I've been on vacation since Friday, August 24; I'm going back to work on Tuesday. Surprisingly, I've done relatively little record shopping during that stretch. I bought the following titles from Amazon early in the week:
Willie Colón, Guisando
Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, 5 and El Progreso
Andrew Hill, Change
And I bought the following on Wednesday at a local store:
Tego Calderón, El Abayarde Contra-Ataca
V/A, Echo Presenta: Invasion
Fania All-Stars, Live In Japan 1976
(I also picked up seasons 2 and 3 of The Wire, which I've been working through one disc (two or three episodes) per day; I'll be done tomorrow.)
And that was it, until today. Today, though, I went to Target for some other stuff, and left with Belanova's Dulce Beat (Mexican electrodiscopop; two programming geeks and a cute girl up front; their live album's awesome) and M.I.A.'s Kala.
Now why the fuck did I buy Kala? Okay, it was only $9.99. It didn't hurt much. But I didn't like Arular or Piracy Funds Terrorism - I came away from both thinking
1) Nerd-ass whiteboy critics are letting their dicks do their listening for them, and
2) This chick is nothing but Tom Tom Club with a tan.
I know a guy - a former co-worker - who was practically doing the pee-pee dance on one foot, waiting for Kala to drop. And you couldn't venture online to ILM or Pitchfork or any other place where pasty, trainspotting elitists congregate without seeing five or ten simultaneous swirling discussions of the record's imminence. I didn't take part in any of those discussions, because I genuinely didn't give a fuck. I didn't like the last records, I'd been taken in by the hype once already and was sure I wasn't gonna get suckered again.
So why the fuck did I buy this thing?
I hate to say it, but I think some vestigial part of me still cares what Pitchfork people and Paste people and ILM people think. Not in the sense that I care about, or solicit, their opinions on the music I like and choose to write about (I'm damn sure not gonna be putting Pitchfork or Paste on the Metal Edge comp-subscription list), but in that I privilege - and mark your calendars, 'cause I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever used that word as a verb - their tastes over my own. I have a critical inferiority complex.
It doesn't surface very often. I swiped a copy of the last Wilco album off the Relix editor's desk, and listened to as much as I could stand before lapsing into a coma. I think I made it partway into track three. (I might have tried the same thing with the new White Stripes disc, had I not seen a couple of videos on MTV and known what a crapfest it was.) But in the case of M.I.A., and Dizzee Rascal before her, I've been suckered twice in a row. Which leads me to believe this is a two-part problem.
Problem 1: I believe that other critics, most of whom went to college (unlike me), know something I don't. This is almost certainly bullshit, since I know things they don't - namely, how to actually make records. I studied audio engineering. This makes my perspective on recorded music qualitatively different from that of someone who's caught up in the romanticism of singer-songwriter "authenticity" or indie guilt. Still, as someone who grew up in a middle-class New Jersey suburb and was groomed for college and some sort of socially acceptable career path but who then took a series of sharp turns off that path, I'm very vulnerable to the urge to defer to those who seem to have similar backgrounds to me but who made the "right" choices.
Problem 2: On some subconscious level, I have retained my own suburban whiteboy ideas about music made by brown-skinned people - that it has some inherent value greater than music made by people who look like me. No matter how much I love metal (and I really, really do), I still in some small way give the new rapper on the scene, whose stuff I'm going to have to download or (shock, horror) buy, a little more creative leeway than the new metalcore band whose CD lands on my desk with the day's other mail.
Combine the two - brown-people music beloved of the educated white elite youth - and you understand why I bought Kala today, and why the purchase fills me with shame.