Two summers ago I was taking a sketch writing class in Chicago when my instructor asked us a getting-to-know-you question:
Not favorite, not even second-favorite. Third-favorite.
"The Kinks," I answered when it was my turn to respond.
Looking back, it's very possible that what I said wasn't true. I didn't lie; to me, lying is a conscious thing, and The Kinks were the first band that sprung to mind when Jen (my instructor) asked the question. But with the benefit of hindsight, there's no way that in the history of music, I can only name two bands I like more than The Kinks, though I do sincerely love their music. The more precise truth is that I put The Kinks in more of a third-favorite band category.
The "favorite band" category is easy to define. This is a first-love type of affection. You own all the albums/CDs/illegally downloaded music files. You know all their songs, the lyrics to those songs, and the alternative versions to those songs that turn up on weird bootlegs. You count the days to their next album, even if it's just a re-compilation of previously released material because the band hasn't produced anything new in decades. You know the names and personal histories of all the band members. You go to all their shows if they're still together, and if not, they're the band you think of when some friend like me asks you which band in history you would pay the most money to see live, and during which year/tour would you most like to travel back in time to see them. For me, like so, so many, this band is probably The Beatles, if only because they are Ground Zero to my musical appreciation.
The "second-favorite band" is an easy category to define once you figure out the first. It's all the bands you considered for that first level, but couldn't quite justify. For one reason or another, some critical component was missing, and even though you still know all the songs and the albums and the names, and would still pay a lot of money to travel through time and see them in their prime*, they just can't replace that first band. Here I find the Stones, Zeppelin, The Who. The bands I love dearly, but just can't bring myself to rate above The Beatles. The Fab Four and I just have too much history.
Then we come to the "third-favorite bands." A category full of Hall of Fame-worthy bands, but none that would make you second-guess those first two categories. Bands with tons of great songs, bands where if you think hard, you can probably remember all the guys (or gals?) names, bands that can still surprise you because you aren't so well-versed in their material that you've actually listened to every single album. My third-favorite bands? Creedence, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground...and yes, The Kinks. Maybe U2, depending on the day.
As I think about it, I'm actually kind of surprised that I was able to answer my instructor's question so quickly. Even though I'm just the kind of guy who will ask you questions like, "what's your favorite band?" or "what's your favorite movie of all-time?" I'm also the kind of guy who has become so saturated in music and media over the years that I can barely answer my own questions. Some days my favorite movie is "Star Wars." On others it's "The Blues Brothers." Then every once in a while I'll watch "Raising Arizona" and wonder if it could ever get any better. Then I'll re-watch "Cool Hand Luke" and want to chastise myself for considering a comedy for such a lofty title.
Sometimes it's not easy being an elitist pseudo-hipster pop culture junkie jerk. But it makes for some interesting conversation in getting-to-know-you exercises.
*I'm actually kind of a hypocrite, though. Because even though I can't justify replacing them as my number-one band, the Beatles wouldn't be my first choice to catch in a time-travelling rock tour. I'd probably rather see the Stones in '69 or The Who in '68. Outside of seeing The Beatles during their Hamburg residency, they don't really seem to have any particular tour that distinguished them as a great live act. I think mostly it would be just a bunch of screaming teenage girls.