Answered: Are my friends musical geniuses? Did he write that song about me?

Dear Readers,

The Phoenix is pleased to introduce “Dear Joel,” our new advice column focused on the specific needs of the local music community -- that is: people in bands, people who listen to bands, people who have been kicked out of bands (or will soon be kicking someone out of a band), people thinking of joining/starting/sabotaging bands, or anyone with technical, social, economic, psychological or libidinous interests in music.

Joel -- widely regarded by too many people to list as an expert in too many topics to list -- will happily entertain your questions on booking shows, instrumental technique, good songs to put on mixes, band/audience etiquette, inter- and intraband relations, composer and artist recommendations and any and all other quandaries associated with bandhood.

Please send your questions to dearjoel [at nospam] -- and, of course, your anonymity will be preserved.


Michael Brodeur
Music Editor
Boston Phoenix

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Dear Joel, 
Do I like all of my friends' bands because I am a total sucker for my friends, or am I just only friends with musical geniuses?

The short answer, sadly, is that while "total sucker" is a bit harsh, you're definitely some sort of not-correct-person with regard to your friends. The clearest and best way to illustrate this fact is to transpose this question up to the key of Parenting; here's what it sounds like: "Do I like all of my four-year-old's drawings because I am a total sucker for my four-year-old or is my four-year-old simply a total fucking genius?"*
See what we're working with here? 
The truth of the matter is that you're simply more likely to take the time to work through your friends' music than your non-friends' music.
If you're not convinced and you feel that your friends without-a-doubt defy the odds and totally, like, "just keep churning them out" and that with every new record or basement show or cleverly, self-packaged CD-R they reinforce your thoughts re: their total aural celestiality, take the probability route -- wherein there are three main reasonable conclusions we might draw:

  1. Your friends are actually geniuses.
  2. You don't know how to identify genius with regard to music.
  3. You're lying or trying to lie to yourself for some reason that I understand, but won't explain here because it would crush you in a way that I'm not prepared to take responsibility for right now.

Given how many friends-who-make-music there are in the world and how many friends of those friends think that those people are geniuses, statistically speaking, your friends are just normal people and you're stuck with number 2 or 3. The fact that you're interested in getting to the truth of the matter indicates that you do understand and value good music and can most likely identify true musical genius, so 2 is out. That leaves us with number 3. Really, I don't think you're actually lying to yourself, but I think you're about to.

That said, there's good news -- and I'm not talking about Jesus Christ having died for our sins and getting all jacked up on amphetamines as he prepares to wash us in his blood and rapture us all into heaven magic-style. The good news I am talking about is that if this question is kicking around your head you care about whether or not you're believing true things, you actively appreciate music, and you're proud of your friends and are surrounded by music you enjoy and hopefully find challenging. If you play music yourself, I can imagine that would be quite motivating. Being, by every metric, the best musician in my circle of friends, I'm embarrassed to say that I don't really know what it's like to be motivated by the people around me.**

I do know, however, that as long as no one is playing pop-punk, you're all ahead of the game.

*Yes, parents [like, say, my brother, for instance] swear.

Dear Joel,
I made out with a local musician after a show last year, and last week, at a show of theirs, they played a bunch of new songs, one of which I'm pretty sure was about me. Because the lyrics were all about touching each other under neon lights, and that's totally what the scenario was when we hooked up. How can I tell if the song is about me? Should I just ask him?

I wish this question was about lyrical content and image systems because "touching each other" and "neon lights" is some busted bullshit to be singing about. I can't believe you frenched that guy; granted, I'm no love doctor -- I'm a boy who enjoys music and re-reads Dune every so often.

The simplest way to figure out if a song is about you is to count all of the words (excluding backing vocals), take the total number less the number of words that start with vowels, multiply it by your age and again by the number of sexual partners you tell people you've had. If the number turns out to be even, it's about you. If it's odd, it's about one of your friends.
Dude, man. Obviously, if you care that much, you should just ask him. Not only are you the kind of person who actually makes out with "local musicians," but you're the kind of person who continues to go out to see the band for a year after the fact. You're a bold, fearless, confident, aggressive, no-nonsense, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, how-do-you-like-me-now, ain't-no-thang, love-'em-and-leave-'em heartbreaker of a music fan; this should be nothing to someone like you.
The only preparation you need to do before popping the question is to figure out exactly why it is that you want to know. Does The Makeout King have serious, long-term potential? Are you trying to prove it to a friend? Do you want to confirm a hazy drunk memory? You need to work it out. I doubt the conversation you're looking for goes like this:
You: I couldn't help but notice the lyrics to that song -- they wouldn't be about a certain event that took place, say, last year some time, would they?
Him: As a matter of fact they are.
You: Oh... cool.
Bases covered, dog. That's what we're looking for.

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