Living Among The Encyclopedias


We at Heave Media have love for all our dearest friends in the Chicago blogosphere and beyond, and we wanted to give them a chance to speak their minds on anything they’d like. This week, Shelby Mongan of Sock Monkey Sound decided to talk a bit about what happens when your friends are all trivia junkies.

High Fidelity may be one of my favorite John Cusack flicks, but I find it near-impossible to watch that movie without cringing. It makes me uncomfortable not because of the breakup, not because of his futile signs of affection, not even because of Jack Black’s hair. I can’t help but cringe because I know so many of the characters. My friend groups are full to the brim with walking music encyclopedias and film savants. I have heard the equivalent of nearly every conversation held in Championship Vinyl during late-night bowling in Lincoln Square, over Thai food, waiting for the El. I have friends with perfect pitch, friends who have seen more movies than I ever will, friends who are starting record labels, all of whom who have a tendency toward dizzying discussions.

This doesn’t sound exactly cringe-worthy, I know. Especially as a person who values passion over just about every other trait, having friends deeply in love with something to the point of Wikipedia-like knowledge is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, it comes with a downside. For every night of rapid-fire conversation on Michael Haneke’s films or on the merits of Lulu, there is a night of Shelby struggling to keep up. I can’t tell you what track eight on Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory is; I can barely recite the track listings from my favorite albums. I have no opinion on that Radiohead album because I’ve barely had time to listen to it, let alone commit it to memory. I can’t even tell you what year my favorite movie, The Princess Bride, came out without pulling up IMDB.

Simply put, sometimes my friends make me feel a little inadequate.

Don’t misunderstand this as a criticism of my friends; it’s just the opposite. Although sometimes their conversations feel like trying to watch a tennis match where grunts are replaced by prog-rock bands I’ve never heard of and the ball is Freddie Mercury, being around them is a true joy. I would never ask them to change (I have no idea how they could change anyway) or stop what they do. Instead, feeling lost in a forest of foreign film titles and vinyl records causes me to look at my own sense of direction.

It has come to an even sharper point as I have found my way into critical and editorial writing. I find it difficult to draw out influences in a band’s sound because I’m not familiar with enough of what came before. I can’t always describe a band as clearly as another reviewer because comparisons don’t come as readily to me. Sitting in front of a blank document to review a concert brings my frustrations and fears into full focus. What do I even have to offer? What good am I as a reviewer or even a conversationalist if I can’t keep up?

I’ve been musing on these questions for quite some time now, but I think I’ve finally made some headway. You see, it’s easy for me to quantify this kind of knowledge. After getting a count, it’s a cinch to compare myself to my friends and see how far I lag behind. It’s easy to let those gaps in numbers feel like canyons and become daunting. Instead, though, I’ve started to look at the things I can’t exactly count. I can’t assign a number to the level of passion I have for the things that I love, to my ear for authenticity, to my love for showmanship and real talent. I can’t quantify how much I love what I love simply because I love it, which spurs things like my fierce defense for Matt and Kim. I can’t count the ways I love my friends for their passion, even when their encyclopedic brains are occasionally nauseating. And maybe, just maybe, all of that is enough for my voice to matter too.