Pencils ready . . .

Geeks gather in a parking lot for Rhino's Musical Aptitude Test.

FOR MUSIC GEEKS, it's both the best and worst of times. Best, in the sense that after years of burrowing away in libraries and record stores, we're now accorded the visibility we deserve in the pop culture sphere whose handiwork we spend our time devouring. Worst, because the people shining the spotlight on us are mostly laughing at us. Even worse, we know it: We spend all our time studying how this stuff works, so we'd better. But even if we find ourselves tensing up as the 15th person in three days tells us how we're just like that guy in High Fidelity, we're secretly proud that we've suddenly become a subculture all our own—albeit one none of us are exactly proud of belonging to.

For one thing, some of us are under the mistaken impression that what we do is actually exciting, when in fact we get excited about things nobody else does. Of course, I don't know how many of the 86 men or 16 women (by my count) who took Rhino's Fourth Annual Musical Aptitude Test alongside me last Wednesday at the Mercer Avenue Tower Records would go along with that statement. But considering most of us wore expressions of either painful shyness or outright shame, I'm guessing few would dispute it.

It's not as if I were going for the prizes: I'm a rock critic, which means I've got access to gratis copies of whichever new Rhino title strikes my fancy, and the 100 essential Rhino CDs would be superfluous since I already own most of them. Still, as former Rocket editor and Almost Live host John Keister led us through a cheesy variant on the Pledge of Allegiance ("One nation/Under a groove . . ."), I couldn't help but reflect on the ease 100 free CDs would lend my Christmas shopping this year. Another runner-up prize, a $100 gift certificate to Tower, didn't sound too bad either. And let's not forget the certain adulation I'd receive, were I to win, from the beautiful girl in the black skirt, sweater, and horn-rims sitting on the left near the front, who was neither with anyone nor wearing any rings on her fingers. . . .

My reverie broke when test time came, however. I didn't think I'd win, and I still don't, though I'm fairly proud of my 91 percent average. (The questions, with answers, are posted on www.rhino.com, where the prizewinners will be announced in another week.) Still, the amateur sociologist in me got what he was looking for: Boy, can these people concentrate! They had gathered in the parking lot of a record store on a nippy, overcast evening to do the thing geeks do singularly well: Study. And per High Fidelity, most of my fellow participants were classifiable as either Dicks (furrowed brows, constant silent reevaluation of answers) or Barrys (disdainful expressions, occasional mutters of "Everybody knows the order of these Beatle quotes").

Still, it was after the test's finish that the real action began, as the contest's participants took the form inside after the quiz was over. I can't remember when I've seen anything quite like the expressions of utter disbelief that befell the Tower employees as 125 or so record geeks simultaneously poured into their store, bloodthirsty and ready to grab that copy of Soul Hits of the '70s: Didn't It Blow Your Mind! Vol. 13 to complete their collection. As middle-aged men shot each other dirty looks over who saw the store's only copy of the Japanese Sun Sessions pressing first and soccer moms rushed to protect their innocent children from unsolicited lectures on the glories of Van Morrison's Bang Records years, I felt like I was in, well, heaven. Not even the threat of bloodshed over whether the Stones were better with or without Brian Jones could bother me. Amidst the chaos, I had found my people.

 
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