my awful taste in music

“Any fun plans this week?” my co-worker asked.

It’s never clear to me whether people are making small talk because that’s just what people do or because they are genuinely interested in the answer. Did she really care if I had any fun plans? Was this just a ploy for me to then ask her if she had any fun plans because there was some adventure she was about to embark on that she wanted to gush about?

“I’m going to a Dave Matthews Band concert. I know — I have awful taste in music,” I said.

“Hey, I like Dave Matthews Band,” she said. We’re about the same age, so this was unsurprising.

“We have awful taste in music,” I assured her.

Dave Matthews Band, Everclear, Dispatch, Foo Fighters, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Third Eye Blind, Stone Temple Pilots — this is the music of my youth and the music I still listen to, almost exclusively. I guess there is some diversity beyond 90s alternative rock. Sometimes I listen to 90s third wave ska like The Mighty Might Bosstones, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Bowling for Soup and Suburban Legends.

None of this is good music. It’s enjoyable, entertaining, fun. But if we were to make a list of the best 100 songs of the past 30 years — assuming such a list could be objectively made — none of these groups would show up. If we made a list of the top 1,000 songs of all time, I doubt we’d see any of my music catalog represented.

Which is fine. I’ve made my peace with it. I’ve embraced it.

Which makes another interaction I had all the more confusing. I’m not sure whether to put it in the back-in-my-day column or the actually-know-my-shit column.

I was talking with a different coworker — at a different job, incidentally — about popular music, openly admitting how out of touch and old fashioned my tastes were, but being open to trying new things. She mentioned a half-dozen different musicians she liked — none of whom I had ever heard of.

There are some more modern groups I occasionally dabble with and like: Mumford and Sons, Adele, Alabama Shakes, Passenger, Shakey Graves. And there are many more I’ve at least heard of — your Grandes and your Malones and your Cardi Bs. 

But name after name she went down her list and I was in a sea of ignorance. Until she said a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time.

“I’m really into Andrew McMahon, too,” she said.

“He’s still going?” I asked.

She was puzzled. “Still?”

“Something Corporate. Jack’s Mannequin.”

She stared at me blankly.

I had kind of remembered something about McMahon continuing with a solo career — but kind of remembered immediately turned into well actually.

“Well, actually, before Andrew McMahon was doing his own thing he was the front man for a group called Something Corporate, and then when they broke up he started another group called Jack’s Mannequin.”

I don’t know if she was surprised, impressed or skeptical. In reality, she probably didn’t care in the slightest.

To me, for a moment I was the cool, older guy who actually knew some shit about what the kids were listening to these days. Or maybe I was the lame, older guy rolling his eyes at kids these days.

I’m still trying to decide. Doesn’t really matter, I guess. The music world is going to keep moving on without me. But I’ll be fine. I’ll always have my Goo Goo Dolls.

whose broad stripes and bright stars

There are a handful of professional sports teams that enjoy a special connection with the national anthem. It’s coincidental, I’m sure. I doubt the Boston Braves picked that mascot hoping the audience would adapt the song’s final word. Same goes for Baltimore Orioles fans starting the anthem by yelling O! or Houston basketball fans shouting rockets! at the appropriate time.

In the summer of 1992, my family moved to Dallas. In the summer of 1993, the Minnesota Stars did the same. Of course, I was living in the suburbs with the white picket fences and the two-car garages and the 2.3 kids (actually, 6 kids in my family) and the NHL team was living in a downtown arena where the professional athletes, presumably, slept right there on the ice — but clearly they and I were having more or less the same life journey.

But with a new team came fervor, and with my dad’s corporate gig — the reason we had to relocate from the armpit of America to God’s country to begin with — came the occasional leftover season tickets. Like any large company, my dad’s employer would occasionally wine and dine current or potential clients with a sporting event — hoping the novelty of a hockey game would overshadow the fact they were too cheap to spring for tickets to see America’s Team. Since my dad didn’t drink, he often wasn’t handpicked to be the one to wine and dine anyway, so I don’t exactly remember if it was the first or second season when I saw my first NHL game.

But what I do remember — the same, I’ve discovered, as what most people remember from their first professional hockey game — was the sounds and the smells and the pace. The crispness of the ice being cut through with each stride and each stop (on a dime! how do they do that?), the whoosh of cool air through your nostrils (despite it being 102° outside), and the pace! (oh the pace! you do not realize how fast ice hockey really is until you see it in person.)

I remember all of that, I do. But I also remember the national anthem — not who sung it or how well it was sung, but what happened when they got to the line:

Whose broad stripes and bright …

And two men in the nosebleeds shouted, at the top of their lungs, STARS!

There were some muffled laughs. Some darting eyes back and forth. But the singer continued. A real professional.

But then, a few lines later, came:

O say does that …

And the same two men again turned the solo into a trio by shouting STARS!, with the singer finishing out the phrase with “pangled banner”.

And that was that. The song ended. We all clapped and sat down. And we enjoyed the greatest game, shaking our heads and the two buffoons in the bleachers.

I was able to go to a couple of Dallas Stars games each season growing up, but I must have always arrived after the national anthem because it wasn’t until several years later that I discovered what had happened.

“Whose broad stripes and bright” led into thousands of fans all yelling STARS! And it happened again when “O say does that” came around. It was tremendous.

It had caught on. It was now standard practice. Tradition. And has been ever since.

I don’t know if those two (drunk?) men were the first. I don’t know if they thought of it themselves and came to every game they could until it caught on. I don’t know if they knew about the anthem traditions of the Braves or the Rockets or the Orioles.

But I do know that now, living 800 miles away from their home arena, I try to turn the game on early enough to maybe catch the national anthem — and enjoy the nostalgia.