Music is one of the most important parts of my life. I so far lack any musical talent, but that’s the great part about it. Regardless of one’s skills, knowledge and intelligence you can appreciate music in some form. I’m trying to learn the piano and I own a guitar that I eventually want to learn how to play. I haven’t tried the guitar yet so as not to burst delusions that I have some sort of inborn talent/genius where the second I pick it up I will be able to play it and begin my new career as a beloved and adored, insanely wealthy, spoiled, hotel trashing, crack smoking, soulless celebrity musician who needs a fistful of amphetamines just to get on stage so his ticket sales can go to more drugs, alimony and child support for kids whose names I can’t remember. The American Dream!
When I was a kid, I had little interest in music. I liked the oldies; 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s. It was a little disheartening when I came to realize that most of the bands and musicians I listened to were dead or retired.
When I became a teenager, of all potential choices in music for that age, I became a country fan. The main reason for this shift was that I moved from a city where they had an oldies station to a smaller, more rural city where they had three different country stations and not much else. In many ways that was sort of revealing to my musical preferences as a pre-adult: I listened to what came on the radio. I had little interest in owning my own music or finding artists I loved.
Then the company Roxio purchased the rights to the illegal music sharing network Napster and changed it to a legal digital music store also called Napster. Kind of a bizarre page in the corporate history book. Imagine if the day Enron went under someone else paid good money for the company’s name to do the same thing they were doing, but legally. Brave marketing decision.
I became a Napster subscriber and with it had access to all the music I could want. What did I do with this amazing power? I downloaded some country songs I heard on the radio that I thought I might like to hear more often. I don’t even really remember what songs I had. I think there was Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw and such. The saddest part is that with 3 million songs to pick from I couldn’t come up with more than 20 or 30 I wanted.
I remember the exact moment when I found a song I truly loved. I was watching the anime (just in case my status as a loser wasn’t firmly cemented on the internet yet, this should do it LOL) Gunslinger Girl on IFC. The intro song is “the Light Before We Land” by the Delgados. A beautiful orchestral piece. I bought the song immediately and soon had a ton of their other songs. They’re a Scottish band that no one aside from Gunslinger Girl watchers and Scottish kids have heard of (so, essentially no one). While the band started off as the type of teen garage rock where you can’t understand the lyrics and the melody can be described as loud and fast, I really love their later work and also have the two albums released by their lead female singer Emma Pollock. Their song “Ballad of Accounting” encouraged me to cast off the chains of the class structure and quit my dead end job. And now look at me, I work for the same damn company.
From there I found obscure indie band after even more obscure indie band. Hey, I was an angst-ridden, middle class, medicated white kid who grew up in the suburbs, it’s part of my cultural heritage. Now I have to argue that I am not in fact a hipster. First of all, my jeans didn’t come with holes in them, my T-shirts don’t say a thing about legalizing pot and not everything I say is sarcastic or ironic. I don’t purposely seek out bands no one else likes. I just have terrible taste in music. That’s an important distinction between myself and the hipster hordes shambling the streets of any town with a community college.
Indie music became a gateway drug to the harder stuff. I’ve come to love music ranging across myriad genres. I’ve got my indie rock, alt country (I don’t like pure country much anymore, but I love the irregular lumps of country the radio stations throw away), blues, rock, classic rock, death metal, classical (some of the very oldest oldies still in circulation), oldies, faux 60’s rock, folk, folk rock, folk blues, indie folk, indie reggae hip-hop folk (don’t see a lot of that), steampunk (yeah, that’s a music genre now), post-Pink Floydian psychedelic rock (Pink Floyd too of course), punk rock, Detroit rock, British Invasion, Irish rock, and more. From Led Zeppelin to Vampire Weekend, White Stripes to Johnny Cash, Richard Thompson to Mozart, I’m into it.
In fact, the only genres I don’t really care much for are pure hip-hop, jazz, pop, electronica and dance. The main reason for this being that lyrics are the easiest way to my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of songs simply for their original sound, but it’s lyrics where a song typically shines through with me.
My interest in more poetic (i.e. pretentious) lyrics turned me away from country. I get it, you love your pick-up truck or your tractor or your prize hog or your moonshine or your history of domestic violence. I have none of those things so you lost me in the first verse. Most modern country seems to be assembled from the answers to questions given to panels of hillbillies about what they want to hear. It’s as superficial and monetarily driven as Christian Rock. Slap on some cowboy boots and a hat and you’ve got a built-in audience.
Mainstream hip-hop is also usually about a lifestyle I can’t identify with, so it’s not for me. I’ve never felt any desire to accumulate material wealth or promiscuous female companionship, and I’ve never been oppressed or profiled by the authorities. Again, white kid; suburbs; middle class. Wait, now that I think about it that’s the primary demographic. Well, then I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I don’t like it.
Plenty of country and hip-hop transcends their stereotypes, but its rare for me to like them enough to want to hear them that often. Just outside my personal taste these days.
The best thing about digital music and MP3 players is you’re no longer limited to a single record playing at a time (or five if you could afford such luxuries). I remember a Dave Berry article where he was talking about growing up with records where you spend all your hard earned money to get a Gary Puckett and the Union Gap album when the only song you wanted was Young Girl. For those too young to get that reference (I should be too), Gary Puckett and the Union Gap was a briefly popular band in the late 60’s whose lyrics often featured their underaged fans.
No longer do we have to put up with buying 12 songs, one of which we like. Right now my playlist has 2368 songs and it would take me 153 hours and 44 minutes to listen to it all. If I put all my tracks on there I would need a solid week to hear them all. I’m my own radio station.
And that’s how I went from a teenager who listened to the radio now and then to a young adult who found music for the first time and now never a day goes by without listening to it, and how I managed to remain true to myself by having consistently bad taste in all aspects of art and culture for 20 years. I used to be really self-conscious about it and hid what I listened to from others. Then apparently the part of my brain that used to feel shame overloaded and broke.
This is all to kick off what will become the new music category of my blog. Occasionally, I will post about bands I like or am listening to at the time.
Future blog reader: “But FH, no one cares about that.”
FH: “Shove it. For all I know I’m the greatest guitar player of all time and I don’t have to take criticism from purely imaginary internet people.”