[Abby's Road] Popularity and Love: Mutually exclusive?

Who doesn’t like being first? First in line for tickets, on the blue ribbon platform in a bonsai branch cutting competition, the first to hear a new single – we all want to be there. If you say you don’t…well, you’re a liar.

My competitive nature, as far as a desire to be progressive in my quest for all things music goes, is nestled in the annals of my record and t-shirt collections. I recall walking into middle school wearing a newly-minted R.E.M. Work Tour t-shirt thinking I was going to be the only one, the first one, to grace the halls in such a garment. Imagine my dismay as I approached my locker to hang the coat (which still covered the black and white treasure), looked up and saw another student wearing the same shirt. Meaningless second place. I would wear it again that year but it wouldn’t matter nearly as much as I wanted it to. Despite this loss, there have been some successes.

When visiting a lovely friend of mine over a decade ago, a Londoner who I can safely say procures the greatest collection of live recordings EVER, not to mention a vinyl assemblage so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes, I was introduced to The Clientele. Carrying this bullet in my belt back across the pond I was able to unleash it onto unsuspecting Yankee friends. First place (yesss!). In fact, just last week I was talking about breaking the ribbon in that particular race as I watched them perform at DC’s Black Cat. Sadly, they haven’t evolved very much over the last ten years, but I digress…

What is it that drives a relatively sane person into raving lunacy? Feet aflame in a mad scramble to be first to hear the newest latest and then take venomous pleasure informing a privileged number of ignoramuses around them (i.e. their friends) about it? Astonishing. This backhanded process does have a price, however: the furious animosity one feels toward another when the following words are uttered in response to a carefully planned, yet nonchalant suggestion to check out a record or band that up until that point really hasn’t broken the surface,

“Yeah. Heard it already.”


These words should make a true devotee happy. But we all know, initially, they’re totally disappointing. As collectors, some of us, present company included, want the music we extol to be celebrated, but not overtly so. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Dare I get started on dissecting the über-fan’s rationale behind reclassifying a ‘hip band’ as ‘sellout band’ the barometer of which is increasing popularity? No way, as it would force me to look into the mirror a little too deeply. The aforementioned details are mysterious, reek of selfishness and, though not as much as they did 15 years ago, describe me to the core. Perhaps not all of you, but I have no problem admitting my insanity.

I watched a film recently, a catalyst if you will, which allowed me to examine my shameful conduct with fresh eyes. This documentary chronicles the lives of four men who, despite years of sacrifice, never achieved the stardom many of their contemporaries experienced. As stated before, I’m not in a band and I’m not a musician. That said, I can safely bet the devotion to music and success these folks still long for, genre aside, is pretty universal among musicians young and old. We should want our favorites, even obscure unknowns, to be as triumphant as possible and heard by as many people as possible, even if it means listening to them over and over again as a thirty-second soundtrack to a mobile phone advert. As unbelievable as it sounds, for all intents and purposes, Canadian metal has softened me a little; transformed me into a person who doesn’t mind coming in second so much. One who will make a conscious effort not to shroud new, juicy musical morsels in secrecy – for too long, anyway. I am an old dog, after all.

Happy weekend.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

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