WHEN THE first boy musician ever to look my way told me he liked Wilco, my automatic 19-year-old response was, “Oh, yeah. Me, too.”
I had never heard of Wilco.
He enthusiastically asked if I loved A Ghost Is Born, and I was like, “HELL YEAH I DO, THAT SHIT IS MY JAM,” and my Catholic guilt rushed into his fancy (framed posters) downtown (Helena, Montana) apartment and filled up my lungs with a millennium of unsaid Hail Marys.
So I went out and bought A Ghost Is Born so I could engage in meaningful discussions about Jeff Tweedy’s neck beard and hopefully get to first base. The boy knew I liked Pavement and assumed that, by default, I knew every band with a scruffy white frontman.
I listened to A Ghost Is Born 5,000 times and went to a Wilco show in Missoula with his friends during the Sky Blue Sky tour and faked my way through knowing that whole set, my heart racing as I stared at Tweedy’s denim jacket, trying to guess what syllable I could logically mouth next.
No, it didn’t occur to me that I could figure out if I liked something on my own. That would come much, much later.
I went to confession later that weekend. The priest was like, “Wait, you pretended to like what?” And I stammered, “A seminal alternative band called Wilco.” And the priest actually said, “Oh yeah, I loved Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” and then gave me 10 Our Fathers. I crawled back to my dorm room in abject shame. I left the Catholic Church soon after.
What I Think Now: The very next autumn, my friend, his sister, told me that every early morning she had to open our local Starbucks, she sat in her car listening to “She’s a Jar” from Summerteeth.
I hadn’t listened to Summerteeth. I bought it immediately and fell for real in love with Wilco. It was big and immediate and lush, like Robbie Robertson was quietly guiding those live sessions. I sat in my car, alone, and listened over and over.
Soon afterward, way after that boy told me he was not super into me no matter how many bands I liked, I discovered that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is magnificent.
When I was 23, I started dating an actual studio engineer who told me that Summerteeth sucked because of the production, and I looked him right in his eyes and told him to shove it, which was the first real time I defended the art that I love.
Was It Worth It?: You bet. I found a band I loved, figured out that priests sometimes listen to Wilco, got to first base, and found the confidence to tell a man that his opinion on music didn’t change my own. Jeff Tweedy and his cactus neck made me the woman I am today. Also, I still can’t get into A Ghost Is Born.
WE WERE SITTING in his green Toyota Camry after he snuck over at midnight and handed me a mix CD complete with album art and cute little liner notes with inside jokes. It was half songs to introduce me to his diverse (Tool) music (Tool) tastes (Tool) and half “Wonderwall.” Standard high school mixtape. We popped it in and scooted to the backseat to get busy. Then, of course, “People Are Strange” came on.
I paused and ventured, “Oh, uh... the Doors!” My dad is a baby boomer, so I was on top of this shit. The boy’s face lit up with the realization that I was tracking with him—and at 16, I was high on his validation. As his silky blond curls spilled across his blessedly acne-free forehead, he said with a completely straight face, “Jim Morrison is one of the most underrated poets of the ’60s.”
He said this as Morrison moaned: “Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted/Streets are uneven when you’re down.” It occurred to me through my hormonal haze that this was an unsexy mood for a make-out, but clearly this boy thought I was cool enough to “get” the Doors. Maybe I didn’t need K-Ci and JoJo to get tingly in my frayed American Eagle jeans. Maybe I was the type of cool girl who was turned on by a beautiful rock god who seemed to really think that women who don’t want to S his D are in cahoots with the devil.
So I agreed that I loved the Doors and put my mouth on his mouth because his pretty blue eyes were so hopeful and he played Puck in our school’s staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and he let me touch his hair whenever I wanted. I wanted to be liked. The regrettable pop-punk I blasted in my 1995 Acura Integra made him look like he was considering joining the seminary, so I acquiesced to his more sophisticated taste. I was cool. I totally got it. I visited Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris that summer and left a daisy. I took a picture to send to the boy. I totally got it.
What I Think Now: Let’s clear something right up: Jim Morrison is not underrated. You don’t get to have Oliver Stone make your posthumous biopic and claim to have been overlooked by posterity. I’ll tell you who was underrated, though: the 16-year-old version of me, who tricked herself into liking the Doors for some dry humping in a cramped backseat that only led to chafing and heartache.
Most of Morrison’s song lyrics and poetry read as though lifted out of a ninth grader’s tear-soaked, semen-encrusted journal. The dude was basically one big penis singing into a microphone. His horny gender myopia could only seem nuanced to the die-hardest of Mötley Crüe fans. And yet I was expected to herald it as genius? In 2003? Like, way after riot grrrl raised its hand and was like, “Um, excuse me, no thank you, perhaps go fuck yourselves”? And I did. Looking back, this represented a roadblock on my journey to understanding that women can do more than suck dicks in a recording studio (as Morrison’s girlfriend was actually asked to do during the recording of “You’re Lost Little Girl,” legend has it).
I don’t know why, without fail, every teen boy music nerd has to love the Doors for a minute. It’s built into their DNA, like sleeping on blue plaid sheets and playing Call of Duty. Maybe it’s because Jim Morrison was a white man whose physical beauty was mistaken for depth, whose poetry consisted primarily of getting high and calling himself a poet, and whose widespread cultural borrowing (blues, romantic poetry, Native American mysticism) mainly generated rhyming couplets (“There’s a killer on the road/His brain is squirming like a toad”) worthy of a toddler playing a word-matching game.
In Other Words: Fuck the Doors. Pére Lachaise is a nice cemetery, though. Save your daisy for Chopin.
Was It Worth It?: It was until his ice crystal sorcerer eyes convinced me I liked Tool.
I TRIED TO pinpoint when exactly I started pretending to love Bob Dylan. I racked my brain for the boy who first put on “Like a Rolling Stone” and stared at me with misty eyes.
Then I realized: There was no boy. It was all the boys. Every boy.
Every boy would sit me down and be like, “Hi, precious baby. I know you probably haven’t heard of this super obscure songwriter, so let me put on an album that will change your life.”
Then they would put on Highway 61 Revisited or The Times They Are a-Changin’ or The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and have a “moment.” The moment would go like this:
1. They close their eyes.
2. They lean their head back, sometimes swaying a little to really drive home the point that they are in the music. This is their blood. The music has literally replaced blood cells and now they are ethereal beings made of sound and emotion.
3. They snap their head back up, open their eyes, and search my face for the right reaction.
4. If I’m not climaxing, they proceed to talk over the album about how great Bob Dylan is.
Repeat this experience about 10 times from 2002 to 2010.
What I Think Now: Yes, boys, I’ve heard of Bob Dylan.
Yes, I do know that Bob Dylan is an important American figure in folk music and songwriting.
Yes, in fact, I do like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
Yes, I do like a lot of Bob Dylan.
Yes, his voice fucking annoys me sometimes and I often prefer to listen to other people cover his masterful songs.
No, I’m not impressed that you listened to all the Bootleg Series.
No, THERE ARE ALMOST NO DEEP CUTS IN THE BOB DYLAN CATALOG, AND YOU NEED TO STOP LOOKING FOR THEM. OTHER PEOPLE WROTE SONGS, TOO. DID YOU FORGET?
Look, I will never say that Bob Dylan isn’t great or iconic—a rare behemoth whose career shifted a cultural conversation and pop music in general.
But that is never enough for these boys. They refused to accept that I truly knew Bob Dylan. They were indignant if challenged that they were not the ones who knew him best. I have received floods of Bob Dylan playlists, endured hours of Dylanology trivia circle jerks, been lectured by two different men on why his “bad” singing is better than “good” singing. The first time I tentatively said I occasionally preferred covers of his songs, I watched a dude’s head whip around as he stopped watching the road while driving to explain to me in tense, clipped tones WHY. DYLAN’S. VOICE. MAKES. THE. SONGS. IMPORTANT.
I almost died so I could be told to like something better than I liked it.
I’m bored of worshipping the 1960s Greenwich Village/Cafe Wha? scene and beat poets and finger picking and oh my god if someone sends me a Bob Dylan “deep cut” after this, I swear I’ll light my hair on fire.
Was It Worth It?: Yeah, Dylan is great. JUST STOP TELLING ME HOW GREAT HE IS. THE BATTLE IS OVER. THE WHOLE WORLD IS AWARE.