What does it mean to be friends with someone strictly over social media? I’ve been doing it for much of my life, and the process by which I end up deciding that words on a screen or a voice through a speaker means I’d probably enjoy hanging out with that person in real life (and vice versa) is still a bit of a mystery.
That said, because I’ve met so many amazing people this way, I’ve learned to trust in that mystery, because with very few exceptions, meeting those people face to face has turned out to be a delight.
When Rox & I went to Minneapolis-St. Paul & Chicago back in 2014, we hung out with people I’d met on Twitter in or while playing Fantasy Baseball or back in the day on Prodigy or event the CB radio. Scott & Larry & Kevin & Joey & Ranjit & Ann & Ira & Myra & Pat & Meg. That’s nearly 40 years of people who I otherwise would have never met.
Every single one of those people helped make that trip especially memorable. Oh, and The Replacements, as well. Who I got to meet in 1985 thanks to the social media known as College Radio.
So while meeting people is often the goal, there are still tons and tons of cool people I’m online friends with who I’ve never met in meatspace and yet still affected my life in very real ways. For example, Kathy Shine, who runs the Paul Westerberg, Man Without Ties website recommended to Gorman Bechard that I be interviewed for Color Me Obsessed, and now I have an IMDB page!
And then there is this: I basically
stole borrowed the concept for “Certain Songs” from Noel Murray.
Back in 2008, Noel did an ongoing feature for the A.V. Club called “Popless.” The concept behind Popless was that he would refrain from listening to new music for a full year while he went through his record collection from A-Z, writing about the artists that struck him as key to his musical tastes.
It was basically the non-linear story of his life as a music fan.
This was, of course, during what some might call “the salad days” of The A.V. Club, and Popless attracted a fervent following of music nerds like me. Every week, we’d flood the comment boards, sharing our stories about the bands he wrote about that week.
And because Noel waded into and helped foster this community surrounding Popless, he was nice enough to do an interview for this very blog as Popless was winding down.
A year or so later, many of those same folks became part of a Twitter / Facebook cohort I dubbed “The A.V. Club Club”, and I’ve ended up meeting many of those people in real life as well, including the some of the folks I listed above.
Anyways, a month or so after that Replacements show, I was casting about for a reason to write regularly — without some kind of focus, I won’t do any writing at all, and not doing any writing at all affects, well, everything — so using Popless as a model, I hit upon the concept of writing about my favorite songs, roughly alphabetical by artist.
The non-linear story of my life as a music fan.
So what does any of this have to do with “Gold Star For Robot Boy,” a 99-second pop gem that’s full of stinging guitars, a typically catchy Robert Pollard vocal performance and drum rolls galore that are completely buried in the mix?
If I waited for you to show me
All the actions that i should take
Would i get my break?
Gold star for robot boy
And it’s one thing
And its something to do
The robot boy yeah
It has to do with one of the other bits I truly love about being friends with people online.
It’s that you often learn about their lives, 140 characters at at time. You can’t help it: people who only use Twitter to promote things and never interact with others aren’t really worth following (something I’ve very aware of even as I link to every single song I write about), and since I’ve always tended to enjoy writers who let me know who they are as a person in the course of their writing, Twitter has just amplified that.
It’s interesting to follow people throughout their trials and tribulations, their triumphs and their trajectories. Which brings us to #robotboy.
It’s no secret that Noel has a son who is on the autistic spectrum, and for years, he’s been tweeting or facebookin’ the things his son says or does. And every single one of those has the #robotboy hashtag.
Because, you know, this song.
Which I will never hear again without thinking of those tweets & posts, just I never read those tweets and posts without this song coming to my head.
The thing is, of course — and this will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me well — I usually relate to those tweets & posts a bit too much. Which makes me think about the probably half-dozen high-functioning things that I’m living with.
But, more importantly, it seems to me that “Gold Star For Robot Boy” represents how music has helped a father deal with and relate to a son facing challenges the father will never fully understand. Finally, Dad Rock!
So while I may never meet Noel in person, he still has my eternal gratitude for inspiring Certain Songs, just the writing of which has helped me keep it together during what was a (relatively) bad year of my life.
“Gold Star For Robot Boy”
“Gold Star for Robot Boy” performed live in 2011
Every Certain Song Ever
A filterable, searchable & sortable database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
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