During every conversation I have with somebody about music, we always end up with the same type of exchange. I’ll recommend a song to a friend or ask my roommate if I can play her a neat tune, and they’ll say sure. When the music starts, they always already know it. “Is that Death Cab for Cutie, I love Death Cab for Cutie!” I’m never surprised, but I’m still excited: Who doesn’t like liking the same music as their friends? “Me too!” I’ll say. That’s when they’ll inevitably ask the fatal question: “What’s your favorite song of theirs?” I generally mumble something sort of soft and polite about this being the only song of theirs that I’ve listened to. But here’s the proper answer, the one that runs through my head every time: I don’t know.
While I don’t know a lot about music (or movies or pop culture), I’ve always liked writing so, perhaps counterintuitively, I applied to the Arts and Entertainment Department of The Daily Californian on a whim. I wrote my cover letter about how I’d never been to a concert and how I didn’t know a lot about pop culture. And for a reason that’s still mysterious to me, they let me in.
The first conversation I had there was about “Suicide Squad” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the two major summer blockbusters it seemed like every American had seen except me. I sat fidgeting in my swiveling chair, watching excitement and knowledge at a degree I’d never imagined, swirl around me.
The number of times I’ve been unfamiliar with art hasn’t particularly dwindled over the past semester — there’s a ton of stuff out there and they keep making more of it. But the amount of things I can truthfully say I know about now has definitely risen. Only the way I’m catching up leaves me with a surprising false sense of identity.
My music taste is currently a mix of playlists on Spotify (I would highly recommend this one and this one) from my friends in the department. One of them made me a list of songs on a Google Doc, with links and paragraphs of background information he wrote himself. He specified moments he thought were the coolest, telling me to look out for them.
My film taste is the most recent film I’ve seen on my “MOVIEES to watch” note on my laptop. The list is 234 movies long, and every time I watch one of them it seems like five more get added. I love it. But not as much as I love my “TV shows to see asap dude” list, where a friend changes the all caps rankings monthly.
It’s a surprisingly fun way to learn about art and culture, and my initial embarrassment has, for the most part, been alleviated, save for the occasional self-deprecating joke. But it isn’t perfect. Obviously, receiving and trying recommendations is part of the process of discovering art; we add what we like and don’t like to our internal library of likes and dislikes, building through accumulation, an identity in relation to the world. And obviously, the people who give the recommendations will specify their reasons and impart their own passions; it’s how they relate their identities to me. But the way I’m forming my identity around culture is imbalanced.
Culture is omnipresent and overlapping in ways our personal specificities aren’t. I can tell somebody I have a dog and I love chocolate and I don’t get along with my dad, and they could tell me they’re a vegan and they have four brothers and they’re allergic to cats, and we might smile at each other before we move on with our lives. But if I tell them I love Glass Animals and “Louie” and “Amelie,” we’ll have hours of things to talk about.
The things from my lists that I go around telling people I like, I really do like. But I only heard of it or watched it or listened to it two weeks ago. And the people who recommended it told me why they liked it and now that’s why I like it too, by no fault of theirs. If my taste is purely a reflected image of my friends’, is it really mine? Can I just adopt their recommendations as my own? How long does it take to feel comfortable doing that, to stop ending every recommendation or comment with the qualifications, “Oh yeah I got them from so-and-so,” or “I really only started listening to them last week?” Those caveats more or less cut the potential for an hours-long connection short.
Should I try to find a band I can get into on my own? How would I even do that? I have so many questions. But maybe enough with the questions: I don’t know if any of this even matters. And I don’t think anybody else really does either. I’m sort of an anomaly, uncharted waters and all that jazz.
Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].