Tag Archives: Classical Music

Stupidity Sucks (and What it Feels Like to Be Stupid)

Stupid: slow of mind; given to unintelligent decisions or acts, acting in an unintelligent or careless manner; lacking intelligence or reason”

-The Damn Dictionary (Merriam-Webster if you’re being appropriate)

This article right here sums up a fascinating phenomena: most people think they’re above average. Most people think they’re good drivers. Most people think they’re smarter than average. Most people think they’re more attractive than average. And so on. This doesn’t sound too bad at first, but once you consider the meaning of the word “average” it becomes much more interesting. Average, in terms of whatever you’re talking about, would be in the exact middle: 50% of people are below average and 50% of people are above average. So why, as the article says, 95% of professors think they’re better than their peers. And, as I’ll get to, why do some people think they have a higher-than-average musical insight when they’re clearly stupid?

I don’t really want to get into the why here because the article and all the information it links to should illuminate why. Given information like this I usually turn to introspection: I’m obviously guilty of this in some form (if I thought I was an exception to this then I’d be putting myself above average in regards to not placing myself above average) but am I even aware of it? Are there certain things I’m awful at that I think I’m good at? Objectively? And more importantly, what does this feel like, the inability to gauge your actual abilities? The main question I’m trying to get at is (even though skill and intelligence aren’t the exact same thing), “What does it feel like to be stupid?”

One way to discover how you’re stupid is to find someone or something that makes you feel stupid. Luckily, I know a few of these people and it’s amazing to feel stupid! I think the key is to find a topic that you want to be knowledgeable with and have someone blow you out of the water with their depth of knowledge and mode of thinking. It has to be a shared interest too: I can talk to a sports fan and not know anything they’re talking about but this doesn’t necessarily make me stupid because I don’t care about the knowledge in the first place. Perhaps if I wanted to, I could be wiser than they are on the topic of sports, but that doesn’t make me smart or stupid. That’s just ignorance.

A few people allow me to feel stupid in something I’ve always been passionate about and think thought I was intelligent in: music. I’ve always liked music (but what soulless creature doesn’t like music?) and thought I could “read between the lines” and see things the artist meant to convey — or didn’t intend to convey — and appreciate the complexities of the music in a way most people couldn’t: I’m smarter than the average person when it comes to musical comprehension. At least that’s what I thought two months ago.

After our work shift a few of us began hanging out and listening to music. Led by my supervisor’s supervisor (I’m not sure how else to explain this without explaining the hierarchy of my workplace), he would allow two or three of us regular employees to ride around in his work-provided Chevy Malibu. Sometimes our immediate supervisor would also join us. We would just aimlessly drive around property and listen to the music he selected for us. Most of these songs pieces were well outside of my comfort range by default. I’m talking classical music, I’m talking choral music, I’m talking strange chanting music that made me feel like I was having a panic attack: everything from Brahms to some dude with a guitar from Canada. Let’s also not forget Tom motherfucking Waits who is apparently a musical and lyrical genius whom I never appreciated before.

It wasn’t just this wide range of music that made me feel dumb: it was also his interpretations of the songs. It was his depth of insight in regards to the music, lyrics, instrumentation, song structure, etc. He would walk us through a song and tell us what the song meant to him and how everything supported his perspective. This would also involve body language as well. Well into a song and without saying a word he would toss his arms up in total amazement at something in the song. He’d shake his head as if thinking, “There is no way this music can be this good!” Sometimes the rest of us could understand what had blown his mind away, but other times there was nothing obvious about what had inspired him so, his mind seemingly making connections between music and self without any explanation. I would always smile at his musical enthusiasm. Here was a guy so taken away by the music he could barely contain his emotions and it was something to admire.

Here’s a specific example: “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5)”. The first song on Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here. (This the example I went with because I assume most people are aware of the band Pink Floyd, and so might be aware of the song “Wish You Were Here,” and hence the album it came from, Wish You Were Here, and might’ve possibly came across “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 1-5)”!) I like Wish You Were Here, but it wasn’t ever my favorite Floyd album. I’m more a Dark Side of the Moon guy myself (I find the album “Speaks to Me” and allows me to “Breathe (In the Air)” to make a really shitty pun…), but he totally sold the song — and the entire album — to me! I now have a greater appreciation for Wish You Were Here.

I’ll try to paraphrase how he explained the song to us: he pointed out the guitar around the 4:30 minute mark was “screaming in pain” about something, and how the part that came after it (6:30ish) had the exact same notes but were much more passive, as if the guitar had sort of accepted the pain of whatever and was okay with it. Like if you had enough pain in life you adapt; it becomes a background type of pain that you deal with and accept and it simply becomes a part of you. Still pain, but pain you don’t even acknowledge. Something about how no matter what your talent is (in regards to Syd Barrett here) the machine (the world itself, society, etc.) will still chew you up, spit you out, and incorporate your talent into itself. It’ll steal your gifts, trivialize them, and ruin what was so special about you in the first place. Elaborations on being blown by the steel breeze and eventually riding the steel breeze: what did all of that mean? Was it about growing older? Or being cruelly carved by the world around you? Losing the innocence of your childhood, how your dreams betray you, and about twenty or thirty other layers of understanding that were mostly invisible to me.

This was basically me:

So bombarded with all of this high-level elaboration on a song I’ve heard countless times while never piecing any of it together or thinking deeply about it all was making me feel rather stupid. Luckily I was able to give some preschooler-tier wisdom about how “Wish You Were Here” fades into “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pts. 6-9)”: maybe the wind at the beginning of the song was depicting the steel breeze itself! Teeheehee! I felt like a kid telling Einstein that space was big and dark or something after he elaborated on General Relativity. Just pointing out what was already obvious to everybody. I was reading preschool picture books and this fucking dude was reading The Odyssey. I clearly felt stupid, but not only that, I felt the feeling of being stupid.

I suppose by feeling stupid you see what is possible, how deep your understanding can go if only you could ever make it to that level. You understand that your knowledge hasn’t peaked and that you still have a massive mountain to climb, especially with music: I’ve always viewed music as the most intuitive and easily understood art because it is so basic and visceral to the human mind. We all know how songs can remind us of seasons, people, events, and we attach memories to music firmly as opposed to other arts. (The only exception is smell: smells seem to be a direct link to past memories. I can smell a certain perfume and it will instantly remind me of making out with a certain girl at a high school party, as awful as that is.) Music is intuitive. Music is visceral. Music is something that happens deep within a person. Music is universal. I guess I’m saying that music should be relatively easy to understand and here I am feeling stupid over that. So now I feel immensely stupid.

I find that being stupid doesn’t feel like stupidity though. To me it feels like laziness. In my mind I know that if I wanted to understand “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” with the depth of understanding that my supervisor’s supervisor does I could understand it; it’s just that I don’t really want to right now. It’s work. I don’t feel like doing work. There’s other songs I’m listening to and other bands, and well, I don’t have the time. Analyzing something like that requires me to look up the lyrics and process the music along with the words. Ugh. While I know that I can, I don’t want to. That’s what being stupid feels like. It feels like laziness. I can do it, I just don’t want to.

This makes me ask the question if stupidity only feels like laziness or if they’re actually the same thing. Maybe that’s all stupidity is: you just don’t want to make the effort to understand something even if you are perfectly capable of it. Or maybe stupidity feels like laziness only so your brain can further let you believe you’re not actually stupid, you’re just lazy! Like a fancy form of confirmation bias. To really hit the point home, I’m going to end this post right here. Right on the verge of possibly making some deep connection between stupidity and laziness, intelligence and effort, I’m going to wrap it up. It sounds too complicated. It’s too much to think about right now. Maybe I’ll think about it later. I’m probably ranting anyways. I can always write about the topic later. I think I did good enough here anyways. But I’m not stupid though…