Kat Corbett is a DJ-extraordinaire at KROQ, a big-time radio station over in Los Angeles. She does a great "Locals Only" hour on Sundays, 9 pm (PST)/Midnight (EST) as well that highlights many of the cool stuff coming out of that neck of the woods. She's provided yours truly with more than one new favorite band.
Kat writes a reoccuring piece over at Web in Front, and the most recent one was this utterly fab rumination on dating and meeting "The Wall" (your date's wall of music that is). I've long held that "The Wall" never lies in terms of dating compatibility. I once was out with a guy and when I asked "So what do you listen to?" I was really saddened to hear, "Whatever's on the radio," because in DC that definitely meant a station that spins the Blink 182, not Pavement. While he was a nice guy, in further conversation it became apparent he was willing to just go along with life as it came to him, not vice versa. To me, keeping up, even just a little, with music that's off the beaten path, speaks to something a little deeper in a personality, and that's the proactive desire to see what else is out there beyond what's just in front of your face, to take a chance, to explore. It doesn't have to define you-I mean, I'm a music nerd from way back, it's a way of life for me and I freely admit that. But it is possible to keep the willingness to go out and try new things, to walk outside the lines of typical adult life, to not desire to be 80 before you even turn 40. And usually if you're keen to keeping an ear open, you're also keen to checking out other nifty things of culture that you can't find in a cul-de-sac. This all may sound harsh. But "The Wall" has proved to be a pretty accurate litmus test for me more times than not as to whether one has retained a passion for something other than the mundane rigors of life. And without passion, what else is there?
“The truth was that these things matter, and it’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently.”
- Nick Hornby
There are many different types of walls; brick, wood, cement, high and low. Prison walls keep dangerous criminals away from our civil society. Monolithic piles of concrete and stone separates countries all over the world and we occasionally build emotional walls to keep others out of our heads and hearts. The main function of a wall is to keep unsavory characters from “getting in” and invading our space. There is one wall, however, that was built for the sole purpose of letting everyone in—the cd wall. No matter how big or small yours may be, the wall is there to tell the world who you are. It gages your level of cool or uncool, your understanding of love and heartbreak. Your ability to rock and how hard you rock is measured and your most awesome guilty pleasures stand proudly beside iconic music heroes. Unfortunately, the wall is becoming an endangered species and this has put me in a slight state of panic.
Upon entering someone’s home for the first time we are drawn like a magnet to the cd rack, bookshelf and dvd shelf. If looks are the cover of the book we are judged by our collections reveal the pages inside. Is he a metal head? Indie rocker? A Yanni fan? From the musical selections we can then make a few leaps as to this persons non-musical likes and dislikes—not very scientific, I know. Recently, I entered the living room of one particular man and searched for his wall. I waited anxiously hoping that I would find Springsteen, Bowie and The Who and prayed that Creed or Sublime or I don’t know, John Tesh wasn’t waiting by Party Rock Volume 3. The four walls of his living room were nice, the décor exceptional and the fireplace was kickass but there was no wall. No colorful spines peaking out at me. No slivers of plastic with a rainbow of fonts and label logos standing at attention waiting for me to reach in and say, “Hello familiar friends.” His house was a bit large leading me to believe that he had an office or possibly a “music room” where his cd’s were on display in a golden case. A giant bookshelf took up one entire side of the living room and I was thankful that a) he was a reader and b) that he had a healthy mix of fiction, historical books, sports and a few biographies. I thought great, any guy who has Fitzgerald, Sedaris, and Jon Stewart’s America: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction must be OK but where was his music? I mean even psychos and bores read Nabokov and Vonnegut. Knowing what kind of sounds moved this man would fill in many details about who he was in general. Yes, of course he could like great music and still be a psycho—please just play along. Where was it I wondered? Roger Daltrey’s voice jostled my eardrums. “Who are you? Who, who, who, who. WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?”
I’m ashamed to admit it but I asked for a tour specifically to catch a glimpse of the wall in another part of the house. I scanned his office and caught a peak of his bedroom, nice bed, but no wall. There was a guestroom and even a darkroom but still no wall. After twenty minutes I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked him where it was. “Oh, they were taking up too much space so I dumped them in my Itunes and brought them to Amoeba,” he said. Everything in my head turned to static. Unaware of my near brush with a hysterical dizzy spell he offered up his iPod. As I clutched his whole world in my tiny hand I whispered to myself, “Please be good, please.” A couple of clicks in my heart rate returned to normal. Dylan, The Smiths, The Replacements, Otis Redding, Jeff Buckley passed by the clicking bar. Petty, The Stones, Pavement, Silversun Pickups and oh crap, wow, there was a lot of classical which made me panic because I’m not so up on my Mozart but I knew then that I would let him get past 2nd base.
The wall is important because certain cd’s say certain things and the lack of certain cd’s also says something. I’m not stating that we are solely defined by our music as we are complex creatures, but our taste in music is a big part of who we are. Any girl who cruises a guys wall and finds the Pet Shop Boys is going to pause for a moment and then quickly look for Erasure and the soundtrack to Cabaret—if found, your man might need to figure some stuff out. Guys, you know if you see Celine Dion you will ask her if she has any cats (and how many) and then search for a scary stuffed animal collection.
I brought up the missing wall to one of my best friends who is a totally music head—the kind that knows the original versions of label pressings and who would trade pot for rare 7 inches from Norway. To my absolute horror he told me that he had gotten rid of his wall a month ago. My jaw fell on my feet. “But…but…but!” I had no come back. I’ve known this guy for years and now he was a stranger to me. He has been living a secret life—a cd free life and I had no idea. He got rid of his vinyl as well saying it took up too much space. I felt betrayed, cheated on. If he was living in New York in a tiny apartment where space is a scarce I might get it, but he doesn’t and I don’t.
The wall is your lover, therapist and a musical Rorschach test. No matter how small or large it may be, your wall holds your heart, political views, sense of adventure and taste, or lack there of, within the thin plastic trays that occupy the space. If you are a die-hard Republican and spot a Dixie Chicks cd on your new hottie’s wall, that has to throw up some red flags. No matter how hot that Michael W. Smith fan is, you the Atheist can surely see trouble ahead through the spine of Worship and Worship Again. Of course I’m making broad strokes here and somewhere there is a hippy/punk rock couple making it work who will prove me wrong but in general I believe these ideas to be true within the context of sustainable relationships. I’m not suggesting that liking the same music guarantees living happily ever after but it’s a good start. Also understand that I do not want to be with someone exactly like me as it is our differences that make us interesting, but like-minded people are friends and lovers for a reason. We want to enjoy things together. We want to be able to discuss things passionately and break them down to the tiniest detail and wait for that euphoric feeling that comes when the person across from us says, “Yes, exactly!” You are correct Mr. Hornby. These things do matter. We make up our minds about people by their taste in music, books and movies and we do this in just a few seconds by cruising their wall.
I had a friend create a hypothetical wall and I wrote down the first thing that came to mind as she rattled off random band names.
Phish – fucksake, runaway!
Johnny Cash & George Jones – awesome
Jeff Buckley – you are so getting lucky tonight
Sublime – I’m out the door
Jimmy Buffet – please kill me…and your parrot head
Radiohead - you are a winner
Grateful Dead - absolutely not
Kanye – meh, you’ve lost me, better have Public Enemy and Run DMC in there
Miles Davis - you are way smarter than me but I’m staying
Kiss – not my thing but I’m OK with it
Afghan Whigs - one of my fav’s
Barry Manilow – um, what?
Bon Jovi - you better be from Jersey but I will admit I have seen them in concert
Elvis Costello - swoon
Chris Gaines - Garth Brooks alter ego? Wtf?
Van Halen - better be DLR Van Halen and not Sammy or Gary - Van Halen
Limpbizkit – Not if you were the last man on earth. How did you get me in your house?
Led Zeppelin - yes
Aerosmith - no
Pixies - hallelujah
Sugar Ray - you can explain that it’s your exes but why would I want to sleep with someone who slept with someone who liked Sugar Ray?
From my reactions to the above, do you and I make a good match? Lets face it, if I see your wall packed with Grateful Dead and Phish cd’s we are not going to get on OK. Maybe we can be friends but I just don’t get any of that. Why are the songs so long? What the hell is twirling? Hacky sack, tie dyed clothing and why are you selling sandwiches out of the trunk of your car? No, you and I are not compatible, so says your wall. I need three chords, short fast songs. I need The Ramones.
I took a quickie survey of men and women I know and asked them what cd’s would be deal breakers if discovered on a wall. Most of the men cited Celine Dion and The Indigo Girls. Of course there are other factors as my friend responded, “Hmm……is she rockin’ good lookin’? How drunk am I? Cuz let’s face it, if you’re a dude and you’ve made it to the living room, you’ll Karaoke the theme song to Friends if it means sleeping over.” The women chose Creed, Nickelback and Limpbizkit as deal breakers. There were others but those got the most mentions. That got me thinking about going outside of my circle with the same question. I’m sure those aforementioned hated bands would be “must haves” for others in order to make a person appear attractive. All of those bands are still selling cd’s and tickets to shows proving there are people who love them. I think someone should invent a dating service based solely around the wall.
Along with our passions, the wall reveals other personality clues—guilty pleasures. A friend of mine is a tatted up hard rockin’ bass player and I was surprised to find an enormous Barbara Streisand collection on her wall. “I like to bring the thunder when I play but no one can touch Barbara,” she said. It made me love her even more, my friend not Barbara. The point is that we would have never had that conversation if she didn’t have a wall. I could have gone my entire life not knowing that about her but the wall was there offering up information without asking. Then I got to thinking, what if you are sans wall and owner of a tiny iPod Shuffle used only for gym workouts? Surely not all of your music will fit on that sucker which means that I would have to sit down at your computer to view your catalogue to get the full picture of who you are and that seems a bit awkward. In addition, when I am cruising your wall, I can see within one second that you have more than one cd from a particular artist. Clicking through your iPod, I have to take more time and click a submenu to see if you really do like Springsteen or if you are one of those who bought Born in the USA mostly because of the “Dancing in the Dark” video. There is a big difference. No Nebraska and Born to Run in the submenu? You haven’t loaded it onto your iPod yet? I wouldn’t know that unless I asked and I’ve already made up my mind about you. Insane? Perhaps. True? Yes, and we all do it.
I’m all for technology making life easier, faster and less cluttered but I am mourning the loss of the wall. The ritual of discovering who you are by the glorious spines that line your home is a pleasure I fear I will soon have to do with out. The wall is more than an extension of ourselves—it is who we are—a less intrusive diary of sorts. So, when I walk into your house just save me the pain of searching, hand me your iPod and Kindle and give me a few minutes before you crack open that bottle of wine because I might not be staying.