Music

Waxing Nostalgic: The Mantras of the Music Geek

Four music geeks reunite to reminisce over their college days in the late '80s. Bold mantras about what's wrong with today's music ensue.

Paul managed a record store in the early ‘90s. For those unfamiliar with the concept, music was once purchased at actual physical locations on actual physical media. Quaint, isn’t it?

Anyway, reminiscing around a table at Joe’s Crab Shack, Paul recounted his memory of the resurgence of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” courtesy of Wayne’s World. When the song first charted in 1975, it was a number one in the UK and went top ten stateside. On its second go-round in 1992, it topped the charts again on British soil and bested its original US peak, this time going all the way to #2.

Paul is a college buddy with whom I shared crab balls – insert joke here – at a mini-reunion over dinner. Also along for the trip down memory lane were Lance and Forrest. This put the four of us in the same place for the first time in 20 years. To picture our motley little crew, think of four athletic frat boys who were – and still are – always the coolest guys in the room. Now imagine exactly the opposite.

We did the requisite reminiscing about bawdiness and debauchery of days long ago, but I’ll refrain from those tales to protect the guilty. What happened in New York stays in New York.

Instead, my dear readers, you get to eavesdrop on conversations sparked by questions like “What would your theme song be when you entered a room?” and “What song that you used to love can you no longer stand?” I know. Alert the Center for Disease Control to quarantine these losers so that no one else is infected by their music sickness.

Even more annoyingly, there is a lesson to be found in all this. Hard to believe, but some people remain clueless as to how to become a music geek. Thanks to the Shack Pack, you can now be privy to the 4 Mantras of the Music Geek.

Mantra 1: Berate all generations after your own.

Our crab-eating collective were pre-teens during the first chart run of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, so upon its revival Paul was well-versed in its history. However, the new music-buying generation was not. By the time customer #402 asked him for “That new song from Wayne’s World” Paul was ready to remove someone’s spleen.

Paul similarly went into spasms confessing, “My four-year-old sings Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ to soothe his infant sister.” I withheld admitting that Selena Gomez’s cover of “Magic”, originally a top 5 US hit by Pilot in the – you guessed it – '70s, is one of my kids’ favorites. I boasted instead of their love for the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”.

Lance also convulsed at Paul’s suggestion that Bob Seger should cue up Lance’s arrival into a room. For a devotee to blues man Buddy Guy, such a suggestion was sacrilege. Besides, it is disturbing to picture Lance sliding across a wood floor in his underwear doing a Tom Cruise Risky Business impression while “Old Time Rock and Roll” blares out of the speakers.

Still, lyrics about how “today’s music ain’t got the same soul” are apropos. Lance dismissed current music as distracting him from his bid to fully digest the Bob Dylan catalog. “Are you sure you aren’t just making up the name Arctic Monkeys?” he asked when I announced what had most recently downloaded.

Forrest was already dismissing his own generation’s music at eighteen. He sounded like the grizzled old blues men already populating Lance’s music collection. Forrest was listening to Wilson Pickett in our college years, not Rick Astley. Yeah, “Never Gonna Give You Up” came on before we left the shack.

Mantra 2: If it sells, it sucks.

Joe’s Crab Shack offers indescribable ear torture for a gang of geeks whose tastes are rooted in classic rock and the blues. Every 45 minutes or so, the wait staff were tasked with hoofing to chestnuts such as Rose Royce’s “Car Wash”, Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”, and some weird remix of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” infused with a rap break.

One might assume that my Crab Crew would compare and contrast those ‘70s disco nuggets with a more acceptable contemporary – like “Bohemian Rhapsody”. That would be a gross misunderstanding of the music geek’s talent for steering conversation to the obscure. I ribbed Forrest about donning a white suit a la Saturday Night Fever with “Stayin’ Alive” soundtracking his entrance. However, he and Lance segued into a discourse on why Queen’s “March of the Black Queen” was superior to the group’s calling-card tune.

This brings us to the eponymous debut from Boston. Hating that album is almost a mantra by itself. Full disclosure: I still like it, an admission which may get my music aficionado club membership revoked. There isn’t a non-hit to embrace since the entire track listing populates classic rock playlists. This makes band mastermind Tom Scholz a natural target thanks to his proclivity to polish everything with a studio sheen in the name of amassing monstrous commercial success. Forrest relayed this story :“I bitched about that album one time to a guy who turned out to be Tom Scholz’s cousin.” Forrest is still removing bits of sneaker from his mouth.

Mantra 3: Vinyl is king; all other formats are crap.

Within five minutes into any conversation, it is mandatory that a music aficionado express undying love for vinyl and denounce all other comers. This obsession is largely focused on sound fidelity, but also nostalgia over the tried-and-true wax disc.

The Shack Pack reminisced over 45 RPM vinyl singles, the only way to get individual songs in our day. Today record companies whine about digital downloads trumping album sales, but in days of yore Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” single easily outdistanced its parent album at the cash register.

Record company greed and the arrival of the eight track reversed this trend. In the seventies, every adolescent boy with a Trans Am wanted to blow out his car speakers with Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” None of these Detroit City Madman worshippers were doing it with a turntable in their backseats.

About five seconds after the eight track arrived, the maddening click that interrupted the music, sometimes mid-song, sent execs back to the drawing board. The cassette arrived, offering more portability, recordability, and a slight return to the singles market. However, by the ‘80s, record companies needed to hamstring people like me who spent their middle school years taping songs off the radio. The compact disc, and a chance to sell AC/DC’s Back in Black to customers for the umpteenth time, arrived.

Mantra 4: The digital age is destroying music.

The CD reaped huge benefits for the recording industry from the mid -'80s through the whole of the ‘90s. Then Napster hit. I ranted to my Shack Pack buddies about the record companies’ short-sightedness in wrestling the digital giant to the ground and beating it to a bloody pulp. Latch on to what’s already there, I argued. Tag a reasonable subscription fee to the service. Sit back and reap the benefits of making money from an established brand name – all without reinventing the wheel.

A music geek realizes that it isn’t just that record company mismanagement has hurt music. Forrest lamented, “it no longer takes any effort to discover music.” Lance agreed, saying “I remember my cousin raving to me about this song he’d heard by Pink Floyd called ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part II.’ We waited around to hear it on the radio; sure enough, it eventually came around again.” This was 1979 when hearing a favorite song wasn’t a YouTube or iTunes click away.

***

Maybe everything really does come around again, as the saying goes. The digital age has restored the singles market. “Bohemian Rhapsody” might re-emerge again in Wayne’s World: The Next Generation where we follow Wayne and Garth’s offspring in the new era.

One thing is certain: music geeks have some maddening mantras. If you stumble across a motley group of 40-somethings at Joe’s Crab Shack, you can pull up a chair and we’ll be happy to explain them in depth. Otherwise, you might be better off heading across the parking lot to Old Chicago’s, instead.

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