Conversation Enders #9: The Not-So Magical Misery Tour

They say that you can tell a person’s personality by what kind of music they listen to. In reality, telling a person’s personality by way of their musical preferences is intended to be one of those “tests” that people think up to screen out people that they think are beneath them. To give an example, if you’re into Phillip Glass and the Kronos Quartet and someone you meet at a gathering of mutual friends gushes on and on about how cool Toby Keith is — well, you get the idea. I had heard of this so-called personality test during a conversation with a “baby boomer”, that is those individuals born roughly between 1945 and 1964. The people who turned on, tuned in, and dropped out, and are still convinced that everything they said and did was pop cultural gold. I think what he really was trying to do was convince me that any music that he liked was cool, therefore suggesting his superiority, and that my liking the FooFighters was somehow akin to primitiveness. I was a knuckledragger. Although I recall he liked the song with the video that’s like those Mentos commercials. It was “inventive” he said, kind of like A Hard Day’s Night. I remember, before I completely lost interest in his going on about how cool the 60s was, ( although I swear he was a teenager in the 70s), he was yammering about how bands today had lost their sense of humor, and how the art was missing from modern music, and that it’s all about making money nowadays… He was suggesting that the music of the 60s, with its emphasis on art and making the listener feel something, not only provided the soundtrack by which to pick up chicks to, but also influenced the way that people thought about life and themselves — how we interact with the world and how we feel connected to everyone around us. This was something, he said, that today’s music simply does not do. You could tell a man by his music, he claimed. If the baby boomers are right, and no good music was made after 1969 ( which may be true in the case of Wham!), and if there is a definitive link between personality and music preference,then there is no better personality test than the question which Beatles do you like? For those who would answer the question, ” I like all of the Beatles music”, shame on you. Liking the Beatles is not merely a matter of liking their music generally, it is a gauge on how you see the world. Which era you like tells the world what kind of person you are. There a two basic ways of gauging personality type according to the Beatles: 1) early vs. late Beatles 2) Lennon or Mc Cartney If you say that you prefer to listen to “early” Beatles, roughly covering the years from 1962 to 1966 (when they stopped performing in public, unless you discount their “rooftop” performance), then your personality is described as follows: you’re conventional. You like things to be clear, simple and easy to understand (like many early Beatles lyrics). You’re likely conservative, and most importantly, you don’t readily accept change. You like the Beatles who wore the matching suits and didn’t sing about revolutions and posed naked on album covers with their girlfriends — and you like the world to be that way, too. If, by chance, you dig the late Beatles, then you’re open and progressive. You may be slightly militant, or at least you talk as if you are (but more than likely you’re “out, in”). You’ve probably referred to authority on at least one occasion as “the Man”. You like confusion, chaos, and of course, smoking weed. Your mind is a changing place, and according to you, like your mind, that’s the way the world is. The test is similar with whether you prefer the lyrics of John Lennon or Paul Mc Cartney. If you like Paul, then you’re a romantic. You like silly little love songs, and there’s absolutely no problem with that according to your world view. Love for you is between you and the gender of your choice. And, you don’t have a problem with making money. If you prefer Lennon, you’re the edgy rebel. You speak your mind and you’re not afraid of pissing people off. Love isn’t just between you and your girfriend that nobody else seems to like, but is something that involves the whole world. And not just love, but peace, too. You have a seious problem with those people who sold out ( but we all know that you’ve got a little tucked away in your pocket as well). Funny, no one ever says what kind of personality you have if you like George. The idea is, is that this “test” isn’t supposed to be just an icebreaker or a topic of conversation that is meant to take up time but not teach us anything. It’s supposed to be a way to gain insight into who we are — as any music that we listen to is supposed to reflect who we are. Sometimes this assumption is right. For instance, I know that gloomy people tend to listen to gloomy music. Usually someone who describes themself as a philistine wouldn’t listen to Mozart or something supposedly “refined” or high class. Yeah, I get that but, if you ask me, this question — and I mean this question gauging a personality (and by extension a worldview) by what “era” of Beatles a person likes — is a prime example of philosophic overthinking. Now that I’m writing this, I don’t not suspect that some philosophy student thought up this question. It reeks of philosophy. And leave it to a philosopher to overthink a preference. If you don’t believe that this actually happens, overthinking preferences that is, there is a book currently on the shelves of any number of local bookstores called The Beatles and Philosophy. It sets itself apart from all of the other (hundreds) of books about the Beatles, in that its authors have somehow found a way to overthink meaning into the Beatles’ (generally thought of as ) pop songs. The book, in all of it’s philosophic significantness is not so much a homage to a seminal pop band as it is a monument to the power of overthinking. I would give an example or two, but since I endowed my own The Beatles and Philosophy book to the logic lab (big clue) and since I am way too lazy to google anything, I can’t give you an idea of how philosophic overthinking goes hideously wrong. But, let me preempt myself here — I’m not saying that the Beatles weren’t saying anything, sure they did! Afterall, that’s what the 60s was about (so they say anyway). And I am not, repeat, NOT trying to say that philosophers shouldn’t look for the deeper or hidden meanings behind otherwise seemingly unphilosophic things. But I really don’t think that they were going for something that deep. I think that what they were trying to do is make money and, eventually, get high. Paul Mc Cartney said that what drove he and John Lennon to songwriting is their mutual desire to write tunes for Frank Sinatra. Sometimes, even with things that have meaning, we read more into it than there is. I recall hearing that Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Well, sometimes a song is just a song. I think that when you’ve taken to finding the Leibnizian view of God and the universe as articulated by George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You” or the Humean subtext of “Hello, Goodbye”, you’re going a little too far ( I don’t know if there are Humean subtexts to any of the songs on Magical Mystery Tour or if there is any Leibniz to be found on Sgt. Pepper. I made those examples up). What’s funny about finding the deeper philosophy in Beatles lyrics is that it ignores the fact that there are even funnier “meanings” to be found in the songs without consulting Spinoza or Nietzsche. Ask yourself these questions: Are they really singing “everybody smoke pot” during the coda of “I am the Walrus”? or, how was everybody snowed by John Lennon’s obvious lie about what “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was really about (which is kind of like how people back in the 70s had no clue that the Village People were gay. They sang songs about macho men and hanging at the Y! Hello?!?), or how is it that Charles Manson really did get what the song “Blackbird” was about? It’s these questions that remain unanswered and need to be. By the way, if no one has noticed that the tenor of this post has drifedway into the hypocritical, I’m more clever than I thought. So clever, in fact that … And for the record, I prefer late Beatles (White Album specifically) to early and I’m a fan of the songs of George Harrison, especially “Only a Northern Song” from Yellow Submarine. The movie sucked eggs, but the song is cool.

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