Through the closed door of a marketing director’s small, windowless office seeps the muted but unmistakable bass line of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” The vocals build, the strings swell, and as that Grammy-award winning chorus kicks in, a curious yelping – not unlike that of a wounded chimp – rises above the recording: it is the marketing director, sing-shouting along in glorious disharmony with the music.
Meanwhile, a brooding co-worker dressed in all black stalks slowly down the hallway, fists clenched and eyes narrowed. He stops just in front of the office door in apparent disbelief. As the famous refrain comes to a close, and that creepy spoken-word bridge echoes like stalker karaoke, the man in black turns and announces decisively: “R&B needs to be completely removed from the face of the Earth.”
I happen to know that, conversely, Bryan the marketing director is unable to fathom the aesthetic appeal of the “non-stop screaming shit” that Keith, his co-worker in black, adores. While Keith “can’t understand why every male wouldn’t listen to metal and nothing else,” Bryan finds anything reeking of testosterone to be grating to the point of being unbearable. Keith believes wholeheartedly that “Justin Timberlake is a pampered piece of shit who needs to know suffering,” and Bryan confuses death metal with alt metal, metalcore with grindcore, even Papa Roach with Cannibal Corpse, despising it all. Keith makes no claims to listen to anything but metal, and Brian responds to inquiries of musical preference with “Everything!” — only to amend the reply with a laundry list of exceptions: “I mean, except for like, country, annoying emo, anything with screaming in it…”
Bryan, Keith, and my Grandpa may all disagree, but I, for one, feel that there’s a time and place for every musical genre. A tour of the Kentucky bourbon trail, for example, warrants a bluegrass soundtrack. Studying might require the assistance of classical music or jazz. And sometimes you just want to dance: whether to hip-hop, trance, or pop, each style of music provides for a different experience (grindy, sweaty, or Senior Prom-y, respectively). But taste is subjective, and whatever type of music you choose to accompany an activity matters much less than how you came to the decision. In my opinion, there are only two valid ways to do so: through direct research, or by recommendation from a trusted source.
Do It Yourself
As a comedian who got his start by serial dating hundreds of women via the internet, I learned (aside from how to properly “triple bag it”) that gaining exposure to extremes is a crucial step towards manhood. Yes, the road was rough, and sometimes downright messy, but by dating girls from wildly different backgrounds, I encountered a wide range of values, dispositions, and severity of meth addictions – all of which ultimately taught me more about myself.
But before you run out to Costco and buy Trojan’s “Wilt Chamberlain” Economy Pack, let me assert that serial dating isn’t about consciously dividing people into categories in order to filter future partners through a checklist of “pros” and “cons” – it’s about learning to balance logic with emotion.
For example, let’s say you only want to date “smart chicks,” so you continuously dismiss women based solely on their level of education. However, after exclusively dating Ivy League grads, you begin to realize that they also happen to be prissy and over-analytical. Let go of the arbitrary rules, start dating outside of your comfort zone, and you could just meet someone with a fresh set of traits which are, in actuality, much more important than those you focused on exclusively before. (That said, if, against your better judgment, you go out with a person who is clearly emotionally disturbed and end up with a fork in your thigh at dinner—well…now you know to avoid the ones with tattoos of bleeding clowns.)
Unfortunately, just as a few cursory listens to an album don't give a man the right to dismiss an entire genre, spending two to three hours on a first date is not enough to completely understand another human being. Relationships allow for a much deeper understanding of others, as well as the opportunity to better understand yourself.
If a woman beats the living shit out of you for six months, and it brings you nothing but misery and pain, then it’s safe to say she does hate her father, and sadomasochism isn’t your thing. Similarly, musical taste should be based on multiple extended experiences and the emotions actually elicited, rather than preconceived assumptions or snap judgments. You can’t dismiss black metal or R&B until you truly understand the genres – and true understanding often requires repeat listening, historical research, and a whole lot of patience.
Phone A Friend
Of course, no one has the time to Wikipedia every band in the world, and no one wants to get his ass kicked for six months just to confirm that his girlfriend sucks. Which is why someone else’s recommendation can often be enough to predict personal compatibility. If you trust the source (e.g. a best friend, a family member, Anthony Bourdain), their approval or disapproval should influence you to pursue or ignore a person or a thing. For example, much like the negative Pitchfork.com review of the latest Get Up Kids album saved me from shelling out $10 for it, having two friends date the same mentally ill stripper was enough confirmation for me to stay away.
It’s like reading a relationship restaurant review: if you learn that “the dirty, greasy food is great, but your body will never forgive you,” do you really still want to dine there? Well, maybe, if you just can’t get enough of tear-soaked hamburgers garnished with STDs – but you know you’re not going to have a very pleasant morning after.
The Art of Moderation
Now, obviously someone might want to marry that stripper, just as someone will want to listen to nothing but black metal all day. If you want to commit to an extreme, that’s cool — as long as you’ve honestly familiarized yourself with the alternatives. Did you listen to that Darkthrone album, or did you tune out as soon as the shrieking kicked in? Have you (or a reliable source) dined with a stripper, or did you turn the date down because of your fear of Pole Rot? (Note: Author cannot confirm or deny the existence of said disease.)
In the end, most of us will only want to entertain extremes on occasion, sticking with more “digestible” options on average. And while I’m fine with that, Keith certainly isn’t. He prefers the clarity of black and white to shades of gray: “Idiots should be executed so that their genes can't be passed on,” he once told me. Such an extreme sentiment echoes the uncompromising mentality of black metal, which, having risen as a reaction to heavy metal going “mainstream” in the 1980s, aims to destroy corrupted modern Western culture to restore more primitive individualistic values.
In a microcosm for extreme Conservatism and Progressivism, black metal contrasts sharply with pop music, which tends to promote hedonistic consumption without regard for any values. I happen to believe, however, that if we tilt too far towards either of these philosophical extremes, we approach a dangerous realm of unproductive paralysis.
Identifying as a paradoxically “black metal-loving liberal,” I believe in moderation as it applies to most arenas, including music and dating. We should explore extremes with commitment and passion, sampling them all and trying to actually understand as many as we can. When primary experience isn’t an option, listen to the opinion of a trusted friend. And if, after all options are weighed, you want to permanently commit exclusively to any extreme, then go right ahead. As for me, I’ll continue to believe that a man can, and should, be able to enjoy the deathly howls of Gorgoroth and still get down to Lady Gaga now and then.