Friday, May 27, 2011

Guitar Game

I'd like to introduce Ezra, one of my favorite nerds.

Ezra is a nice Jewish boy who grew up in New Jersey. A bright boy who happens to be the son of a psychoanalyst and grandson of philosopher Richard McKeon. He got into Columbia, Yay! where he majored in English. Upon graduation, he took a job as a middle school English teacher in Brooklyn. Such a nice guy.

Somewhere along the way, he picked up one of these:


And voila!

The dude's now the frontman for Vampire Weekend, one of the hottest, hippest bands on the planet. I'm totally obsessed at the moment with the song Oxford Comma. Check it out:

Not bad, right? When I searched on Ezra's name for the first time, Google prompted me with "Ezra Koenig girlfriend." The guy has totally got it made. He'll probably wind up marrying (because nice boys do get married) a Victoria's Secret model.

There is no more valuable prop for seduction than a guitar. Vocals are necessary, but you needn't have a great voice, just a committed, impassioned delivery. I am in no way suggesting that Vampire Weekend is not hugely talented - they are. They draw on many different world music traditions, and their lyrics are insanely clever and catchy. But there's something about a man with a guitar that makes women throw reason out the window (and snap their knees apart).

I know a couple in their early 20s who have been on and off for four years. She's done but he wants another round. Last weekend, after hours of emo talk, at 4 in the morning he picked up his guitar and sang each of the three songs he's written about her over the years. It's worked every time he's tried it before. She didn't give in this time but the pull was mighty strong.

What is it about guitar playing troubadors? I don't think the virtuoso violinist gets any points with women, nor the soulful cellist. Definitely not the opera singer, or even the talented a capella singer, with rare exceptions. Certainly there's a cultural element, but I think it's more than that - something about the pouring out of emotion in song form that cuts straight to the heart (and the vag). The contrast of that confessional medium with what is often a complicated emotional nature is total catnip to women.

In This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin writes that Darwin believed music evolved as a mating strategy, preceding speech as a means of courtship - he equated music with a peacock's tail.

Jimi Hendrix had sex with hundreds of groupies, and in an era preceding birth control, would have fathered many children. Robert Plant had this to say about touring with Led Zeppelin in the 70s:

I was on my way to love. Always. Whatever road I took, the car was heading for one of the greatest sexual adventures I've ever had.

Levitin goes on to observe that even an ugly physical appearance isn't an issue, citing Mick Jagger as his prime example.

Cognitive psychologist Geoffrey Miller suggested that musicianship would have signaled sexual fitness on two fronts:

  • Singing and dancing advertised stamina and good health.
  • Anyone accomplished at music advertised that the male had enough resources to spend time developing an unnecessary skill.

In contemporary society, wealth and luxury send this message, but the allure of the musician is still powerful. Interest in music peaks during adolescence, and young males are often motivated by the desire to attract young females with their music.

It's also possible that evolution selected creativity as a marker of sexual fitness. Miller and Haselton's research has shown that creativity trumps wealth for human females. Wealth may predict who will make the best caregiver dad, but women give additional weight to males who possesses the best genes for fathering. One study showed that ovulating women prefer the creative but poor artist to the not creative but rich man.

There's also a clear genetic correlation between sociability and musicality. There is some evidence that people who lack genes for inhibition use a larger set of neural structures than others when listening to music. In general, then, we may deduce that highly sociable males are more likely to relate to music, and be inspired to create music. This is another indicator of genetic fitness.

Finally, the fact that musical tones are used frequently in mating by other species lends credence to the theory of music as an evolutionary adaptation. It may be that the male creates music to make a memory - whenever that same sound is heard again, the female will be reminded of that particular male.

Levitin concludes, "As a tool for activation of specific thoughts, music is not as good as language. As a tool for arousing feelings and emotions, music is better than language. The combination of the two - as best exemplified in a love song - is the best courtship display of all."

In contemporary society, the allure of dating a musician includes the real possibility of playing potential muse to a creative genius. I once had a roommate in New York who was dating a famous musician. He wrote a song for an album and called it Celeste, after her. She insisted that he change the name to It's You, which is how it appeared. I told her she was crazy - who wouldn't want to be memorialized in that way? (Perhaps it was the fact that her neighbor was his heroin dealer, and she knew the relationship wouldn't last.)

Allison Schrager, an economist based in New York, recently wrote Where Do Love Songs Come From? for The Economist. In it she explores the "conundrum of the muse," a role she found herself in when an ex-boyfriend TV writer modeled a character on her in a popular sitcom.

"The role of the muse—someone who can inspire something wonderful, moving and ever-lasting—occupies a romantic space in our psyche... More often than not, if someone creates art about you, it’s probably because the relationship itself was difficult and unfulfilling. Legend has it that the song You Give Love a Bad Name was inspired by Jon Bon Jovi’s brief fling with Diane Lane. Bon Jovi ended up marrying and having four children with his high-school sweetheart, but this lasting romance doesn’t seem to have yielded any memorable ditties.

In interviews with several composers and songwriters about the relationships that inspired their music, few said they wrote about happy, long-term relationships while they were in them."

Even when a love song is angry or angsty, it provides real evidence to the world that at least for a time, you captured the attention of this prize specimen. It doesn't matter if he's really no prize. We all want to be Helen of Troy.

Singing and playing the guitar is a massive Demonstration of Higher Value.

If I had a son today, I'd forego the piano lessons and go straight for the electric guitar. It is perhaps the best signal of evolutionary advantage that modern man has at his disposal. It sure worked for Ezra.


Etaoin Shrdlu said...

Don't overlook the piano. Duke Ellington once said that one of the things he liked about the instrument was that whenever he sat down to play at a party, women would come flocking.

A piano isn't as portable as a guitar, but I suspect if a guy skipped the Chopin and did something funkier, it would still work.

Orville said...

I play the piano, but unless you are really good and can converse while playing (I can't), then it's really not much of a chick magnet.

Liberace (since you mentioned Chopin)
Elton John

If you counter with Jerry Lee Lewis, that man is a in a class of his own.

Desert Cat said...

There is a very good reason why I purchased a bass* guitar six months ago and have been practicing almost daily ever since...

Heh. *ahem*

If I can find me a blues band in need of a bassist, I am pretty much ready for the stage.

*Why bass? Faster/easier to learn than lead guitar, and in particular playing the blues (and derivative styles) on bass is incredibly straightforward. Or at least I really enjoy that niche and keep coming back to it.

I am toying with switching to learning blues lead guitar after I complete my current series of bass lessons tho. I keep messing around with riffs on my bass that really belong to the lead guitar.

Jack Amok said...

eh, I think it's a whole lot more simple. A leader steps up in front of the tribe and starts speaking. All the men listen so they know what their job is. The women notice that the leader commands the whole tribe's attention and find that very sexy.

A musician steps up in front of the tribe and starts singing. All themen listen because they want to be entertained. The women notice that the signer commands the whole tribe's attention and find that very sexy.

The difference is the men of the tribe will stop listening to the singer when he finishes signing, but nature has many examples of mimics gaining an advantage by seeming like something they are not.

Anonymous said...

I was in a band briefly, as guitarist, in my mid-20s. I had the idea I'd get female attention. Didn't work. They wanted to speak to the lead singer and the drummer, but I might as well have been making the tea...

Anonymous said...

did anyone notice that this entire video was done in one take--it was uncut?

now that's amazing.


The Original Hermit said...

I tried taking up the bass in high school. It didn't work out, so I got rid of it a few years later. But my 6yo son definitely has the aptitude for guitar, and if I can figure out how to work lessons into our schedule, I plan to buy him one in the near future. He's already pretty goo with the girls, this will make him great.

rycamor said...

I was in a band briefly, as guitarist, in my mid-20s. I had the idea I'd get female attention. Didn't work. They wanted to speak to the lead singer and the drummer, but I might as well have been making the tea..."

Notice that Susan recommends both singing AND guitar. The lead singer is always the alpha male, and it is hard to beat the raw physicality of a drummer. If you are not the lead singer, you have to be more than just a guitarist--you have to be a guitar hero. Lead guitarists have the opportunity to be the mysterious Sigma if they play their cards right (Slash from Guns 'n Roses). You can play it up by being cocky, aloof, or over-the-top aggressive and passionate with the guitar solos. You will never beat the lead singer for female interest, but you can better the odds.

Whatever you do, don't be these guys.

LP2021 Bank of LP Work in Progress said...

God bless Ezra!

As I say from time to time, Rock on.

Desert Cat said...

And yet, you always hear about how the errant wife/girlfriend got herself knocked up by the *bass player* of some local dive band... ;)

Desert Cat said...

rycamor, however awful and cringeworthy, it was still doubtless worth a few points of DHV...

Check out the the interview that is linked after the video and how they got their band name. Hee hee! They seem to be aware of how bad they are.

indyguy77 said...

rycamor: I like their "Cocaine" cover WAY better.

As a drummer said on an online forum "I could NEVER play like that!"

rycamor said...

Cocaine... wow. I love the look of pure puzzlement on the guy's face. I have had bad moments in bands (not due to me), but that band is the apex of fail. I think I could rig up myself as a one-man band and do better than those guys. Honestly.

But I am curious... I really wonder if any women can watch those videos and imagine themselves being attracted to any of the guys in the band, at least the lead singer? Does the bare act of being on stage and attempting (badly) to pose like a rocker gives a man some mojo, as Desert Cat claims. Any women here care to comment?

LP2021 Bank of LP Work in Progress said...

I was trying out some vampire weekend. it felt like music I was too old to be hearing. for guitarists, their songs are easy to learn.

Stingray said...


Not my preference. Too boyish and too beta. This is more my style:

indyguy77 said...

Hey! That dude sprayed beer on me in the front row once. I wasn't too happy about it.

Stingray said...

Sorry, indyguy. Don't ever sit up front for Black Label Society then either. Not beer any more but Zakk will do the same thing.

Desert Cat said...

Eric Sardinas--never heard of him before, but that is some seriously good blues slide guitar there. Thanks Stingray!

Thing is, all this gets you is scads of DHV. Sometimes that's all it takes, but you still have to have some of the rest of Game under your belt to fully capitalize on it.

indyguy77@work said...

Dare is ask what Zakk sprays the audience with?

Stingray said...

Desert Cat,

Absolutely. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. Sardinas goes from being able to get nearly every woman out there to getting them all while on stage.


Oh, nothing bad. He has had to tame things since his Ozzie days. IF he still does this it would likely be coffee.

indyguy77@work said...

Yeah, thinking back, if any guitarist seems like an arrogant dude with lots of game, it's Eric Sardinas. He didn't seem to realize he was opening for Steve Vai when I saw him. That much attitude on such a small stage was almost funny. I've don't think I've ever seen anyone I'd never heard of project like that.

Plus, he's REALLY tall and looks like he needs a shower.

I would guess women eat it up, bigtime.

rycamor said...

Thanks, Stingray, Sardinas is a new one to add to my playlist--another south Florida boy. I probably played some of the same places he did, before the band broke up and we all got married and moved on with life (I guess that's what happens when good Christian boys try to start a rockin' band).

But you didn't catch my meaning. I wasn't referring to Vampire Weekend, but the awful band that murders a Pink Floyd song. Desert_Cat seems to think just being on stage is "doubtless worth a few points of DHV", but I kinda doubt that. Looks like negative points to me.

Reminds me of a guy who dated my wife briefly who liked to play open mike nights around town. He intro'd a song he wrote "about my ex-wife" (and you can imagine it wasn't positive), and then afterward while trying to chat her up, blurted "Who knows, maybe I'll write a song about you someday." Oops... instantly wiped out all his points.

Stingray said...


Apologies. I had watched the vampire weekend video shortly before I read you comment and I must have been stuck on it. I couldn't even watch the whole thing.

So, as far as your original question, no. I do not think just being on stage gives a man mojo. All I felt watching that video is embarrassment. One has to have at least some talent (and passion, IMO) to garner some attraction while on stage.

jay c said...

All the evo-psych stuff about the origins of music is just so much B.S. Here's the money line:

Singing and playing the guitar is a massive Demonstration of Higher Value.

It's really pretty simple. The guitar player is front and center. He can run around on stage, sing, and generally act like he owns the place. Keyboard players, drummers, cellists...they can't do that. And guitars just sound more in-charge and in-your-face than violins. Guitar playing demonstrates (even if superficially) higher value than playing most other instruments.

Crowhill said...

Most people are embarrassed to sing in public, so singing shows that you've gotten over that -- i.e., that you're confident.

Anonymous said...

Lead vocals are Alpha. Playing an instrument is just an extra, unless it is as the front for an instrumental group, which makes it the de facto lead.

Non-vocal guitarists and drummers have the potential to become Sigma.

rycamor said...

jay c, In my day it was all explained with the word "cool". When did this all get so complicated?

And guitar is without a doubt the sexiest instrument. Just look at it.

jay c said...

Heh. Remember Prince's Super Bowl performance?

Desert Cat said...

"Non-vocal guitarists and drummers have the potential to become Sigma."

Sigma? Hardly. As backup to the Alpha they are the quintessential Betas (Voxian, not Roissian). And being Beta lieutenant behind a powerful Alpha is a happy place to be.

You think Eric Sardinas' bassist and drummer are not getting their share?

Steve said...

You folks are way overthinking this. Follow my instructions:
Go buy an acoustic guitar and take weekly lessons. Practice every day.
You don't need talent, just determination and a little self discipline.
In no more than a year, invite a lady to your home and play some tunes for her over a glass of wine.
Try not to spill the wine when she jumps you.

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