Wednesday, February 03, 2010

the music of my youth

I have always been a music guy. It's kind of strange, considering my father seemingly doesn't want to hear anything that challenges him in any way, and my mother uses music for mostly background noise, but music has always played a special role in my heart.

Moreover, I have the cd collection to prove it. While my 1,000-1,200 cds pales in comparison to some (one friend in TX has, I think, around 20,000), it's still notable in size. Moreover, it's filled with disks that are more than just collections of songs, instead acting as emotional markers, evoking fragments, memories, and stories. This album was originally given to me (several copies ago, originally on cassette) by my first high school crush. I burned through several copies of this one while driving around and smoking cigarettes in high school. This one got me through my last bad breakup. I played this one for my now-wife on the first night she stayed over.

My collection also has cd copies of a lot of old albums which specifically prompt recall of key times when I was really young and first discovering my love of music. Every time I play Judas Priest's Sad Wings of Destiny, I think of my brother bringing home a vinyl copy from the base library. Motorhead's No Remorse makes me think of a recently deceased friend, who owned the leather-bound records. Metallica's Ride the Lightning reminds me of the shock and wonder of discovering something which so blatantly demolished every single rule of music I thought existed, a feeling which my current students (for whom Metallica has long been classic rock) can never understand. These disks in particular act more as markers of my musical experiences and knowledge...metamusic, if you will.

Apart from evoking these memories and stories, however, most of the albums still hold up as really good music. And whenever I realize that the soundtrack to my life also would work as contemporary artistic production, I feel that I've done something right, dedicating a large part of myself to music. It's also one of the reasons that I rarely get rid of anything, album-wise, and why I look down upon with scorn anyone who would trade in cds. Why would you get rid of a cherished memory in exchange for three dollars of store credit? No, keep everything, a part of me (one that clearly doesn't have to worry about storage space) cries.

Lately, though, my head's playback mechanism has been shifting towards the greatest hits of the past which, for one reason or another, don't reside in my collection. Yesterday, snippets of REO Speedwagon songs from when I was a nine year old jumped to the forefront. Today, while showering, it was April Wine, who I doubt I've actually heard in 25 years and haven't thought of in at least a decade. I'm expecting an onslaught of unowned classic rock to consume me this afternoon. Even as I write this, there's most certainly a part of my frontal cortex looking for an old Styx song to recycle.

I've been trying all morning to figure out what my head turning unwittingly has turned into a classic rock station, a format which I normally hate. While I recall April Wine as being enjoyable enough, they never played a role in any significant or memorable event other than vague recollections of idly watching MTV, back in the days the network actually lived up to its name and played music. Nor did they redefine how I thought about music. And I suspect that neither is it sentimentality, a trait that rarely plays a role in much of anything I do.

I'm sitting at the computer, hands on the keyboard. I should be doing any one of about a thousand tasks today (grading, e-mails, taxes), but instead, I mostly hear the guitar crash in "Just Between You and Me's" chorus. I can't explain how it got there or what it's doing to me. My only hope is that it is not signifying some inevitable mental decline into the world of nostalgia.

I've got too much still to do to think of the past in that way.


smokeyb4 said...

Granted, I went to the point of archivist versus memory-for-all a good while back (and 20000 is a slight exaggeration btw). Even so, I still hold music as both memory and a current happening. Digging out that Alice Cooper - Zipper Catches Skin disc matters for what I hear today as well as how many times I listened to it back in the 80s.

At the same time, I also find myself in moments when I seek out the past - most recently a mini Blue Oyster Cult run that had nothing to do with my lived past at that time. Do I attribute this to contemporary music leaving me flat and uninspired? Or a wish to return to what I've been groomed to take on as familiar? Or simply a willingness to throw those formerly celebrated notions of what was "good" and "crap" and chuck them aside in favor of what I simply want to spend my time with? Some old Styx did rock. As did some old REO. April Wine... maybe not, but aesthetics are what they are to individual tastes. I'd like to view it as allowing ourselves, in our "older" ages, a chance at embracing music in the true liberal sense - a freedom to explore and engage as our whims desire. Much like I don't give a damn about how fashionable my clothing is, I'm too damned old to really care if I get cultural capital for my musical tastes.

I'd also offer that there is nothing inherently bad about nostalgia. I was most likely a miserable person in 1988, and my present self might have hated who I was in 1988. That doesn't mean I chuck 1988 to the wayside, nor do I think that what happened in 88 is to be tarnished just because I was a dumb sexist teenage kid. Context offers me the lens to reexamine that time (and/or the music of that time) and soak it in for what I feel now. Then, I drew lines in the sand about rap, Southern rock, The Cure, and Duran Duran. Those lines in the sand seem silly to me now (though the lines about The Smiths and the B-52s still hold true). But I can also tap into those moments of the past and recall why I thought Mick Mars was a god and smile. Mick Mars might not be a god to me today, but I'm glad he was then, for whatever deluded reasons I might have conjured up back when. After all, it's supposed to be a means to joy and satisfaction, isn't it?

themikedubose said...

Proof again that everyone I know is smarter than I.

themikedubose said...

I guess the real reason for my hatred of pure nostalgia has much to do with thinking of the political ramifications of my listening. There was a time when I realized that, in spite of having around a thousand cds, that my listening time and purchasing dollars were precious. When I got to know some low-level indy touring musicians, I realized that they needed my fandom, my attention, and my money much more than the established bands.

Think of it: do the Foo Fighters really care whether or not I buy their next album? I generally like the Foo Fighters, but by buying their stuff, I make utterly no difference at all in their lives, in their careers. No, I'm just another corporate consumer, faceless to everyone involved.

When I buy some Two Cow Garage, Glossary, or something similar, though, my money goes to the artist (usually directly, through purchasing at shows). Moreover, I support someone who needs my support. The music is just as good if not better, and I make a difference by listening. It's nice that they know I support them, but I'm really more concerned that my money is going to someone who needs it; I don't have much to spend, so I need to make it count.

Then there's the fact that the major labels usually screw most artists on their roster with horrific deals (see Steve Albini's "The Problem With Music" for details). I've never thought my music should be influenced by's bad for artists and for music. No, the interesting stuff happens on the margins anyway.

Now, there's too much stuff I really like to never buy anything on a major label. So when I do, I try to make it for a good reason. But if I were to get into classic rock for nostalgia purposes, my money is (1) largely going to a major corporation; (2) the money that does actually go to an artist goes to someone who's already made a career rather than someone struggling to make ends meet; and (3) all this is happening because I got a song stuck in my head.

Now, I remember liking April Wine at the time, and I'm sure some of it would still resonate. But do they really need my money? Do they really need my attention? Do I want to support a novelty act or a viable artist struggling to earn enough to remain an artist? I've already had several of my favorite musicians give up the business and get real jobs because enough people were not buying their stuff. If for no other reason, this is why I try aqnd ditch nostalgia.

smokeyb4 said...

Spent a good portion of today thinking about your response - am left with a variety of contradictory ideas. Responding here is more testament to me mulling through your ideas versus any form of countering argument. In truth, I appreciate the political ramifications point you raise and wonder if I'm some evil person for not following a similar philosophy.

But then I think about does it matter if the Foo Fighters care about my purchases. They create their art and if I dig it, then great. If I don't, then great. If they are worried about me in creating/judging their art or even consuming their art, that seems a bit misguided. Ideally, they'd create it regardless of me, you, or the $$.

And for me to avoid art simply because it comes from a large-scale manufacturer is kinda misguided too. After all, why would I limit myself from the potential of those meaningful moments and memories that can come from music - major label or not; old, new or reissued; purchased at the show or from the record store trying to make ends meet (or ending up like Madhatter there in BG).

Then I think about if I'd use parallel arguments about other media/arts - do I condemn television or movies or comic books or even video game design for being "major labels" and artistically exploitive like I might argue with music? Or is that a rationalization to justify my desire to not be politically preoccupied with Sony as the dealer for my music fix?

In my case, much of what I get is on some metal label versus a major, but that's more fate than by choice. I agree, our purchasing time/capital is precious. Thing of it is, I'm an addict and I crave those moments when I get that satisfaction that music seems to provide like few other things do. And I seek that fix, that next great album that creates those meaningful moments. And I'm addicted enough to seek that fix from wherever I can cause I'm a junkie. Sometimes being a junkie means you compromise to get that high and I just might be some sort of evil person, but that high is too damn appealing for me to resist. Yep, I'm rationalizing. Yep, I'm a junkie. And I have the new Sigh record to listen to and I'm hoping I get my first best of 2010 fix when I hit play.

週休 said...
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themikedubose said...

One of the things I have to remember about music is it's not like major labels have a monopoly on screwing artists, as well.

If I had more time to listen, admittedly, I probably wouldn't think along the lines I do. However, pretty much the only time I can listen to music nowadays is, for some reason, on the drive to and fro work...and I have plenty of good music to listen to.

I knew we would enter into a fun debate about this, though.