Adventures in Hipster Profiling

I have a very special relationship with my Starbucks baristas. I go to the same store at the same time and order the same thing every day. They see me walk in the door and my drink is ready before I even get to the register. See, the "evil corporations" have a human side, too. Yesterday the customer/barista relationship took a new turn.

As I was paying the barista said: "So, I have to ask, what are you listening to? You have those headphones on every day."

It's true, I have headphones on every day. And not lame ear buds, some seriously big Sennheisers that block out all other sound. My death will surely come by getting struck by an ambulance that I don't hear because I was listening to Mclusky way, way too loud.

Anyway, at that moment I was listening to an especially obscure band, even by my standards, called the Dancing Cigarettes. So I just said something like, "Oh, lots of different stuff, it changes every day."

"Can I take a guess?" she said.

"Sure."

"Radiohead?"

My heart sank. Is that really the vibe I'm giving off? That I'm listening to Radiohead? Just because I'm skinny and have disheveled hair and kind of ridiculous, oversized sunglasses, that means I'm listening to Radiohead? I was devastated and I stumbled a bit.

"Uh, no. I have some ... issues with Radiohead."

"You do? Like what?"

I was doing my best to be polite here. Making enemies with the baristas at the Starbucks steps away from my apartment would be like that episode of "Seinfeld" when Elaine got her communist boyfriend blacklisted at Hop Sing's.

"Well, everyone thinks they're the second coming and really they're just another pretty good band." (That's me being extremely tactful.)

"But they're so brilliant!"

"Well, I guess they have some brilliant moments." (See above.)

"So who are some of your favorites?" she asked.

This is always a tough question for me to answer. If I say Half Japanese and the Silver Jews people think I'm some weirdo who listens to bizarre, offensive, ethnic music. (Only two-thirds true.) So I went with my old reliable response.

"Uh, Pavement?"

Actually, I said something stupidly condescending like, "this '90s band, Pavement" which was rightfully met with a slightly ticked off response of, "I know who Pavement is." Then I promised to bring in a playlist and scurried out before things got any more uncomfortable.

By David Malitz |  July 9, 2008; 8:22 AM ET Randomness
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If I were to answer a question like that truthfully, I'd end up naming the Trashcan Sinatras, which would get an even stranger response, so... I empathize.

Needless to say, it would have been best to nod and say "Yup, Radiohead," profiling concerns be damned.

Posted by: David | July 9, 2008 9:24 AM

story of my life!

Posted by: msto | July 9, 2008 10:26 AM

You could have just said: "Dancing Cigarettes" after the preface of different stuff.

Posted by: sock puppet | July 9, 2008 10:27 AM

Dancing Cigarettes? Silver Jews? Hmm. I guess those bands are okaayyyy... kinda lame, but I guess that's to be expected.

Posted by: HP | July 9, 2008 10:28 AM

"Just because I'm skinny and have disheveled hair and kind of ridiculous, oversized sunglasses, that means I'm listening to Radiohead?"

In the 80's it meant you were listening to Elvis Costello.

Posted by: wiredog | July 9, 2008 10:34 AM

At least he didn't guess Nickelback or Linkin Park.

I hate when people ask my favorite bands. I struggle to come up with a good list. My default bands are usually Dismemberment Plan and Spoon. Mentioning Deerhoof is only going to require further explanation.

Posted by: Jumbo Slice | July 9, 2008 10:45 AM

What kind of "hipster" gets their coffee from Starbucks? Shouldn't you be going to the local, indie, free trade coffee shop? Sorry to stereotype, but you kind of opened yourself up to it...

Posted by: u street girl | July 9, 2008 10:49 AM

I really hope she reads this and comments.

Posted by: baconfat | July 9, 2008 10:54 AM

Radiohead may be overrated, but Pavement is seriously overrated by indie music fans. If Pavement > Radiohead in your world of music, then I propose that your world is a bit too small for your own good.

Posted by: Range Lifeless | July 9, 2008 12:04 PM

OK, some responses...

U Street Girl: I'm not actually a hipster. I'm legit hip. Just ask my mom. And Starbucks is closer to me and tastes better, what can I say?

Jumbo Slice: Yes, mentioning Deerhoof as one of your favorite bands definitely requires further explanation. And not because I don't know who they are!

Range Lifeless: They're both overrated, but I mean, so are the Beatles, y'know? My main problem with Radiohead, and maybe this should be its own post or series of posts or whatever, is that it's just so serious and humorless. Lighten up dudes, it's only rock-and-roll. I've just never been into Very Important Rock Music. But hey, that's just me.

Posted by: David | July 9, 2008 12:41 PM

Every time I see Dancing Cigarettes, they always play the new stuff and never play the hits.

Posted by: Gary | July 9, 2008 1:41 PM

Would have really floored the coffee matron if you said Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, or Bill Evans...oh that's right no one listens to jazz.

Posted by: blah blah | July 9, 2008 2:02 PM

If you start posting about why you don't like Radiohead, prepare to be flamed worse than after that Pearl Jam concert review.

Props on the Mclusky shoutout though.

Posted by: mikef | July 9, 2008 3:02 PM

Haha, aw. She was probably flirting with you, dude. I'm worried you didn't convey how hip you are. You probably should've said "early Pavement."

Posted by: shf | July 9, 2008 3:24 PM

this sounds awfully similar to the "Cartoon Wars" episode of South Park when Cartman freaks out because everyone just assumes he's a fan of Family Guy.

personally, i don't know what would offend me more, people thinking i like Family Guy or people thinking i like Radiohead.

Posted by: sean | July 9, 2008 3:35 PM

You should be wearing a suit, anyway, dude. You're a grownup with a real job, for heaven's sake!

Posted by: Middle Age Man | July 9, 2008 3:40 PM

If the barista is cute, I tell her I'm listening to Pussy Galore.

And then I wink at her.

Works like a charm...

Posted by: ggw | July 9, 2008 3:47 PM

Let's get an update on the next visit when cute barista is working. That will be the telling blow.

Posted by: T.D. | July 9, 2008 4:07 PM

Oh Malitz, so indie that you're too cool for Radiohead.

Posted by: Adam | July 9, 2008 5:26 PM

Yeah, something like that, Adam. I saw them back in 1993, the Bats opened, they were much better. And both were much better than Belly. Speaking of that show, I just moved and I found the Radiohead t-shirt I bought at that show, vintage 1993 tour t-shirt, still in fine condition, make your offers, folks!

Posted by: David | July 9, 2008 5:49 PM

It is annoying when people get annoyed that others don't always have the same tastes.

To quote Michael Cane from his Austin Powers performance, "if there's two things I can't stand, it's intolerance for other people's cultures, and the Dutch."

Posted by: James | July 9, 2008 6:32 PM

I feel similarly to Pavement, they've got some tunes but have never blown me away. To me it seems silly to expend great amounts of effort to "get" Pavement if much of their charm is being shambolic and sounding somewhat half-assed. It's like being back in school and trying to explain what the author "really meant" with some passage. Sometimes a wrong note is just a wrong note, sometimes the drummer is just not sober.

And yeah, Radiohead are quite dreary, but you can't please everyone. I find Chris Martin quite amusing, but some people hate his self-effacingness.

Apperently there's a Mclusky cover band around now. Their legend lives on.

Posted by: MN | July 10, 2008 9:12 AM

David is right about Radiohead - good songwriters and performers, but too serious for their own good.

MN is right about Pavement - they've produced a few good songs, but they're far too half-assed for their own good.

David should have answered "early R.E.M." to the barista. Not too obscure, not too mainstream - shows he has good taste, without being an indie music snob. R.E.M. are great songwriters and performers who know how to be silly or serious as needed. The 80s albums kick butt over Radiohead and Pavement any day.

Posted by: Range Lifeless | July 10, 2008 9:20 AM

The exchange between you and the barista is more humorless and lifeless than any Radiohead song I've ever heard. Displaying "legit hip" credentials is always more important than pleasant chit chat with people you barely interact with on a daily basis. You handled that well. Glad to see this is turning into a real blog with random tales of daily minutiae.

Posted by: Meeting People is Easy | July 10, 2008 12:15 PM

Range Lifeless, nice backhanded Pavement tribute with the screenname.

Malitz, I'm envious that you saw Radiohead back in '93. Not because you got to see a peroxided Thom Yorke belt out Pablo Honey "classics" like Anyone Can Play Guitar, but because you got to see Belly, IN THEIR PRIME! Tanya Donnolly, woo!!

Posted by: mikef | July 10, 2008 12:28 PM

I don't understand why it was so difficult for you to make pleasant conversation with your barista. Or if you are such a musical encyclopedia you couldn't have just said I am listening to this obscure band XXXX and they have a sound of YYYY and kind of remind me of . And then gone on to indicate, "While Radiohead isn't my favorite I do like this song or that song."

The fact that you describe this as some pivotal life moment and that you need to reveal the true nature of your true musical heart during small talk with a coffee server is kind of sad.

Posted by: Billy T | July 11, 2008 11:57 AM

Git some!

Posted by: Jet Age Eric | July 11, 2008 5:56 PM

Jeebus, Malitz, maybe you ought to apply for a job at Championship Vinyl.

Posted by: proxl | July 11, 2008 6:39 PM

I love it when people ask me what I'm listening to.

Drunk hick on train at 1AM: Hey girl, what 'chu listn' to?
Me: (angry, tired) Music.
Hick: Haha! HA! She said music!
Meth-head boyfriend: Shut up! I told you not to bother her!
Hick: Yeah right, you listening to Shake and Pop! I heard that! SHAKE! AND POP! SHAAAKE! AND POP! (she jumps around and pumps her fists in the seat)
Boyfriend: Shut up.

Posted by: i hate the el train | July 12, 2008 12:01 AM

Now I hate Radiohead as much as the next guy, but it's not a topic that I usually like to discuss because you'll get people like your barista who respond with "but they're so brilliant!".

So I like to de-fuse and avoid the situation by going in a completely different direction - I tell them that my favorite band is either "Cannibal Corpse" or "King Diamond". That shut's 'em up.

Posted by: Steve | July 12, 2008 11:09 AM

sounds to me like you worry too much about how hip you look to be hip. and if you can see "the human side" of starbucks then surely you can see the human side of radiohead. sock puppet is right, the correct answer was "dancing cigarettes".

Posted by: stavros | July 14, 2008 1:38 PM

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