In exchange for the price of admission to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ first preseason hockey game, I got to scope out Allentown’s new hockey arena; watch three periods of decent-to-sloppy shinny; and learn something about myself.
I’m only gonna write about one of those things today … and yeah, I’m picking the choice that’s of no real interest to anyone but me. (Sorry.)
First, some background:
One thing that’s always, always, always set me off is trivia questions that are sloppily worded or flat-out incorrect. I come across them in public settings from time to time, and they invariably fill me with rage.
I have always credited this to a desire to be Correct, and a wish that all the world should know the right information. It seemed like a logical thing to get righteously peeved about. Who would argue for inaccuracy, laziness or slop?
The other night at the hockey game, the Phantoms picked a fan out of the cheap seats between periods and threw three music trivia questions at him. The prize was a set of tickets to an upcoming pro wrestling match. He missed all three questions but they gave him the tickets anyway, which says something about their eagerness to fill the seats.
The three questions were similar in construction — brief, blunt and delivered in an overheated, hucksterish answer-in-three-seconds-or-else tone.
We’ll focus on Question 2, which set me off:
The pop geeks in the crowd are thinking the same thing I was: Three of the four songs listed were U.S. Number One hits in 1980. Thus, there should be three possible correct answers to this question — three chart-topping singles — not one.
The correct answer was “Call Me,” and it wasn’t ’til I got home and hit Wikipedia that I figured out the logic behind the question.
“Call Me,” as it turned out, was the Number One U.S. hit single for all of 1980 — the most popular song of that year. So by that criterion, it “topped the charts in 1980” where the other songs didn’t.
It seemed like an exceedingly fine line, and a case where meaning had been sacrificed for brevity. (The copy editor in me suggests that “Who topped the charts for 1980?” might have been a better word choice.)
It bothered me, and I kept chewing on it, trying to figure out why I cared at all. The guy got his free tickets, after all. And most people in the crowd didn’t even see the question: They were in line to piss or buy beer.
Then I realized how the whole thing tied in to the anal-retentive/Asperger’s side of my personality. (I am fairly certain I would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, had it been widely recognized back when Queen, Blondie and Olivia Newton-John — but not Air Supply — were topping the charts.)
Basically, I’ve always wanted to know everything, at least on subjects that interest me, including pop music. I have an urge to be able to hold forth authoritatively on anything and everything. And that’s why poorly done trivia questions set me off: It’s because they’re feeding me incorrect information, and getting in the way of my quest to Know It All. Every nugget that goes into my brain needs to be correct so I can be 100 percent confident when I regurgitate it.
In the past few years I have started to recognize my know-it-all streak and to try to hold it back. I find it increasingly annoying in others, and it makes me think of how many thousands of times I have surely annoyed others over the years.
(From time to time it is useful. I have a reputation in my office as the guy who knows everything. People throw questions at me, both work-related and pop-cultural, and I get just enough of them right to seem like a resource. I am sure I annoy people there, too; but in that setting, I can at least play it off as an asset, an institutional memory thing. And anyway, copy editors are supposed to carry the sum of human knowledge around in their heads.)
Diagnosing why the hockey-rink trivia question made me feel the way it did is an ongoing part of my transition to becoming, hopefully, a more reasonable human being.
I care less and less each day about being able to name every Rolling Stones studio album, for instance, or being able to tell you where the Grateful Dead were playing on such-and-such a date — examples of the sort of info I have either actively pursued over the years, or have simply absorbed casually.
Perhaps at some point I will be free of any interest in any of that sort of trivia, and I will be able to put on albums without caring about the record’s personnel, backstory or history in the slightest bit. Sounds appealing to me.
The other side of the coin is that, the less I care about being seen as a know-it-all, the less I care about expressing my opinions on this blog.
I recognize the difference between facts (Ron Wood is one of three guest guitarists on the Stones’ Black and Blue album) and my opinions (Black and Blue is a curiously satisfying, beguiling and enjoyable album despite its many internal weaknesses.) I know that stating one is not the same as stating the other.
I’m not sure it means as much to me as it once did to state either. Maybe I just want to sit in the corner and let the music travel between my ears. (Which is also an echt-Asperger’s thing to want, I suppose.)
The world is awash more than ever in trivia knowledge. Every day, it seems, I see well-written and thoughtful essays dissecting some album from 25 or 30 years ago. Or, I learn that yet another album from my favorite years has been examined in book form. I fully expect that every single pop-culture rock, even those considered to be fool’s-gold, will be picked up, turned over, held up to the light, thought, re-thought, and chronicled in detail.
I find it overwhelming; I want to know less and less, not more and more. I want to find my own relationships with music and art and define them on any terms I choose … and keep them to myself, unless they really make words want to come out of my fingers.
So, we’ll see where I end up. I might be silent, or nearly so. Or I may continue to write, but it might take different forms and perspectives.
I don’t know.
(It feels good to say that.)