I say this with a touch of irony: most of the people I know would classify me as “hip.” I ride a beat-up Motobecane everywhere, I have a messenger bag, and I write about (and brew) beer. I definitely understand the sentiment, but the people who know me best know that I’m a total nerd. And although those two ideas may be somewhat related, they both carry different weight in social situations.
I’m bringing this up because there’s really only one thing I love more than beer, and that’s music. Every day after work, I listen to at least one side of a record, and do nothing else (mostly Panda Bear singles as of late). I spend weekends pouring over used vinyl collections, making sure that those old Coltrane records or rare Nico wax don’t get found by another collector, or even worse, a lucky novice.
Many people think that this kind of behavior is “hip,” but unfortunately for myself and dozens of others, it’s really not (ask any girl I’ve ever dated, most find it kind of annoying). I traded mix CD’s with a friend last week, and I focused on this idea of “hip” versus “nerdy,” and it really all came down to one scene from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.
“I felt like a fraud,” John Cusack’s Rob Gordon laments, as he does throughout the whole film. “I felt like one of those guys who shaved his head and said he had always been a punk.”
The music community has a notorious cool to it. I wanted to experience this same cool, but I never really could find my way to the inner circle. In order to be cool, you have to ride the wave at the right time. I never felt like a fraud, but I never felt fully accepted by the people who were into the same “hip” music as myself. This has always bothered me, because I feel like a shared reverence for the Kinks or LCD Soundsystem or The Drums should lead to some sort of friendship. But it never really has.
“Yeah, Radiohead’s the best,” I remember saying to a friend in our high school radio station. “But they really took a lot of cues from Can early on, and later in their career, they started taking ideas from Kraftwerk as well as purely electronic sound experiments, like the infamous ‘Idioteque’ sample.”
You don’t make friends saying things like that. Not because it isn’t true, it’s a rather obvious statement for anyone who’s thought about Radiohead, but that’s the most clear line between hip and almost comic-book collecting nerdiness. Shoot, I collect comics too…
Cool music acts as currency for hipness, and getting really into music alienates you from a large group of casual music listeners. It’s not about the one-upmanship associated with the whole “Portlandia” culture (“I saw Green Day on their Dookie tour, even went backstage!” “Oh yeah! I saw them at the Fireside Bowl!” etc, etc, etc). It’s more about what different people get out of music, and I don’t really blame people for loving music as a cheap thrill.
In the end, music is still one of the driving parts of culture. That’s why there’s an “inside” and an “outside,” an avant garde movement threatening the past for the sake of the future, David Byrne and Brian Eno. I know decidedly where I stand, and I’ve got the Smiths singles to prove it.
What are you listening to right now? It had better be Titus Andronicus. Let us know on Twitter (@midwestbeer) or shoot us an e-mail at email@example.com.