First Lecture

Day one of specialized courses on human awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.

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When Beethoven composed his Fifth, he could not know how celebrated it would become. Likewise, when I created the Spotify playlist “Sooper Dooper Eighties Toonage,” I had no idea it would spread like St. Elmo’s fire. I couldn’t conceive that one day, no less than four people (counting myself) would subscribe to my compilation of upbeat, top-40 focused 80s hits. I couldn’t know SD8T would synthesize my Spotify username (CapnCrunchMunch) into the annals of history.

But while my playlist has exploded, so too have the expectations of my fans. Artistically, I’m under pressure. Personally—I’m in the danger zone.

I had no agenda at the start. Spotify’s default 80s playlist was bad. It was the genre-confused setlist of a wedding DJ, and not a fun wedding but a completely dry, second wedding for two divorced forty-somethings who met in AA. So I created my own. Toto’s “Africa” led to Hall and Oates’ “Maneater” led to Sade’s “Smooth Operator,” and suddenly I was fifty songs deep, adding Whitesnake and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark purely because the band names sounded vaguely sexual. It was only a bit of fun.

No one is truly prepared for instant fame. A mere seven months later, someone subscribed. I didn’t even know the playlist was public, but it was, and apparently it was curated with such excellence that legions of Spotify listeners were signing up by the one.

Multiple ears listened to my music now. I had responsibility. When Huey Lewis and the News “Stuck with You” came on, I couldn’t just skip it anymore. I had to ask myself, why have I included the National Enquirer of Huey Lewis tracks when I know damn well it should be “Hip to Be Square,” aka The New York Times of Huey Lewis tracks?

I endured so many sleepless nights those first months of celebrity. Time after time I snatched my phone from the bedside table at 3:15AM to delete “Obsession” by Animotion, holding my Basset Hound, Rockwell, by the face as I explained it sounded way too much like “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League. I would toss and turn for an hour then add it back. Rockwell would cock his head as I elaborated into his floppy ear that yes, they sound similar, but maybe that’s a good thing because the underlying template is a catchy-ass song.

Meanwhile the silent presence of my fanbase loomed over my thoughts, even though I had no idea what he/she thought about any of this.

Then, a year later, a second subscriber doubled my following overnight. Twice the fans meant twice the pressure. Does Depeche Mode really belong in this playlist? I began to ask myself as I paced around my apartment with a half-full blender of margarita and open bathrobe. But if I took out Depeche Mode how could I possibly justify Eurythmics? I would ponder aloud as CBD vape smoke filled the air inside my freezing shower (I lost track of the gas bill during this period).

Clearly, my playlist needed a complete overhaul. But I feared the backlash. I couldn’t bear the thought of my fans mobbing together into an angry pair and coming after me for changing something they loved. So I did nothing.

Creatively, it was like wearing sunglasses at night. It was my darkest time.

Then, just as I awoke from artistic hibernation, and just as I added “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama, my fanbase increased by 50% in the snap of a finger. Last week, in other words, I got a third subscriber. I can’t go through it again. I’m shutting SD8T down, for good.

I try not to think about my worldwide trio of followers, and how they will feel when the most important thing in their lives is gone. I can’t look back. I have to do this, for me. What does the world even look like without the 43rd most popular New Wave focused 80s playlist on Spotify? Physically, no different, but culturally—a barren wasteland.

Like the fall of the Roman Empire, it may be centuries before human civilization fully recovers.