In the early aughts, I came up with the idea for a Vanity Fair feature called “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary,” a sort of deadpan reference guide to such people and things as Nick Drake, the Stooges, Rickenbacker guitars, and the Ibanez Tube Screamer FX pedal—stuff that Rock Snobs hold dear. So dear, in fact, that they are affronted if you profess to be more knowledgeable about this stuff than they are. For help, I enlisted two friends, Steven Daly, a writer and former rock musician, and Bob Mack, an old Spy magazine compadre who later fell into the Beastie Boys’ orbit. Steven and Bob were precisely the sorts of ornery human beings with whom I would engage in argumentative, showoffy discussions about the holy scripture of rock.
Well, that “Rock Snob’s Dictionary” feature became a book (co-written with Steven), and that book begat a series of “Snob’s Dictionary” humor books and a Web site that hasn’t been updated in years but remains rich with fun, inconsequential material. And now, all these years later, the new entertainment wing of Vanity Fair’s parent company, Condé Nast, has worked with me to build a “Snob’s Dictionary” series of Web videos based on the rock-, film-, and food-related dictionaries I’ve co-authored. I asked if we could get the actor and comedian Judah Friedlander, best known as Frank from 30 Rock, to be our narrator, because Judah can do just the sort of strident, grad-studentish tone—arrogant but self-aware and maybe just the slightest bit kindhearted in his bid to educate—that I heard in my head. Thankfully, Judah was game.
Two videos are up so far: this one, about American International Pictures (for Film Snobs), and this one, about the aforementioned Nick Drake (for Rock Snobs). Eight more Snob’s Dictionary videos are en route in the next couple of months, with further batches likely to follow.
A note on Nick Drake, by the way: I love his music; Steven doesn’t. I tended to write my dictionary entries from a perspective of self-mockery, making fun of my own precious tastes, while Steven wrote from a place of roiling Glaswegian anger. (And, in the early days, Bob Mack was the angriest of all; it was he who coined the phrase “trustafarian pretty-boy” to describe Gram Parsons, and who once graffito’d a Village Voice ad I’d clipped for a Richard Thompson concert with the words NO! BAN THE ROCK-CRIT ESTABLISHMENT!) The books’ sense of conversation is why the whole thing works, and why I always bring in collaborators on Snob projects. In the spirit of cultural snobbery, I invite you to suggest further topics for Snob video shorts. Try to be less strident than us.