Next Time You're Bored at a Party, Amuse Yourself With Some "Musical Profiling"

Recently, Rocks Off found ourselves skulking around the edges of a birthday party wondering what the hell we were doing there. The week had brutally kicked our ass, and the only place we really wanted to be at that juncture was sitting on our couch watching the Syfy channel with a very strong drink in our hands.

To put a finer point on that brutal-week thing, any fellow practitioners of amateur psychology may get a sense of what we mean by reviewing the day's playlist which had run from America to Tom Waits to Ministry. In a nut shell, all over the place, pretty nostalgic and a bit asocial at best.

So there's the situation. It's a friend's milestone birthday, meaning it would be lame to just cut out. At least an hour of representing is necessary, but on the interpersonal skills side we're channeling Rain Man. There is no way to make it through an hour of small talk without sticking a toothpick in our or someone else's eye, we don't really give a damn about sports, except maybe World Cup soccer, and even that's a stretch right now; and we can't even think about going toward politics out of respect for the friendship we are there to honor. So what does one do?

Ding! Musical profiling.

Twenty years ago, it would've been possible to use some sort of visual code as a preliminary screen to identify those with whom you might have a decent chance of clicking. Frank Sinatra hat, mohawk, suspenders, tattoo, bow tie, blue nail polish - any one of those might have suggested interests that were at least slightly varied from the norm. But that's all pretty useless now.

We live in a post-Nevermind world, and our culture's visual semiotics have become way too unreliable to turn to for such information.

What someone's listening to, however, can still offer a sort of shorthand as to where their interests may lie. It's an imprecise science, but, hey, at the very least it can help navigate a party by averting the most boring or bellicose of conversations.

If you've got the patience and interest, you can start with the much broader question of "What music do you like," but you've got to bear in mind in this particular situation we're not trying to undertake a sociological experiment, just trying to make it through the next hour, so we equip ourselves with the simple question "What are you listening to right now?"

Some of the responses were quite illuminating, so they're listed below with a version of the accompanying shorthand, and, yes, this is likely to piss someone off, so we would love to hear your variations.

  • "Phish in anticipation of their reunion show" = easygoing, affable, but likely to stick to this topic. Given current attention span, move on.
  • "AM talk radio" = move to the other side of the room (see political sanction above).
  • "Aphex Twin" = has expanded their consciousness on numerous occasions, fairly cerebral, may sneak off to the bathroom shortly. Unless we significantly up our mischief factor for the night, move on.
  • "Chopin, Nocturnes 10 by Arthur Rubenstein" = way too specific to be posing, props to the musically erudite but way beyond our culture range right now.
  • "Nickelback" = okay, at least it's music, but, really? Sports conversation likely to ensue. Run.
  • "Galaxie 500 and Belle and Sebastian" = musically literate, moody and fragile. Probably out of our emotional range at this juncture.
  • "Stockhausen and anything by Eno between '71 and '75" = either a hardcore musical elitist or the smartest, most out-there person at the party. More questions required.
After this last round of investigative questions, we realize our drink is gone. We also realize, much to our surprise, that well over an hour has passed, we've painlessly gleaned a bit more about the universe and those who inhabit it, and there's still time to catch that last rerun before we hit the sack.

Ah, musical profiling, it's presumptuous and generalizing, but until we're ready to become complete relativists, we're grateful it works in a pinch.

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Sarah Webster