When I was a kid, my dad owned a coin-operated machine business. On any given day, our house had a couple of defunct arcade games with their circuit boards splayed around the kitchen table alongside my father’s soldering iron, some empty cigarette machines gathering dust, and a jukebox or two stuffed with an eclectic mix of 45s. The jukeboxes were my favorite, and they were always on.
My dad, a drummer, was always quizzing his children on the contents of these soon-to-be-relics; he took our pop music education as seriously as other parents take piano and violin lessons. Because of him, I really began to really listen to music and make connections. I’ll be forever grateful to him that my childhood was more Stealers Wheel than “Wheels on the Bus.”
It’s probably also his fault I get so frustrated when interviewing male artists now, too. See, my dad, a man, was always very conscious of the fact that I am capable of knowing things. Ever since I was able to hold a conversation, he’d talked to me with a degree of respect. Letting me ask questions when I didn’t know something, never assuming that his daughter couldn’t tell the difference between Pete Townshend and Peter Gabriel.
Let’s fast-forward nearly four decades: I am writing for a music blog in an era when practically all information about anything and everything is just a Google away. I interview musicians fairly often — more often than your average person about town.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mansplained to in this context.
Knowing I write for a music blog, some male musicians have felt the need to tell me:
– the definition of a chorus
– the definition of a guitar riff
– that Willie Nelson is a musician
– that the Who exist
– that the Replacements exist
– that Bob Mould exists/Hüsker Dü existed (Bonus: included the phrase “I’m sure you’ve never heard of them” and pronounced it “husker doo”)
– that so many other household-name musicians exist or existed (It would be depressing to name them all. OK, fine, one more: Prince. Yes, Prince.)
– that a bass guitar is different from a guitar
– that the bass and drums are part of the rhythm section
– that harmony is a thing in songs
– the guitars need to be tuned
– that guitar strings aren’t actually string like cloth strings
– that rock shows can be loud (the phrase “you can’t even imagine how loud it gets” was used)
– that opening bands are generally not as famous or popular as headliners at big shows
– how record players work (no real details, just that the song is “on the record” and gets “made into sound by a needle”)
– how the song “Hey, Jude” goes
Dudes, I know. It’s my job to know. If I didn’t know, I’d ask. (Asking is also a large part of this job. Hence, the whole “interview” aspect to things.) I want to talk to you about your music, but that doesn’t mean you have to explain to me what this crazy thing called “music” is.
I’ve been jamming since I was in diapers. It’s not an accident that I write for The Bay Bridged. I didn’t stumble into an office building and charm some dude in a suit a la, “Golly gee, mister editor man, can I learn more about music by writing for your website, pretty please?” I write about music because I’m passionate about music, and I’m a fairly competent writer. (And, for the record, the editor I interviewed with to get this gig is a lady, and, from what I can tell, she’s sick of this, too.)
I’m not saying it isn’t going to happen, but I’ve yet to meet a female artist who thinks she needs to tell me who Phoebe Snow was, what a capo is for, or how influential Muddy Waters was. Yet, I’ve had a male artist explain to me what a cowbell is. A cowbell! Is it really necessary to explain to a writer an instrument that’s name is literally comprised of the two words that entirely describe the object? Is there a fear that I am going to worry for the safety of the bovine that I erroneously presume is still attached to said bell while it is being struck? Even if I was somehow unaware of this instrument from its use in music, I don’t see how I could have escaped Will Ferrell’s belly-baring “More Cowbell” skit from Saturday Night Live. I can’t imagine any scenario where I, an adult person from Earth, would not know what a cowbell is.
I shouldn’t have to thank the male artists I’ve talked to for treating me with a fair degree of competency or respect, but it’s such a rarity that I am going to go ahead and do just that: Thank you.
For the rest of you — the men who are alluded to in this article, the men who only address the male photographer who usually accompanies me, and the men who don’t seem to understand that women can know music — please, stop. I know you think you’re not doing any damage; you’re being “helpful.”
Well, actually…you’re not.