Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
“My husband plays guitar in a band,” Laura the post office lady told me. “You may’ve heard of them.”
“Maybe,” I said, although I was positive I didn’t. I may’ve spent my summer in the small northern Michigan town of Leland, but I wasn’t exactly well-versed in the local music scene. I’m sure her husband’s band — Monkey Dystopia or the 21st Century Funk Connection or whatever semi-clever name they’d given themselves — brought the rock and roll thunder every Thursday night during happy hour to an appreciative crowd of six to seven drinking buddies, but I probably wasn’t making a big mistake by leaving them off my “Artists to Watch in 2012” mental list.
“Guided by Voices?” she said, crinkling her nose in the way people do when they’re sharing information they suspect will make them look foolish.
This was surprising for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the woman sharing this information worked for the U.S. post office of Leland, Michigan, a town with a population in the low four digits. It’s a place where tourists come to eat fudge and sail Sunfishes and climb dunes named after Native American legends about dead bears. Not a place that guitar players in legendary lo-fi bands call home. And secondly, was I really to believe that the wife of a guitar player in a legendary lo-fi band had a day job at the post office? Is that what the world had come to? Help create four-track masterpieces like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, and still your wife has to hawk stamps to make ends meet? That’s just wrong.
“I looked at the floor, scouring my memory for even a fragment of a song, anything to prove I wasn’t a fucking liar who’d never heard of Guided by Voices, or worse, was just pretending to be a fan (sorry, a super fan) because I thought it made me look cool and indie. Had I really become one of those douchebags?”
“Tobin Sprout?” Laura asked. “Have you heard of him?”
The muscles in my face were refusing to follow my suggestions. All I wanted was a casual smile. Maybe a head nod, to indicate I was pondering the name and trying to determine where I’d heard it before.
This confessional nugget arrived late in our conversation, after we’d been talking for almost 20 minutes. It was the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and I’d come into the post office with six oversized boxes filled with toys and diapers and various baby apparati that my wife and I, just days away from ending our Michigan vacation, didn’t want to haul by car back home. While Laura weighed everything and calculated the postage (which, I’d already decided, was coming out of my son’s college fund), we started talking about the mountains of equipment required to keep a baby alive, satiated and relatively clean. “With all the gear I carry around,” I told her, “sometimes I feel less like a parent than a rock tour roadie.” That conversational detour led to a discussion of music, which in turn led to her Guided by Voices bombshell.
To say that I wasn’t mentally prepared would be an understatement. You go to the Bar Marmont in Hollywood, there’s always a chance you’ll end up doing Buttery Nipple shooters with Karen O. Not a good chance, granted, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. She could be there, and you could be ballsy enough to go over and say hello. But you go to a post office in a small fishing town in Michigan, the first thing on your mind is not, “Might run into the spouse of an indie rock legend today.” My memory is fuzzy, but I don’t think I was even wearing pants. I was likely in pajama bottoms, with a stained t-shirt that emphasized my middle age paunch, my breath a toxic combination of breakfast burrito and last night’s beer. Not the best first impression. I was also perhaps a bit too enthusiastic in telling her that yes, I was indeed familiar with her husband’s awesome fucking band. I believe I called myself a “super fan.” Not enough to say “Oh yeah, I’m a fan.” I had to quantify it as “super.” Which is just another way of saying, “Can I go through your garbage and see if there’s something I can add to my creepy closet shrine to your husband?”
At some point, I made up something about singing Guided by Voices songs to my infant son in lieu of the usual kid music dreck.
“Oh really?” she asked. “Like what?”
My brain went blank. I couldn’t remember even a single tune in the vast Guided by Voices canon. 2000 or so songs to choose from and I couldn’t dredge up one lousy title. “Oh you know, a little of all of them,” I said. What the fuck kind of answer was that? I looked at the floor, scouring my memory for even a fragment of a song, anything to prove I wasn’t a fucking liar who’d never heard of Guided by Voices, or worse, was just pretending to be a fan (sorry, a super fan) because I thought it made me look cool and indie. Had I really become one of those douchebags?