On Men, Women, And “Understanding” Music

***Hello, people of VSB. Making his first ever guest post today is VSB regular Medium Meech. Please give him a warm welcome and shit.*** 
I have a girl who is a friend.  Not a girl that tries to be one of the guys or a girl in the friend zone. She is a girl without qualification and a friend without asterisks. (She also looks a lot like a girl who was a lot more than a friend, but I’ll address that later.)

One night a group of us are hanging out at her new place; our scarves indoors, prescription-less glasses, and inane conversations making it seem like a scene from “The Best Man” but with the dialogue from “Next Friday.”

I’m not sure if somebody swapped out her Skinny Girl sangria with Wild Irish Rose or if the combination of Issey Miyake and Polo Black aftershave keyed a chemical reaction with her pheromones but something was up. She grabbed her IPod and put on an R&B playlist.  Lovely. I’m a little fuzzy on the sequence of events that led up to what happened next, I was tipsy, but I do remember hearing “Dangerously in Love” and I clearly remember hearing words pass from my friend’s lips that I never imagined I’d hear HER say:

“Beyoncé is one of the top 5 R&B artists of all times”

In my moment of exasperation, I shared with her the commonly held belief among men that women just don’t have the capacity to really understand music.  She laughed. But it wasn’t one of her “Boy you so crazy!” laughs. No, it was one of her strategically condescending “It isn’t that I could ever forget how infantile your thought process is, it’s just that you never cease to present me with new benchmarks for the the sheer depth of your idiocy, and the fact that I’m surprised each and every time is what I find so droll, so it’s not even about you” laughs/scoffs, which are usually followed by long pauses for dramatic effect.

She eventually told me “It’s not that men (me) have some deeper understanding of music, it’s just that men (Again, me. She kept saying men in general but we both knew she was talking about me) turn music and everything else into some pissing contest where they confuse dissent with ignorance, and try to argue personal opinion like it’s fact.”

Her apparent hypocrisy aside, she had a point. Generally speaking, men do not see music objectively. And our attempts to assert our personal opinions as factual absolutes on something as inherently subjective as music are really just a function of the perspective we see music from.

The girl that my girl/friend reminded me of was an early high school girlfriend. It’s funny because we had a moment over music as well. The CD was Maxwell’s Embrya.  I had the house to myself, and I invited her over. This was my first real relationship (by high school standards) so I was trying to get my grown man on, hence a teenager breaking out a Maxwell CD. But it’s not like I didn’t know anything. I’d seen the love scene with Jada Pinket and Blair Underwood in “Set it Off”. I knew how this was supposed to go down. That’s why I grabbed a box of birthday candles out of the pantry and threw them under my bed in case things got real and I needed to take it up a whole ‘nother level.

I was barely out of middle school so I didn’t know what say to a girl alone in my room. But that’s what the Maxwell was for. I didn’t know what to say to let her know I was smooth and mature (I wasn’t), but in my testosterone-infected mind playing Maxwell would.

I was at that age where I was trying to assert my individuality by distinguish my identity form everyone else’s. You may not get this unless you’re from the South, but listening to Maxwell in high school is definitely breaking away from the status quo. But most importantly, I really liked the CD.  It was a proxy for my nascent romantic notions that I had no chance of putting into words. So Embrya was not only the stand in for the game I didn’t have, but also the feelings I couldn’t express and the part of me she could accept and relate to.  

And that is exactly what music is for guys at that age, a voice for the changing emotions we’re socialized not to express and a projection of ourselves. In a lot of ways we define ourselves through our music. My teenage angst and anemic exhibitions of aggression found a voice in NWA, 2pac, Eminem and Metallica. The Goth kids used the conveniently nomenclatured genre of Goth music to express their estrangement from the mainstream and discontent with conformism. My sense of introspection and reflection found homes in Talib, CL smooth, Bach and Playa Fly. And these weren’t necessarily voices that had to be shared with other people, it was mostly about making sense of those feelings myself.

Later on when I talked to my then girlfriend about us vibing over the Maxwell she enjoyed the experience of me sharing something I liked with her more than the music itself. It’s not that she didn’t like it, (the CD or music in general) it just wasn’t THAT deep to her.  It made sense now that I knew her better.  She never really had problems expressing the emotional aspect of her being because society provided her (and other girls/women) plenty of outlets to do so.  By the time high school rolled around she was pretty familiar with her emotional landscape, I was like a Quaker visiting Vegas for the first time. The bright lights just didn’t move her.

So what I internalized as nearly sacred and something that helped complete me as person, she never had to because that part of her was intact and thriving. That emotional wholeness is probably why she (and women in general), just like music, served and continues to serve as a medium to the under-excavated part of who I am.

So the reason men try so hard to make absolute something so subjective as music is because it truly is personal.  It’s human nature to substantiate anything that makes up a part of your identity, even if it is subjective.  Go to a church or a sporting event in any part of the world to see what I’m talking about.  Or just ask a 35-year-old man about his hairline.

And that brings us back to my friend/girl that reminds me a lot of my high school girlfriend.  That conversation we had about music that night helped me realize something else about our relationship.  Friendship between men and women is anything but objective or cut and dry.  For the reasons I gave above, I talk about the parameters and conditions of our friendship in absolutes, just like I do with music.

I’m still trying to work out what that means though.

 —Medium Meech