Before he published two books or starred in The Office as Ryan Howard, B.J. Novak ’01 reviewed an imaginary band for FM. Ladies and gentlemen, This is Primary Source.

Reprinted from FM’s April 5, 2001 issue.

“Do you know if you don’t get your advisor’s signature on this form before the ADD/DROP deadline you’ll wind up with an incomplete on your report card?”

“No—but if you hum a few bars I can fake it!”

That’s the joke going around the Harvard music scene these days. As bands like Nano, Invisible Downtown, Roiff ‘n’ Ready, and Fink Fank Funk increasingly cater to an all-Harvard crowd, some observers have been musing about how far the self-absorption of campus bands might go.

Their fears have a name: Primary Source. It’s a hypothetical campus band, a sort of parody of the way Crimson bands pander to their crowd. Primary Source is best explained as a band with hits pulled right out of an FAS Course Catalog. Typical song titles: “(I Don’t Wanna Be Your) Secondary Source,” “Independent Reading & Research in Loving You,” “Sex Lies Folklore & Mythology and Videotape,” “(I Wanna Concentrate In) East Asian Women’s Studies.”

The origins of the Primary Source comic riff remain unclear. More than one band claims to have come up with the joke after one too many post-rehearsal swigs or tokes. “I’m 90 percent sure that one of us made it up,” says Ted Hine of the band The Cosbys, “but who knows.” W. David Marx ’01, of the band usagipop, also wonders about the beginnings of the myth. “Primary Source jokes sprung up on the scene around when All Your Base Are Belong To Us got big. No one knows who wrote that, either,” Marx points out.

“Our band makes a lot of Primary Source jokes these days, especially if we’re about to play a Harvard gig,” says Daniel R. Lienert ’01-’02, bassist for the band Chilly Chonka and the Heartstabbers. Lienert remembers his favorite gem: “The best one any of us came up with, that I remember anyway, is “Being With You Is General White, Being Apart From You is General Wrong.” Obviously Harvard Dining Services serves as a muse to Primary Source lyricists.

Brittany Garza ’04, a budding campus pop star alternatively described as “the next Shakira” and “a Latina Ashley Filip [’01],” sometimes jokes with her friends about taking a guest lead vocal on a Primary Source song called “Foreign Cultures 69: Latina Love.” “But it’s not, like, for real. It’s totally a joke thing. What a gross song [that would be]!”

Of course, there’s always the chance that Primary Source won’t stay a joke for long. “I know some guys in my group that are talking, half-seriously, about trying to put together a real Primary Source band to play Springfest,” says Chess A. Stetson ’01 of the Harvard Krokodiloes. “I mean, it doesn’t take us long to put together some pretty hilarious songs about Harvard in our Kroks jams. It would be hilarious if we actually surprised everyone and made that joke a reality.”

But not everyone agrees. “If Primary Source became a real band, all these over-analytical Harvard kids would start one-upping each other with nauseating new levels of irony,” hypothesizes Lienert. “Someone would write a review of it in The Crimson, and then some student would write a paper about the review without referring to the band, and then some student would write a paper about the review without referring to the band, and then he’d be faulted for not using a primary source—stuff like that.”

Sounds like a catchy idea for a song.