On Manliess

I discovered several of my favorite bands back around 2004 when I was first discovering the power of Pandora. I also discovered some utterly terrible bands, but that’s beside the point. This post isn’t about Pandora and the way its supposedly scientific formulas of music likeage don’t really make any sense.[1] The three bands from those early days of Pandora that still stand out in my mind are The Saw Doctors, Lost Immigrants, and Matt Nathanson.[2]

That’s actually kind of a murders row right there. I love all three to this day and they’re all right up there in the clump of favorite musical acts behind the holy trinity of Soundgarden, Local H, and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers.[3] If nothing else I will love Pandora forever for those additions.

Nathanson is kind of the odd man out of that group, though. The Saw Doctors are an Irish rock band. The Lost Immigrants are Texas Country. Matt Nathanson is a sensitive singer-songwriter with a propensity for a 12-string guitar who first hit the national consciousness because his songs appeared on shows on the WB.[4]

This, somehow, marked Matt Nathanson as making what could best be described as “girl music.” “Girl music,” of course, is a terrible thing to listen to if you’re a boy and/or you don’t want guys to mock you for listening to “girl music.” This had the potential of creating huge problems for me and I didn’t even know it until it was too late.

See, I discovered the music of Matt Nathanson in a relative vacuum. Pandora just threw his music at me all willy-nilly because I had some station with songs that were somehow related to his songs through the magic of their silly little music metrics. So when I first encountered Matt Nathanson is was not as a guy who wrote songs that would one day be featured on The WB’s Tuesday Night Teen Girl Block (featuring Blake Lively, three other girls who aren’t as attractive as Blake Lively but still hotter than, like, 99% of everyone you know in real life, and two boys who look good with their shirts off, one of whom is the sensitive guy and the other one who’s actually probably a sociopath. Both of them are vying for Blake Lively’s heart). I was, instead, being introduced to Matt Nathanson as a guy who writes really fucking good songs.

I have, in fact, connected to few albums like I have connected to Nathanson’s Beneath These Fireworks. See, not long after I met Amy I went to a party she was hosting and we ended up doing one of those “sit in the basement and talk until the sun came up” things that you read about in books and shit. I drove home with the sun rising in my rear-view mirror and Beneath These Fireworks playing on my car’s CD player. I couldn’t listen to that album for years after the whole Amy thing ended.[5]

And so but anyway, fast forward to late 2011 or early 2012. I’d been back in Chicago for a few months and when I first moved back I spent every Tuesday night (give or take) at bar trivia. One night I ended up on a team with a friend of mine and this seriously attractive redhead and her friend. My friend also found the redhead seriously attractive. Because she was. Like, seriously. Either way, at one point during the night a Matt Nathanson song came on and I was all, “Yeah, Matt Nathanson!” Turned out that the redhead and her friend were huge Matt Nathanson fan and that we had all, in fact, been at the same Matt Nathanson show at the Riviera when he came through in the recent past.

So we were all there bonding over Matt Nathanson. My friend, meanwhile, was sitting next to me and making fun of me for being a fan of Matt Nathanson. Because Matt Nathanson writes girl music. At the end of the night I said something to the effect of, “Hey, you know the hot redhead? I was talking to her. You were just talking to me.”

Nothing ever came of that (obviously). There’s no happily ever after from that. There’s also no, “And now she’s tied up in my basement and every night I conduct experiments designed to find out once and for all whether or not gingers really have souls,” either. It’s just a story about a random event. But it’s a story about a lesson learned at a random event and I think that the lesson and the attached story are pretty significant.

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Most guys spend large chunks of their lives trying to figure out how to impress girls. Most guys also spend large chunks of their lives trying to make sure everyone else knows they’re manly as fuck. These two goals are mutually exclusive. I’m pretty sure that this simple fact goes over the heads of a lot of guys.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, yes, some women are going to go for the guy who’s all manly and shit. Some people are superficial and stupid and don’t understand how they’ve been conditioned by social queues. So the guy with the muscles or the guy with the expensive car or the guy with the impressive sounding title will get the attention of some non-zero subset of the female population. This is inevitable. It’s also completely and totally unimportant.

Most of us are average in most ways. Take whatever metric you want: wealth, status, attractiveness, intelligence, whatever. Most people are, on balance, average. Say you’re really attractive but also pretty dumb. You average out to, well, average. Say you’re really smart, but you’ve poured your intelligence into your passion and that passion has left you in a place where you’re just barely above the poverty line. You’re probably pretty average on balance. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an exceptional person who is attractive, smart, rich, and highly regarded. There’s a reason why the rest of us hate those fuckers. There’s also a reason why the rest of us secretly fantasize about getting the attention of someone like that.[6]

This is where a lot of guys fall flat on their face. We tend to believe that the guy who proves he’s the best gets the girl. So we turn the girl into an object to be won and fight amongst ourselves for the right to be the guy.

Meanwhile, one of the metrics that guys use to prove they’re the best is what I’m going to call the manliness metric. Manliness is best described as the absence of girliness.[7] Girliness, meanwhile, is best described as a combination of physical weakness and liking things that girls like.

Then, once the guy gets into the relationship with the girl, he spends most of his time complaining. Why? Because he’s getting dragged to all the things she wants to do. So he goes to his buddies and bitches about it and his buddies mock him for being whipped.

I will be the first to admit that I know fuck-all about relationships, but it seems to me that there’s a simple solution to this problem. Look for someone who likes at least some of the same things you do. This is another place where most guys fall flat on their faces, too, though. They assume it means they need to meet a girl who likes guy stuff. The solution is so much easier: stop making a distinction between girl stuff and guy stuff.

See, there’s a huge double standard here. A girl who likes baseball is regarded as being cool because baseball is sports and sports is a guy thing.[8] A guy who likes ballet is regarded as being gay because ballet is a girl thing. But a guy who goes to see a ballet because his girl likes ballet and he’ll probably get laid is okay because getting laid is just great.

I’m not gonna lie. It was hard to write that last paragraph because it’s difficult to type while you’re rolling your eyes as hard as you fucking can. We all know this is how it works. It also looks really fucking stupid when you put it out in black and white like that.

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I thought I had a larger point when I started this. The more I wrote the less profound it seemed. I mean, how hard is it to realize that we’re all diminished by distinguishing between “guy” things and “girl” things? If your goal is to find a mate then at some point you should realize that finding someone with whom you have things in common is super useful.

So let’s say you’re a guy who likes Matt Nathanson and baseball. Maybe you’ll meet a girl at a Matt Nathanson concert and then find out she’d really like to go to a baseball game with you. Seems to me that’s a win-win.

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[1]Music is so entirely subjective and the explanation of why I might like one song and dislike another can’t really be broken down scientifically. I mean, sometimes you like one song and dislike another for completely bizarre reasons. For instance, one of my least favorite U2 songs is “Where the Streets Have No Name.” One of my favorite U2 songs is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for.” Why? Damned if I know.

Another example: I constantly make fun of Coldplay. In fact, if you enter “coldplay sucks” in the Google machine you’ll find a post I put up on my previous Typepad blog still in the top 5 Google searches. I am extremely proud of that. Yet I like Bastille (kinda, like, they’ll never be my favorite) and have been known to describe Bastille as “Coldplay with balls.”

Sometimes it comes down to, “These bands sound pretty much exactly alike, but the lead singer of the second band sucks ass.” Sometimes it’s, “This is the song that was playing when I met my ex-wife. Fuck this song.” What I’m saying is that music is too attached to the subjective to ever be objectively quantified. Which is half the fun of Pandora, really.

[2]Really, Pandora has had less of an impact on my music listening habits than I thought. Going through my current active collection only adds about half a dozen: Randy Rogers Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Reckless Kelly, Manic Street Preachers, Florence + the Machine (probably?), The Donnas, and The Dollyrots. The first three are obviously from my Texas Country phase, from which the Lost Immigrants and Wheeler Brothers are really the only bands still getting regular play (in that I consider Sons of Bill and American Aquarium loosely part of the same genre but they ain’t from Texas and I can split a damned hair like a goddamn pro). The Manics, Florence, and Donnas get regular play, but only The Dollyrots really have a chance to be considered one of my favorite bands any time soon.

[3]Which is really better defined as “Chris Cornell, Scott Lucas, and Roger Clyne,” as my appreciation for Cornell’s and Lucas’s side projects/solo work are on par with my appreciation for their main bands and The Peacemakers are really just a continuation of the Refreshments. In fact, if you consider that Clyne and PH Naffah were in the Refreshments together, then started RCPM with Scott Johnson, Steve Larson, and Danny White, then Johnson left, then White left and was replaced with Nick Scropos, then Larson left and was replaced with Jim Dalton you could think of the Peacemakers as just a continuation of The Refreshments based on the fact that bands do shit like that all the time because musicians find new projects or have kids and have to stop spending 363 days of the year on the road or whatever. Then add to that the fact that the Peacemakers play a lot of Refreshments songs during their shows…

[4]At least, as far as I can tell. Sometime after Some Mad Hope came out he was suddenly everywhere and I associate that with changing channels to watch a TV show that came on after the sort of show that teenage girls watch that finished off with, “tonight’s soundtrack included…” Also one of his songs was on Scrubs. And, yes, I tracked that shit down. It was “Little Victories” and it was on the season 7 episode “My Dumb Luck,” which is kinda funny because that’s a song from 2003 that got on a show in 2008 after songs from 2007’s Some Mad Hope were everywhere.

Do you care? No. No you don’t. Fuck you.

[5]This has a genuinely hilarious (to me, fuck you if you don’t like it) postscript. There’s a bit of crowd banter on the “Princess” track on At the Point about how he’d written an entire album about a girl who sucked. By the time At the Point came out he had a bunch of indie albums under his belt, so I assumed it was one of those. A few years ago I started watching Matt Nathanson videos on YouTube from time to time and finally realized the album about the girl who sucked was none other than Beneath These Fireworks.

[6]I assume this is, like, 95% of the initial appeal of Fifty Shades of Gray.

[7]Microsoft Word recognizes “manliness” as a word but not “girliness.” I’m not sure if this supports my point or not, but I figured I’d throw it out there.

[8]But, of course, girl sports aren’t cool because, um, fuck the WNBA for not being the NBA, I guess? Except we can all agree that when girls play beach volleyball that’s hot and that some of those figure skaters are pretty hot in their little leotards, too. And we’re all super psyched that the USA women’s team won the World Cup, I guess.

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