In life, there will always be conversations that cause excruciating embarrassment to all forced to listen to them. One is a couple debating who loves each other more. One is a couple arguing (actually, this one is excruiciating to all but me – I LOVE an arguing couple. They are my sport, I listen with popcorn). And the third is anyone, anyone at all, discussing ‘what music they’re into’.
I’ve always had a strong sensibility of ick where this topic is concerned – anybody asking me the fateful question on first acquaintance instantly earns a black mark next to their name, removable only by careful application of ginger wine or revelation that their uncle is the Sultan of Brunei – but it was only yesterday that I realised quite the extent of the ick.
I was sitting on a replacement bus service from Three Bridges to Brighton*. Behind me, pretty much within a minute of boarding, a middle-aged man in a tweed blazer struck up a conversation with a vaguely trendy young fellamelad, about music. I listened to their conversation the whole way, because it was impossible not to, and because it was such a delicious example of why these conversations are hideous. Tweed Man got stuck in with the obvious question:
“So, what sort of music are you into?” Yeuch, bleuch, blargh.
“Oh,” Young Fellamelad pondered. “I like a bit of everything, really…”
OF COURSE YOU DO. WE ALL DO. IT’S CHARACTERISTIC OF THE HUMAN RACE, YOU FOOL, EXCEPT MAYBE FOR THOSE FREAKS WHO LIVE ENTIRELY ON MARMITE.
“Mainly indie rock,” he continued. “Some reggae… a bit of hip-hop… electro… folk… blues…” Then he delivered the killer line. “I like anything with a bit of originality, really. That’s what I mainly look for.”
Is it? IS IT? Odd, because last I looked the rest of the music-buying public were crying out for songs that sounded exactly the same as the last one they listened to. “More of the same!” they plead from the aisles in HMV. “For pity’s sake nothing ORIGINAL, heaven forbid…”
Of course, I’m being cruel. Young Fellamelad probably couldn’t help giving those insipid, textbook answers, because they are programmed into all of us. We are all meant to say we “like a bit of everything”, just as we are all meant to say that we “enjoy travelling” and loved Slumdog Millionaire and think Connery was the best James Bond.
It just goes to show that the music conversation is a redundant format. It should be replaced with something much more effective, like just swapping iPods, or playing Boff, Marry, Kill: Paul Simon, Prince, Pete Doherty. Or just shutting the heck up and looking at each other’s shoes. You can tell 80 per cent of a person’s music taste just by looking at their shoes, after all.
So TM and YFM carried on with their conversation in the traditional manner. TM raved about Arcade Fire. YFM rambled on about being big on 60s guitar, “like Hendrix. And Clapton. And… well, y’know, Hendrix.” There was a particularly brilliant segment where TM tried to explain to YFM who Harry Nilson was, without singing I Can‘t Live (if Living is Without You). Then after five minutes he did sing it, and spent another five minutes trying to remember who covered it in the 90s, while YFM interjected “Whitney Houston. Yar, I’m pretty sure it was Whitney Houston. Cos it was in The Bodyguard, wasn’t it?”
Whether the whole bus was yearning to turn round and shriek “It was Mariah Carey you bonehead, and The Bodyguard was I Will Always Love You, and just SHUT UP and let me off this hellwagon!” before throwing a shoe through the back window, or if it was just me, I’m not sure. The conversation then pootled on through punk, Britpop, early Bowie vs late Bowie, Glastonbury experiences, how exactly one should categorise Talking Heads, and then, just outside Lewes, ended up on John Peel.
“I loved John Peel,” said TM.
“So did I,” said YFM.
“SO DID EVERYBODY” the bus silently screamed back. “Plus, he’s dead now, so we all obviously think we loved him even more than we really did.”
We pulled into Brighton. Tweed Man and Young Fellamelad moved on to a pub to discuss music some more. What have we learned here, kids? That rail replacement buses make my nerves a little fraught. And that Talking Heads can’t be categorised, and that is no bad thing.
*Replacement bus services are another topic altogether. Why is there always a screaming baby and somebody who’s drunk? At 10am? Always?