Why I don’t like anything

making a faceMany years ago my mother wanted to see Bob Seger when he was in town. While I liked his old stuff, I had never been much of a fan of anything from about Night Moves on. But mom wanted to go, and one of my friends wanted to see him too, so we all got tickets and went to the show. When it was over and the lights came up my mother happily asked, “Wasnt that great?” at about the same time the thought, “Well that kind of sucked.” was running through my head. My answer to her question was along the lines of, “Um, not really.”

The look on her face let me know that it was not the answer she expected, nor did she consider it the right one. I tried to explain that by only playing his new music he was insulting all of the people who had supported him for years and years when he was a regional act all the way up until he broke nationally. That didn’t work so I explained that Live Bullet was one of the greatest live albums of all time and he had only played one song from it, and it was the only song on the album that I couldn’t stand. Nothing. Finally I fell back on, “He didn’t even play Katmandu!” This was met with, “Why are you always so negative? You don’t like anything.” At this point, not only do I feel like I am pissing on her parade, but I also can’t answer the question, so I gave up and forlornly wished the conversation had never taken place.

Within seconds of that exchange, her best friend from work walked up and my mom asked, “How did you like it?” Very few phrases have ever provided me with as much relief as her answer. Five words of pure, sweet vindication absolving me of my sin of negativity: “He didn’t even play Katmandu!”

Besides being a mildly amusing story, I did take away a few things from that evening. While I may have been right, that didn’t make my mom wrong. Sure, I still wonder what Seger was thinking to put on a show like that anywhere within a hundred miles of Detroit, but that was not the entire point. My mother did not know who Bob Seger was when he was playing area clubs, parties and high school dances. She did not listen to the type of radio stations that played him early in his career, and most of all, Live Bullet was not the touchstone for her that it had been for folks my age. In fact, it had barely registered with her. She knew him from the radio friendly songs that she heard in her car or her office, so to her it really was a great concert.

The other night at a company gathering, I heard a co-worker say that I did not like the the food at the restaurant where the event was being hosted. That was a relatively true statement. He finished with, “but then again, Joe doesn’t like anything.” Sure, he was just busting my balls when he said it, and I know he doesn’t really think like that. However, I’m sure to a lot of people it must seem that way, although even a cursory reading of the pages of this site show that it is not true. Rather than not liking anything, it is my love of food and wine drives me to experience as much as I can, learn as much as possible, and even compels me to write this blog.

The more that I experience, the more that I compare and contrast each new experience to a past one. It seems to me that much of life is that way. A bad marriage or relationship can help you appreciate a good one when your luck turns. You can’t understand how good a risotto can be if you only eat Rice-a-Roni, but tasting both can be very instructive, and if you still enjoy Rice-a-Roni afterwards, think of the money you’ll save. Just don’t get into an argument with a foodie about how Rice-a-Roni is equal to a well-made risotto.

I’ve been to culinary school, I’ve worked in restaurants, run a kitchen, been to “wine school,” have been lucky enough to taste with winemakers and others with phenomenal palates, and spend an inordinate amount of time reading about, writing about, and tasting food and wine. This does not make me an expert, but it does mean I consider it “my thing.” I’m serious about it, feel reasonably qualified to comment, and am confident enough to express my opinions on the subject.

Often when people ask me questions about a certain restaurant or wine I make the mistake of thinking they are asking for my opinion. I say mistake because usually their response or the look on their face lets me know that what they really wanted was a confirmation that their opinion was correct. And you know what? Their opinion was already correct before they ever asked me. Maybe not for me, but certainly for them. However, I wasn’t the person they should have come to for validation. Every time it happens I end up wishing that I had much more tact, but also wondering how Lester Bangs might have dealt with a Vampire Weekend fan asking for validation of their musical tastes. I am definitely no Lester Bangs, but I think the concept is probably the same.

If you like something you should not need someone like me to validate it for you. If that glass of Two Buck Chuck tastes just fine to you, then I am not on a mission to get you hooked on Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet. Really, that stuff is twice as addictive as crack, only way more expensive, although it does age much better. And I definitely am not interested in sounding insulting or condescending about your preferences, but I probably will come off that way if you ask me about my preferences as a way to confirm your own.

On the other hand, if that Two Buck Chuck was your gateway wine and you want to check out the harder stuff, go ahead and ask. We can head out to the alley and I’ll give you a little taste. Just don’t tell anyone where you got it, okay? You’ll be back…but bring some money next time.

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