Believe In Your Own God
It's pretty much impossible for anyone who loves music to pick their all-time favorite song (just like it's tough for whisky drinkers to pick their favorite whisky), but if pressed I might choose the above 90's buzz bin jam "Believe" by Dig. It represents an incredibly emotional connection to a formative time in my life. I never get tired of listening to Scott Hackwith's grungy anthem about the perils of mass culture, and the desire for people to be themselves, chanting out: "we won't buy in their deception now, we won't buy what is on our plate now." This minor hit came out during my summer of metamorphosis. I was thirteen, growing out of my mainstream shoes, and looking for an alternative to the norm (of course, we all thought we were "alternative" back then). This song was my secret mantra. I would play it endlessly in my room, looking out my window at the Modesto summer sun, wondering about what else might be in store for me. I didn't know anyone else who liked Dig back then. I still don't know anyone who likes (or liked) Dig. It was my own personal touchstone and it remains so today because of that loneliness.
Of course, Dig never evolved beyond MTV's afternoon airplay. That was their ultimate limitation because that one outlet was the extent of their access. No one was blogging about Dig back then because blogs didn't exist. No one was Facebooking about it either. No one was Instagramming about Dig. No one was holding up a cell phone at a Dig concert, blocking the view of the people behind them, ruining the experience for the others around them, hoping to digitize the experience to showcase to others instead of actually experiencing it. The only way you could display your musical tastes back in the nineties was to wear a T-shirt of your favorite band. MTV and Rolling Stone were practically the only outposts. Because of those limitations, a secret could remain a secret among loyalists. An underground sensation could remain underground so long as the record companies never caught wind. Every now and then, however; something would break. I felt bad for the Seattle-born kids who privately loved Nirvana from the start. Their local band went from accessible to utterly untouchable, but that wasn't their fault. That was the result of the media's obsession. The industry was looking for new blood. They wanted desperately to uncover the next big thing—the new secret. Contrast that, however, with today's obsession with whiskey; a relatively consumer-driven phenomenon that has completely outrun the mainstream press and penetrated just about every corner of the digital age: from blogs, to Facebook, to Instagram, to Reddit, to Twitter, and beyond. People are constantly talking about whiskey, taking photos of their whiskies, categorizing the good whiskies, trashing the bad whiskies, ranking the whiskies, arguing about whisky, soliloquizing about whisky—all because they can't get enough whisky! Unlike when I was growing up, if you want to get into a hobby today there's a 24/7 online network of places where you can access and communicate with other enthusiasts like yourself.
Surprisingly, however, I hear some of these same online participants complaining about how their favorite dram is no longer obtainable and how the whiskey market is too crowded these days. It's getting too expensive. It's too popular. Whiskey has jumped the shark! Much like with the original Nirvana fans of the nineties, I feel bad for the guys who just wanted to drink their single barrel Elmer T. Lee and live in peace outside the scope of social media. It's not their fault that tens of thousands of whiskey drinkers began using digital media as a way to share their love of whiskey, dragging down their personal favorite brand as a sacrificial lamb. But for the people complaining today about the implications of mass consumption and global hysteria as it pertains to whiskey, I think some of those guys have to look in the mirror. If you're constantly writing about whisky, taking photos of whisky, talking about your favorite whiskies, ranking your favorite whiskies, and making lists of what's good and what isn't, then there's little room to complain about any of the market's current fluctuations. I mean...what the fuck did you think was going to happen? Did you think spending every free moment you had sharing photos of your Van Winkle collection with the world was going to help keep demand low, supplies ample, and prices affordable? Did you think telling thousands of readers about your brand new discovery was the best way to keep this hobby under your hat? Come on!
Through an incredible and widespread collective effort, the internet has created an easy-to-follow road map to instant connoisseurship with an overall readership that professional publications like the Whisky Advocate and Whisky Bible could only dream of! The combined contributions of uncounted collectors has ranked and rated what's worth drinking on a level that I don't think we'll ever really appreciate. Personally, I think it's absolutely incredible!! What a feat! But, then again, I'm not complaining about the outcome. I like seeing more people get into whiskey. I'm enjoying the growth. I don't really give a shit about what I can't get these days because it's not as if we're running out of good things to drink at K&L. I can always find something tasty and affordable if I want to, and the participation of new drinkers is only fueling our ability to dig deeper. It's funny though: the same people who have collectively donated millions of dollars of free advertising to the whiskey industry through unpaid blogging and social media posts, consciously or unconsciously helping to spread the word and sustain the whiskey boom, are often the most sarcastic and sardonic about the outcome. Ironically enough, it's their very participation in this medium that has helped carry the torch!
If people actually wanted to increase the availability of aged Bourbon, Japanese whisky, and fine Scotch, they would completely withdraw from the internet; no photos, no posts, no tweets, no comments—no nothing. If you want people to forget about something it's probably not a good idea to constantly remind them of what's happening on Twitter. But where's the fun in that? How can we impress and impart our beliefs onto others without constantly sharing and bragging about them? In the song "Believe," Dig singer Scott Hackwith asks: "Why won't you look all around yourself, try to live in your own special life?" Back in 1993, I curled up in a ball on my bedroom floor and thought about that line over and over. I never dreamed of sharing my thoughts or opinions about that private musical experience with the masses because it was a personal and internal struggle. "Why don't you believe in your own God?" he continues to chant over and over as the song builds to a final crescendo. Today, however, everyone has the ability to share their beliefs with thousands, if not millions, of other people with the simple push of a button. We love telling people what's good, what we think, and what they should do with that advice. The masses eventually comply, and we continue to preach.
And the market responds to that collective effort in turn.