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If you invite me to your show, odds are I won’t show. It’s not the ticket price or the fact that your band has a tuba. “My car’s got a flat tire and I traded the spare for a hot dog,” I might say, or perhaps, “Someone jumped in front of a Metro train again and I need to dryclean this jacket ASAP.” Or even: “There is a bewildered squirrel in my apartment and I am worried that if it’s still here when I go to sleep tonight, it will eat all my nuts.”
Or, I will simply avoid you until you are not in a band anymore.
In other words, it’s not you, it’s me. I hate live music. The music is too loud. I don’t like standing for hours at a time. Other concertgoers always look like they’re having more fun than me, usually because they’re listening to the music and not worrying that other people are having more fun. If there’s a show that I absolutely have to see—Gene Ween’s stop last year at the Black Cat was one, as was Andy Friedman and the Other Failure’s show at the Red and the Black—I try and consume enough marijuana en route to get me through the openers and my mind away from the crotch-to-ass conditions. The problem with this method, as some of my friends have pointed out, is that if you have to drug yourself to go out in public, you really are in no shape to go out in public.
How do I like music then? On the road. The Merry Pranksters did it, Steinbeck and Charlie did it, roadtrippers and commuters since time immemorial have done it. Listening to music while driving helps us anticipate the possibilities waiting for us across town on a Friday night and soothes our doubts about the soul-eating job we’re creeping toward on a Monday morning. It puts us and an artist alone in a well-ventilated steel box capable of reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph, which means there is always the possibility that we will die while listening to the Drive-By Truckers sing “This Fucking Job” or Nicki Minaj singing about putting a “pussy on your sideburns.” Unless your favorite band is Great White, attending a concert will never present as much risk—or as much reward—as listening to music while driving. In that spirit, here is a guide to D.C.’s best roads for listening.
1. Rock Creek Parkway to George Washington Memorial Parkway to Ronald Reagan Airport
On the other side of Arlington Memorial Bridge is sweet freedom or a long-awaited reunion, so pick your songs according to the occasion. If you’re dropping off your long-distance significant other, go with a weepy/sultry mix: J. Kapone’s “Do You Wanna Ride?” (“Forget about the drama me and you are going through/Yeah, you’re still my baby, boo”) communicates your sexual desire, even if he’s packed pounds since your last rendezvous. The Weepies’ “Gotta Have You” (“No amount of coffee, no amount of crying/Nothing else will do/I’ve gotta have you”) says you want him emotionally, even though you’re clearly growing apart. Why the lies? Because the drive to the airport should be emotional, but it shouldn’t be a scene. You can always break up over the phone once he’s landed in Minneapolis.
2. Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike from North Bethesda to Friendship Heights
Fratty friends who choose to live in the suburbs in apartments that are just as expensive as D.C.’s: We all have them. The trick is luring them away from the Dave & Buster’s at the White Flint mall on the weekends and to a neighborhood besides Adams Morgan. How best to do it? Sappy dance music. It’s a lot like fresh cow’s milk, in that most guys don’t think they’ll like it until they try it, and then they want to put it on everything. To get your friends out of their booze/Jumbo Slice/puke routine and into something more adventurous, try David Guetta’s “One Love” album (featuring “When Love Takes Over” by Destiny’s Child alumna Kelly Rowland) and La Roux’s eponymous 2009 full-length. By the time you hit downtown Bethesda, your hetero bros will be fist-pumping like Eurotourists on PCP. By the time you hit Connecticut Avenue, no destination—the DC Eagle, a wine bar, an art film—will seem too gay.
3. North Capitol Street from Farragut Street NW to H Street NE
For D.C. denizens who live east of Rock Creek Park, North Capitol Street is like the Bering Straight. It’ll take you wherever you want to go at record speed, so long as you don’t want to go to Georgetown. As such, it’s a great road for driving with the windows down and the radio cranked. And because its superior usability is almost a D.C. secret, drivers should listen to D.C. bands while they drive it. When you’re up to cruising speed, start with These United States’ “I Want You to Keep Everything”—a hard-driving indie number about ditching the people who bring you down. If you’re feeling somber, throw on Statehood’s “A Story’s End.” If the night feels pregnant with possibility, go with Wale’s “Pretty Girls” (featuring Gucci!) or “Chillin” (Lady Gaga!).
4. 16th and Kennedy Streets NW to downtown
Rush-hour traffic on 16th St. NW is its own special hell, whether you’re taking a bus, a car, or a bike; the last thing you need is to hear music that reminds you there are five days between you and Friday. Pop is out, jazz is tedious, and hip-hop feels especially insincere when you’re wearing a paisley noose and can feel the sweat dripping into your asscrack. The only option, then, is metal. For slaves of D.C.’s insular political class, As I Lay Dying’s “The Sound of Truth” will remind you there are real costs to selling out. For disillusioned nonprofit workers, Lamb of God’s “Blacken the Cursed Sun” will distill your discontent with begging retirees for money. And for habitual road-ragers, there’s D.C.’s own Darkest Hour, “With a Thousand Words to Say but One.” While deciding what that word is, remember that your driver’s license is a privilege, not a right.