We Are Scientists—the duo of vocalist/guitarist Keith Murray and bassist/vocalist Chris Cain—are known for the oblique humor and intelligence that they bring to their music, but a question about their sharp mental acuity produces gales of laughter. “I don’t believe brains or wit are particularly helpful, or necessary, in pop music,” Murray says, still chuckling. “If we intended our appeal to be narrow and excessively insular, those qualities might be good for us, but nobody likes a smartass.” Despite this protestation, the songs on the band’s new LP, TV En Français (Dine Alone), are brimming over with wry humor and skewed insights into the state of modern romance. TV En Français was recorded with the help of producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio), who helped give the album a polished, expansive sound. Cain will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand new feature on the band.
Cain: “How old is he?”
“Oh, that’s a great age.”
Three, four, eight, even 11: These are all considered “great” ages for people, at least according to strangers offering these people’s parents their unsolicited, if pleasant, takes. But how does it make the rest of us feel, hearing that we long ago lived through the best ages, and are now trudging down a staircase of un-great years toward our quiet, inevitable ends? This goes beyond ageism (a minor bigotry, after all). It is pessimism, pure and simple—and a very pure and poisonous strand, at that.
Let’s consider the question from a practical point of view. At what age are we least susceptible to—even interested in—the opinions of strangers? Twelve and under. Secure (ideally) in the cocoon of our parents’ approval, we need a stranger’s reassurance like a fish needs a bicycle helmet sticker remover. Then comes the awful mutation that yields adolescence, after which we’re completely intrigued and infectable by what strangers think about us. Which is to say that this “great age” crap is being wasted on the wrong people.
We’d like to propose something to everyone out there who makes a practice of complimenting children on how old they are: Stop. Redirect your energies. There’s a whole age range desperately ready to benefit from these compliments, and you’re missing them completely: 13–90-year-olds. We admit that most people over 90 seem relatively secure, like they’ve got most things figured out and don’t particularly need or want a stranger’s approbation. But for everybody else, even a compliment as generic as, “The number of years you’ve been alive is a good number,” sits warmly in the mind.
If you’re not the type to tell children that it’s good how old they are, please consider taking up this new practice. Next time you see someone whose life isn’t just obviously perfect, ask him how old he is—and then tell him that’s a great age.
“Oh, man, 33 That’s a great age.”
“Nineteen? Great age.”
“Oh my god, I hear 71 is a great age.”
Let’s stop throwing these great generic ego-boosters at deaf little ears, and turn their palliative potential instead on the weak, the miserable, the existentially terrified among us: the 13–90-year-olds.