Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
Nothing makes me feel fortunate to be a doddering old fart like Facebook. Sure, I'm as addicted to it as anybody else. I spend an unhealthy amount of time reading status updates and looking at photos of people I barely know. But it's a time waster like binge-watching the entire run of Gossip Girl in a weekend is a time waster. (Don't judge me!) It doesn't impact my life in any meaningful way. I'm not making any friends I didn't have before, and my relationship with them stays pretty much the same. At this point, if I haven't seen them naked or vice-versa, Facebook isn't going to do anything to change that.
But apparently younger people -- people who aren't married or use Facebook primarily to share baby photos with their 40-year-old friends from college -- are using social media for sex. They're single and ready to mingle, and Facebook is their Plato's Retreat. I have no statistical evidence to back this up, other than reading a bunch of essays online in which other journalists (probably all married and around my age) wonder aloud if kids are using Facebook as a White Pages for fucking, so it's probably at least kinda true. And what other explanation could there be for Graph Search, Facebook's new super creepy search engine?
Don't worry if you're not familiar with Graph Search. It's still technically in beta development, which means it's only available to a few lucky users hand-picked from a waiting list, or those of us with press credentials and/or blogs with more than 10 unique visitors a month. Here's what I've learned thus far: Graph Search is basically an all-inclusive search engine that allows you to find the personal details of anybody with a Facebook account who hasn't figured out their privacy settings yet. I've been using Graph Search for almost a week now, and I've never felt more pervy.
I'll give you an example. I did a Graph Search for "Women who like midget car racing and Radiohead." Actually, my initial search was for women who like "midgets and Radiohead," but then Graph Search suggested "midget car racing" and I was like, "Wait, what? That's a real thing? Okay fine, Facebook, I'll bite." There are exactly 20 people, none of whom I know, who live on the planet earth, who went to the trouble of publicly announcing that they are fans of both the band Radiohead and a sport in which little people race in what I presume are adorably tiny cars.
I looked at all 20 profiles of the people who like Radiohead and midget car racing, because I'm not made of stone. For me, a married man in his 40s, it was just a way to pass the time, gawking at strangers because they liked weird things. But what if I was single, and I really did have a passion for Radiohead and midget car racing? That's got to be an awkward thing to bring up on a first date. But with Graph Search, I can find ladies who share my bizarre interests with one click.
I can even narrow down my search for the perfect mate by doing an audit of their other likes. For instance, Jade in Texas is perfect for somebody. She wears a headband in her profile pic, she's a book keeper for a tax service, and she likes both Radiohead and midget car racing. As a single dude, I might look further and go, "Oh wow, she also likes Cannibal Corpse, MacGyver and photos of raw oysters she's about to eat! She's the perfect woman!" But then, after digging a little deeper, I discover that her list of likes includes Blake Shelton and the movie Hope Floats. Sorry, no, that's a deal killer. I know we don't have a future, and I didn't have to buy her dinner.
On the surface, this seems like an amazing tool for singles. If I wasn't already legally bound to another, I'd be Graph Search stalking the shit out of Facebook's 1.06 billion members. But this would be a mistake. Not because it's inherently wrong to use the Internet to spy on people you don't know as a way of deciding if you want to sleep with them. It's wrong because it's unlikely to result in satisfying long-term relationships.
I'm happily married, and I have only a few musical interests in common with my wife. We agree maybe 50% of the time, and that's a generous percentage. We share an affinity for Wilco and Ben Folds and the Beastie Boys. Our first date was a Soul Coughing show, a band we both continue to love. Every time I hear "True Dreams of Wichita," I still get the goosebumpy thrill of wondering if I'll get to see my wife's boobs tonight. But there are plenty of bands I adore that she can't stand. Arcade Fire, for starters. She's not a fan. Not even in a casual "Oh I like that one song" kinda way. The National? Nope. Son Volt? Nope. Cap'n Jazz? Double nope. She also enjoys plenty of music that I can't even pretend to tolerate. Justin Timberlake comes to mind. And, okay sue me, Stevie Wonder. I'm not into it.
But those musical differences are what makes our relationship stronger. It's what keeps the spark alive. If you're with somebody for more than a decade (and I'm going on two at this point), some of the edges get dulled. The sex gets a little less spontaneous and wild. You don't shut the door as often when you pee. But her continued unwillingness to like Neutral Milk Hotel still gets me as hot and bothered as it did in my 20s. If you've never experienced the heart-pounding thrill of trying to explain to somebody you love why they really should be listening more closely to In The Aeroplane Over the Sea -- because dammit, you're missing the music for the nasally voice -- then I'd argue that you've probably never been in love at all. Love only blossoms when you're given the unconditional opportunity to explain why the other person is so utterly and frustratingly wrong.
I don't need a musically compatible life partner. But I do need a show buddy. I need a platonic friend who'll come with me to the rock concerts my wife is unwilling to attend. The last time I had a rock buddy was 1999. I was recently married and living in Los Angeles, and I went to shows almost every weekend with a guy named Carlos, who worked with me at a Burbank video store. (There was a time when working at a video store in California seemed like a super-smart career move. Because Quentin Tarantino, that's why!) We saw the Blues Explosion together, and the Magnetic Fields, and other bands my wife had vague to no interest in seeing. Carlos and I had nothing in common other than a compulsive need to see live music in the company of another human being who a) shared our enthusiasm, and b) would hold our spot when we went to the bathroom. I couldn't tell you Carlos' last name, or anything about him other than his musical tastes. The only conversations we had were about music. I also remember this: He wore the same jean vest to every show; it was covered in patches of the various bands he'd seen over the years. It was like one of those old-timey suitcases covered in travel stickers, but instead of Italy and Spain and Ireland, it bragged of adventures with the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. and Fugazi.
My wife and I eventually left LA, and I haven't found a regular show buddy since. It's been almost 13 years. We recently moved back to Chicago, and I'd very much like to see the Mountain Goats when they tour the Midwest in mid-June. My wife has made it abundantly clear that she has no intention of joining me. (To her credit, she's been my date to a half-dozen Mountain Goats shows over the years. Her marital obligation to pretend-sing-along with "No Children" has long since expired.) I need a date for the Mountain Goats' prom; somebody to make me feel less conspicuously like the old dude at the rock show nursing a beer by himself in the back.
I did a preliminary Graph Search for people who like the Mountain Goats and live in Chicago, Illinois. There are more than 1000 people who fit that criteria, and I don't have the time or energy to read that many Facebook profiles. But slimming down that number is as easy as remembering the things that annoy me about Mountain Goat fans. Like vegetarianism. I don't want to meet a dude friend before a Goats show for some chickpea salad wraps or glazed lentil walnut loaf. I want a goddamn burger and a goddamn beer. My Graph Search for "People who like the Mountain Goats and red meat and live in Chicago" brought back exactly zero results. I did a worldwide search and found only ten people who share both interests. There are 96, 362 people who like the Mountain Goats on Facebook, and 7530 who have pledged their allegiance to red meat, and only ten will admit to liking both.
[caption id="attachment_55644" align="alignnone" width="800"] John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, an artist that author Eric Spitznagel will not be seeing with his wife. Chona Kasinger for MTV Hive[/caption]
My next search tried to weed out the overtly religious. A lot of recent Mountain Goats songs are about religion and spirituality, which I choose to appreciate ironically. This is the only way I can continue to listen the Mountain Goats and not feel like I might've been tricked into liking Christian music. So it's probably not the best idea to attend a Goats show with a Bible literalist, who'd be all "What's your favorite Gospel?" My Graph Search turns up seven atheists who live in Chicago, Illinois and like the Mountain Goats. I hit pay dirt with the first guy on the list, John. Like me, he's in his mid-40s, he's been married since the late '90s, he has a younger brother, and he's a professional journalist, with a dependable gig at the Tribune company. His musical tastes are eclectic without being show-offy; he likes the Smiths, Iron & Wine, PJ Harvey and Johnny Cash. He's not afraid to show some love for black metal, and he's old school enough to buy music from the Record Swap in Champaign, Illinois, where I once bought all of my childhood vinyl and then sold it all right back again when CDs became popular. His political views are vague at best ("I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom") and his last status update, as of this writing, was about a comic book convention ("I am the guy who threw up at Comicon. How have I sunk so low?")
I'll admit it, I'm kinda crushing on this dude. Now granted, my crush is based solely on the handful of things he pushed the "like" button for on a social media website, but it feels like we have a special connection. I'm like 98% sure he's my musical soul mate. I want to go to shows with him and talk about how we're both totally fans of Hüsker Düdes, and why aren't there more Hüsker Dü tribute bands out there, or even just two, I mean isn't there a market for this? And no, no, no, dude, I got the next round, stay right here and guard our spot.
I was going to send a message to John to introduce myself and see if maybe he wants to come to the Mountain Goats show with me in June. No big friendship commitment, just a blind date to see if we click. But Facebook wants to charge me $1 because John K. isn't my "friend" yet. Ah, okay, I see how it is. They'll let you Graph Search their global community for free, but if you want to meet anybody it's gonna cost you.
I think I understand now. Facebook wants to be the world's pimp. And Graph Search is their Craigslist ad.