football stadium from the upper deck, where they can't be entirely sure if it's Eminem screaming those words or John McEnroe yelling at a line judge.
And this brings me to my point here, which is that everyone has their own unique musical tastes. We all think that anchovies are awful, and we all think that crappy paintings are stupid, but by God, when it comes to music, there will be someone out there who likes it, no matter what it is. And this is why we, as a society, should avoid arguing about music: it's unproductive, and it's combative, and it never seems to change anyone's mind. Instead, we should focus on getting an arrest warrant for Eminem's preschool teacher.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.