Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Growing Up Part I - Music

(This is part of a series of posts. See here for the introduction.)

It should be no surprise to anyone that knows me that my taste in music is what initially tipped me off to this whole growing up thing. I’ve always loved music. It’s been a huge part of my life even to the extent that, at the root of it, it's how I ended up meeting the woman I married. Through my teen years and early twenties I was constantly listening to music. All the time. Any CD I could get my hands on was worth listening to and pretty much all my disposable income (which, by the way, is the only kind of income you have when you're a teen/early-twenty-something) went to buying new music. When Napster came along and I found out I could get music for FREE (read: ILLEGALLY) I went nuts and downloaded thousands upon thousands of songs. It was wonderful. I played drums a ton throughout high school and college and was always looking for new sounds, new drummers to aspire to and music that hit me in a new way. No genre was off limits either and I therefore listened to some ridiculous stuff. The problem with hearing that much music is that it can't all be good. I listened to a lot of really terrible music; and not in a "guilty pleasure" kind of way. More like a "it sounds like someone recorded a witch being boiled in molten hot cats while trying to sing the Star Spangled Banner backwards" kind of way. Those are the albums the artists really know are terrible but play if off as "if you don't like it then you just don't get it." Guess what - I get it and it sucks no matter how much you try to play it off like it's bad in a cool way.

But these days, I listen to really bad music that is not bad in a cool way. It's just bad. Mind numbing, soul achingly awful lyrics auto-tuned over the catchiest hooks science can create after years of analyzing what we buy. I'll listen to songs like "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry and think "that wasn't that bad of a song actually." (Heads up: that song is actually TERRIBLE!) If my eighteen year old self heard me think that, he'd set off a thousand fireworks on my doorstep after stuffing my mailbox full of Krispy Kreme donuts (not that my eighteen year old self ever did that to anyone…this is just hypothetical.). Sometimes I'll catch myself really getting into a song like "Moves Like Jagger" and suddenly want to drive into a tree. So how did I get to this shameful low of music patronage? This metaphorical rock bottom of audio intake?

These guys would hate me. (+1 for old movie reference!)
The answer is "Time." Or a lack of time, really. When you're a teen, you have nothing but time. I'd sit around and listen to a full album a few times in a row just to let it really "sink in" and make sure I was catching all the important subtle parts. Now, about the only block of time I have to listen to music is when I'm driving. And even that is limited since much of the time I'm driving I have the kids in the car (I don't count "150 Fun Songs For Kids!" as music. If you can sell me 150 tracks for $0.99, you're doing music wrong.). It really comes down to the 15-20 minutes on my way to work and my way home from work. The thing I've found is that if I don't have time to really digest music, I'll just turn to the most immediately obtainable music around. Since I can't find enough consecutive moments to "let an album sink in" any more, it leaves me with two options: 1) listen to stuff I already know I like and have fully gained a respect for or 2) listen to whatever is easily accessible (both musically and logistically speaking). Option 1 is fun because I get to listen to a lot of great '90s music that I grew up listening to and love. I also listen to a lot of what my parents listened to while I was growing up which is cool too because my parents actually have really great taste in music for the most part. The downside is that I get in conversations with younger people and say things like "that's like one part in that Spin Doctors song where…no, Spin Doctors. They're a band. No they're really cool. Whatever, never mind." and then leave the conversation feeling old. The alternative to that is option 2. Option 2 starts by saying "sure, I'll listen to this one Katy Perry song on the radio right now just because I don't feel like lifting my arm to change the station" and ends with me humming "California Gurls" a few hours later while cleaning up dinner. Pretty soon, that awful song I heard on the radio has been going through my head enough that it's not so awful any more. My brain/decency/good sense have become anesthetized to how truly crappy the song is. And since most songs out sound nearly identical, once one song is deemed acceptable to my otherwise functioning brain, all crappy songs are given a pass. Suddenly I'm singing along to songs put out by American Idol contestants and Rihanna. It's a very slippery slope of craptastic music and I'm clearly on the descent.

My friends Alex and Tony have always had cooler taste in music than I have (well, maybe not high school Tony. But college Tony, for sure.). I could at least keep up with them in a conversation though since, even if I didn't like something, I'd at least listened to it once or heard of it. But when I hang out with them now, if we talk about music, they might as well be making up band names just to mess with me. (Actually, anyone that knows Alex and Tony know they probably ARE just making up band names to mess with me.) Now with services like Spotify, I can at least see what Alex, Tony, my brother Jonathan and others are listening to and hopefully pick up some cooler, more current music. It's really my only hope.

I feel like I can at least see how I got to where I am, so hopefully I can fix it. I feel better knowing why some people still think music from the '60s, '70s or '80s was the greatest music ever. It's because they really haven't listened to much good music since then. It's not their fault though. Life gets in the way of things like that. Hopefully I can dig my way out of this musical abyss soon. Because on days when even cheesy radio music seems like too much, I turn to talk radio. And folks, talk radio is the absolute bottom of the audio barrel.

See you tomorrow for our talk about my taste (or lack thereof) in food.

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