A Treatise on Pleasure

Written by  //  March 15, 2010  //  The Conservatory  //  28 Comments

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I am an opinionated prick. I talk loudly when I feel passionate about something. I deride the things that I think are shitty, and I think that most things are pretty shitty. I hate popular music and modern comedies. I turn my nose up at Middle America and television. I hate NASCAR fans and hipsters, fashion’s fickle cliques and yuppies. I grew up and formed my tastes in a cynical age, and I cast a skeptical eye towards anything that resides in mainstream culture.

Lately though, whenever I start shooting off at the mouth about how Michael Bay should be castrated and sent from Hollywood naked and hobbled or how anyone who likes this band or that band is clearly a stupid asshole, I can hear a small voice in the back of my head that plainly makes pointed comebacks to my clever misanthropy. It’s the voice that reminds me that when I took my ten-year old nephew to see Hanson at Red Rocks, I actually liked it. It’s the voice that reminds me that in spite of my Pere Ubu collection, I know all the lyrics to Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted Snake”, that even though I have been covered in the blood of other men at a Jesus Lizard show, I secretly watch videos of cats doing funny things, and that I am a simple man who at his core longs for nothing more than a sunny afternoon, a milkshake, some Seals and Crofts records and to be accepted as such.

I’ve been trying to listen to that little voice in my head more often. Not only should I be shutting my gob about being the true decider of what is good or bad, I should more staunchly defend my own pleasure. I grew up and shaped my musical tastes in an era when the record industry finally figured out how to co-opt the underground. In this era, when the cool kids vituperated those who had defected the true rebellion by branding them as “sell-outs”, the only way to enjoy things that were outside of the purview of the underground was to enjoy it ironically. Are you listening to Hall and Oates? Yeah, look at his hair, and how stupid this is!

But truthfully, I really really like these songs. The snob in me writes off my enjoyment as nostalgia, that listening to these songs is an active form of backwards-thinking reverie. It’s hard to argue with that voice. But even though the music critic inside of me, the consummate collector of rarities and champion of the underground, snivels and writhes whenever Bread crackles through supermarket speakers, the deep and abiding self that resides within me sighs relief, hums the melody, and forgives the egregious lyrical trespasses contained in a song like “(I Wanna) Make It With You.”

It may seem really hard to reconcile those disparities inside one’s self. It may be easier to come up with a new classification for the things you enjoy that are outside of what your peers find acceptable. You may come up with a little internal filing system that dictates that it is alright to vocalize your allegiance to Lightning Bolt or Current 93 and simply internalize your secret fondness for Keith Sweat and reggae. Those categories may shift with the company you keep, but the fact of the matter, and the point of this column, is that defining certain music as a guilty pleasure is a real disservice to what makes us enjoy the art-form in the first place.

I was having an email exchange with some local musicians and scribes, and one of them referred to the writing of a local critic as really solid because “she doesn’t believe in guilty pleasures.” That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks, and has quickly become my mantra. Should I have to defend my affinity for Counting Crows? Should I have to hide my love for John Denver from my metal-head friends or my love of R&B and riotgrrl from my male friends who feel threatened by femininity? Should I have to tell another soul that Led Zeppelin’s songs are not at all about wizards and goblins, but are mostly about fucking?

The answer is no, I should never have to defend my tastes. I love Cat Stevens. I love reggae and French pop and bad R&B and hair metal and jazz. I love it all for different reasons and I will no longer feel guilty for that.

Inversely, as a critic, it’s worth stating that although it’s my job to give my opinion about albums and artists, I would never want to keep someone from enjoying something, nor would I want to make someone feel stupid for caring about something that I don’t like. I think we all need to cultivate the strength and the conviction to not feel threatened by our tastes, and to not let the critics dissuade us. Let the critics criticize. It can be really helpful, and nothing is more fun than finding and reading critics who think like you do, who connect to music in a way that you do. But don’t let anyone tell you that singing Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” in a clearly audible voice while shopping for fruit is not acceptable because it ain’t hip. Sing it.

To celebrate pleasure without guilt, I put together a playlist of songs from artists or genres that have historically incurred a lot of incredulity from my peers. This one is for the dudes who call Kathleen Hanna a scary dyke, for the dickheads who say that reggae is for hippies and trust-funded Boulderites. This one is for the tough guys who can’t get behind jazz or gay pop. This one is for the snobs who can’t see the connection between prog and just about everything that is popular in Indie Rock right now, and for the fuddy-duddies who simply just can’t get over themselves and experience a simple and trifle joy.

These are songs I love. These are songs that I will no longer keep separate from my love of Big Black, songs that have a rightful place alongside Akron Family and Anticon, songs that will just as easily find their way onto mixtapes I make as The Monks or Guided by Voices.

Feel free to add your own (no-longer-guilty) pleasurable playlists in the comments. Let’s take the power back. This feast is bacchanalian.


1. King Missile – It’s Saturday
2. Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down
3. Erasure – A Little Respect
4. Steely Dan – Bodhisattva
5. Yes – Long Distance Runaround
6. Counting Crows – Round Here
7. Slim Whitman – Indian Love Call
8. Horace Andy – Change Your Ways
9. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Kinky Reggae
10. Medeski, Martin, and Wood – Chubb Sub
11. Ray Baretto – A Deeper Shade of Soul
12. The Platters – Twilight Time
13. Jill Scott – The Way
14. Prince & The Revolution – Let’s Go Crazy
15. The Grown Ups – Imbicilic
16. Bikini Kill – Star-bellied Boy

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About the Author

Rbt. B. Rutherford is the Donnybrook Manor's Resident Bard/Plant Psychologist. BA in Fecundity, MA in Profundity, Cambridge University, Magna Cum Laude.

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28 Comments on "A Treatise on Pleasure"

  1. julio March 15, 2010 at 6:36 am · Reply

    Stevie Nicks- “Stand Back”
    Don’t judge me , monkeys.

  2. robbiebowman March 15, 2010 at 6:46 am · Reply

    This a a pretty tremendous rallying cry for all those who want to be able to embrace the extreme ends of creative enterprise in this world. Consider me part of the movement!

  3. Tansy March 15, 2010 at 9:07 am · Reply

    “Don’t Bring Me Down” was one of my favorite songs as a kid, and even my parents made fun of me. I feel so free! But I’m not going to apologize to anyone about liking Steely Dan. Just call me “Deacon Blue.”

  4. Kit March 15, 2010 at 10:04 am · Reply

    Anything by George Michael
    Kraftwerk, I know this is in the “cool zone” but really? They are a bunch of nerds and they rock.
    Anything by Prince
    Not a hater of Justin Timberlake
    Whoever sings that “Sexy Bitch” song
    Any kind of lounge or sexy french music
    Short bits of techno and/or house music
    … but I still hate Yaz and Concrete Blonde, nothing will change that

  5. Muggs March 15, 2010 at 10:10 am · Reply

    Well said.

    I Wanna Dance With Somebody. -Whitney Huston


  6. Mary March 15, 2010 at 11:03 am · Reply

    I’ve gotta speak up for Concrete Blonde then I guess…”I’m goin’ down by the river where it’s warm and green, I”m gonna have a drink and walk around, I’ve got a lot to think about, oh yeah….”

  7. Julie T March 15, 2010 at 11:11 am · Reply

    I’m so glad I took a break from watching America’s Next Top Model to read this article. Yea for guilty pleasures. I enjoy them so much I’ve almost forgotten about the guilty part.

  8. Professor Honeydew March 15, 2010 at 12:14 pm · Reply

    Hear hear!

    Did you know that there are *two* albums of Hall & Oates covers being released this month (by the bird and the bee and Koot Hoomi)? That speaks volumes: everything uncool is cool again.

    But seriously, there are people out there who take issue with Horace Andy and ELO and Ray Barretto? Sheesh. Lighten up, y’all.

    Things I’d like added to this official commenter list: Jamaican ska and rocksteady; anything recorded in the 1980s by Madonna; Oasis; and ALL synth-pop, even songs recorded by artists whose names have become synonymous with brand name birth control products (sorry, Kit).

  9. Lara March 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm · Reply

    Dude, what? Someone out there considers Prince to be a guilty pleasure? I had no idea. I thought he was someone we could all agree was amazing, especially “Sign O’ The Times” and earlier.

    Also, if you have such a fondness for contemporary R&B, and you’re giving up the guilty pleasure label, why qualify it as being “bad”? Isn’t that basically saying the same thing – that you should feel guilty for liking it, even if you’re not going to say so? What exactly makes Jill Scott bad, but not Betty Davis? I’m sure that would be news to most black music listeners. I’ll never understand why so many white music snobs profess a deep, abiding love for old soul, but dismiss anything contemporary out of hand or sheepishly say they like it, even though it’s “bad”.

    In any case, have you heard The-Dream? OMG, so good.

  10. Rbt. B. Rutherford March 15, 2010 at 2:19 pm · Reply

    Lara, a clarification: Rockwell, in my opinion, is bad R&B.

    Jill Scott, on the other hand, is amazing. So are Erykah Badu and Kelis and Macy Gray and on and on.

    The tracks in the playlist represent a very personal list of songs and/or genres that I have been made to feel guilty for liking in the past. You are right to call me out for using the word “bad” to describe anything I like. I may think that Rockwell doesn’t deserve to be canonized the way that Maxwell or D’Angelo should be, but I shouldn’t crap all over the fact that I listen to Rockwell. That’s the whole point of this column, but old habits die hard. Used to be that I would qualify music that way, but I’m trying to get past that.

    So, in that spirit, I’ll say that Rockwell is amazing too, as are The Jets, and Ready For The World, and on and on.

    Thanks for reading.

  11. Lara March 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm · Reply

    I wonder if the whole idea of the musical guilty pleasure isn’t just another manifestation of our Puritanical heritage. I mean, why the hell feel bad about something you enjoy if it’s not hurting anyone? Is Miley Cyrus the aural equivalent of masturbation?

  12. Rbt. B. Rutherford March 15, 2010 at 2:59 pm · Reply

    I think you just summed up everything I was trying to say with twitter-length brevity, Lara.

  13. Stubbs March 15, 2010 at 3:47 pm · Reply

    Agreed, I feel comfortable masturbating to both Miley Cyrus and Rockwell. Wait, what was this about? I only read “bacchanalian”

  14. Professor Honeydew March 15, 2010 at 4:26 pm · Reply

    I love that sex tape–the one where Miley Cyrus masturbates to Rockwell.

  15. Lara March 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm · Reply

    You know, if you really want to analyze it, “Somebody’s Watching Me” is a pretty genius representation of Western Guilt Culture in general; it doesn’t matter if no one else knows what you’re doing, God sees you, so you should feel bad regardless. Especially when masturbating or listening to Counting Crows. God fucking hates those guys.

  16. Zazu Mc fractal March 15, 2010 at 9:43 pm · Reply

    Well said my friend…..well where to start…. I grew up listing to disco with a disco queen mom.
    There are a couple of donna summer songs that make me wiggle with delight. Bad girls hehe

  17. Zazu Mc fractal March 15, 2010 at 9:56 pm · Reply

    Ohh yeah and I still have the blood covered shirt LOVE jesus lizard.not

  18. Shawn March 15, 2010 at 10:54 pm · Reply

    I think I get it.

    I get choked up when I hear ‘the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’, so what. And if I’m in line at Walgreens than tough shit.

    And ‘Wicked Game’ for sure. Soft jazz stations at the post office can turn into me into mush.

  19. Kit March 16, 2010 at 12:01 am · Reply

    Lara, the point is that I don’t think Prince is a guilty pleasure. To love an entire catalog (maybe his new stuff is wearing a bit thin) is more of an obsession. I did however grow up being a devotee of Rush and Iron Maiden, so it took me many years to think anything gay like Prince could be cool. (Just kidding by the gay comment btw) Interesting that now Rush has became my guilty pleasure…

  20. j-wo March 16, 2010 at 11:18 am · Reply

    For those who haven’t heard R. Kelly’s song “Step in the Name of Love,” give it a try. I always classified it as horribly amazing (or amazingly horrible), but this article has helped me to re-categorize it as… sheesh, I’m not gonna admit what I classify it as, but I’m working on it.

  21. Rbt. B. Rutherford March 16, 2010 at 11:24 am · Reply

    @Zazu: If I live to be a hundo (I won’t), I’ll never forget the sight of you in your Bluebird Staff T-shirt, soaked through and through with that dudes blood, and all of the punches that were directed at our faces that night. In spite of the violence, they are still one of my favorite live bands.

    @Lara: Read this: http://www.avclub.com/austin/articles/counting-crows-is-better-than-your-favorite-band,23681/

    @Kit: That’s exactly it. Growing up hessian, it’s hard to take your Prince cassettes over to your friends house and try and squeeze some Revolution in between Black Flag and Sepultura.

    @Stubbs: I knew the minute that someone mentioned Miley Cyrus that you’d be on this thread talking about masturbation.

  22. Kit March 16, 2010 at 11:53 am · Reply

    As far as Counting Crows…
    A few years back (actually, something like 15 years ago) I was in attendance at a Cracker show w/Counting Crows opening up. Adam came out to watch Cracker and low and behold he happens to stand inches from my face and those famous dreadlocks got whipped up in my face. It didn’t feel like an accident, more of a snub move, so being the rebellious young man that I was I gave him a solid push. We didn’t fight but he gave me look like wtf? Ever since I kinda get a tick when I hear their name.

    Anyhow… I hate the F**king Counting Crows! NOT A GUILTY PLEASURE. I’d replace The Spin Doctors with them anyday.

  23. Lara March 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm · Reply

    Rbt. B. – The writer of that article is doing what, I assume, is the exact opposite what your purpose for writing this one was. He seems to be trying to justify an interest in a reputedly shitty, guilty pleasure band by saying that more hip, music nerd sanctioned bands were influenced by them, so hey, it’s ok for him, too! I have certainly done it myself in the past, but as I get older I just think there are more productive ways to work through an inferiority complex than expending energy on caring whether or not someone else thinks you have good taste in music.

    One’s taste in music is as much of a mystery and as subjective as who one happens to fall in love with. You wouldn’t let some douchebag, know-it-all music snob pick your girl/boyfriend, so why would you let them dictate what is acceptable to listen to? Anyway, I guess I’m beating a dead horse.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go figure out what should follow “Shawty Is Da Shit” on my latest mixtape.

  24. Rbt. B. Rutherford March 17, 2010 at 7:07 am · Reply

    C’mon, Lara, that horse is clearly still breathing. Let’s keep kicking it.

    Seeing as how the “let’s bash on Counting Crows” theme is a well-worn and tired hipster mantle, I sent along that article because you made yourself sound pretty ignorant, not only of the Counting Crows, but of the spirit of this whole enterprise. Yours was the blase’ statement of the Counting Crows musical worth that pours forth from the lips of a majority of hipster music nerds, and one that I’ve found is usually based more on ignorance than exposure and has more to do with what has been socially sanctioned by your peer group as acceptable listening than it does the Counting Crows and their relative merit. You saying that God hates the Counting Crows is such a safe statement. It’s okay for you to hate the Counting Crows, because everybody does!

    On the one hand, with your last comment you seem to be defending my choice to include the Counting Crows on the above mix, but then you flippantly disparage them. I’m not saying that you should like them, and I know that the internet is the Great Cesspool of Snark and that you were probably just being funny (and you were indeed funny), but you toe the line between earnestness and the usual detached, sardonic vibe that defines comment threads like these. Because your comment made you sound like a dolt, I figured that a little education would perhaps give you recourse to think twice about crapping all over somebody else’s steez.

    My whole point was that I don’t let douchebag, know-it-all music snobs pick define my taste, which is why when you started talking shit, what I really should have said was simply:

    “Fuck off. I love the Counting Crows.”

    or, in other words:

    “Don’t yuck my yum.”

  25. Lara March 17, 2010 at 11:52 am · Reply

    Geez, I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I definitely am not dumb enough to be totally sincere in writing the sentence “I mean, why the hell feel bad about something you enjoy if it’s not hurting anyone?”, but then in the next breath say that God fucking hates Counting Crows with any modicum of seriousness.

    I am completely ambivalent about them as a band and only stuck their name in as an example ’cause it seemed funnier than ELO. I was merely trying to make a point about the absurdity of letting leftover Puritanical ideology manifest itself in guilt over liking a band and/or masturbation. If God exists, I’m sure He loves Counting Crows. I guess what I was trying to say didn’t come out quite right.

    No shit talking or disparagement of your taste intended.

  26. Julius March 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm · Reply

    This thread was better when it was about masturbation. STUBBS STUBBS STUBBS STUBBS!

  27. Bree Davies March 17, 2010 at 11:31 pm · Reply

    I too am a person who has never believed in guilty pleasure—why feel guilt about a kind of art you love so much? Sure, as writers/observers/makers of music, we can take on the role of tastemaker, but that is a choice—I’m not an authority on music. I know a lot about it, I like sharing what I know with others, and somehow was blessed with the insane desire (although it isn’t always a choice) to write about it. I have no shame in being insanely vocal about the fact that I’ve listened to Metro Station’s debut album almost as many times as I’ve listened to T. Rex’s The Slider. Sure, they make me feel differently, and I would have different things to say about each record if I was asked to quantify their cultural influence. But the bottom line is, they make me feel. they make me think. And come to think of it, they are both equally pretty fucking sexy records. I can say in all honesty, Metro Station’s “Shake It” and T. Rex’s “Cadillac” equally turn me on.

    Let yourself enjoy Bread at the supermarket. I’ll be there, dancing to Foo Fighters at the Seafood counter.

  28. Rbt. B. Rutherford March 18, 2010 at 6:49 am · Reply

    @Lara: I think I’m going to invest in that stupid sarcasm wingbat or whatever it is, so that the ambiguity between sincerety and snark may be more firmly delineated for all of us. Maybe I’m too defensive? Yes. I am now clear about your intentions. At any rate, I appreciate you reading and more importantly, contributing.

    @Bree: Right on.

    @Julius and Stubbs: This is why we can’t have nice things.

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