Behind the scenes of Popdose, the writers are fairly concerned not only with music but our perception of music. There is a real and present understanding that our attraction, and often aversion, to music is entangled with how we receive it. That can be tainted by a lot of factors including the desire to be first with a review, having the music somehow tied to good and bad experiences, having too strong an overfamiliarity or unfamiliarity with artist, subject or genre.
And sometimes age plays a role in how music is perceived. As one of the older members of the staff, I’m uncomfortably aware of tendencies that have crept in. In my ’30s, I was as connected with the new as anyone else and felt assured I wouldn’t become one of those types that insisted “my music was better,” closing myself off from the unfamiliar.
Now I am 41 and, insidiously, that musical cloistering has started to settle in. Given a chance to try out new music versus pulling the old stuff off the shelf, I find myself reaching for the shelf. I also have found that, of the newest acts I’ve gravitated to, most of them are heavily influenced by my old favorites. This is not a problem and takes nothing away from these new artists, it just preys too easily on my comfort zone, and as I thought I was still in tune with the latest thing out there, in reality I was becoming enamored of proxies.
I know several people who have crawled into the comfortable fetal position of old favorites and have opted to stay there. I once attempted, in vain, to appeal to their sense of new and different stimuli in the forms of mixtapes, gifts of CDs, sending videos, and mostly these were met with indifference. “They’ll never play guitar like Duane Allman,” was a quote that sticks in my head. Trapping them in my car with my music on the stereo never worked out either. They would shut it off or complain until I shut it off.
But lately, I’m the one who has been shutting things off and it worries me. What constitutes pop music these days is, to be generous, 20% interesting and 80% cannibalistic, and I don’t mean that which directly shouts “plagiarism” either. The Max Martins, Linda Perrys and Dr. Lukes of this world have maybe four chord progressions between them, so they beat them mercilessly until even Gil Grissom couldn’t tell if there was an original thought in that bloody DNA evidence. But that still leaves 20% to experience and perhaps enjoy, and it is my fault for not being adventurous enough to seek them out.
In conjunction with an overall attempt to unclutter my life, I’ve been moving my CDs from the shelf into binders. It’s made a world of difference in terms of physical space, but it also presented an opportunity. The original idea was to pack up the CDs I listen to the least, the discs that came and went and didn’t make a mark on me. Then I had a conversation with someone, and forgive me whomever it was that I was talking to at the time, because I don’t remember which one of you that was. Shut up. I’m old and have the right. You young smart-alecks are all the same anyway. What was I saying again?
Oh, yeah. In the war of 1993, I was the captain of a submarine on the way to Desert Storm, with a boatload of monkeys we planned to let loose on Saddam Hussein. We called it the Simian Offensive and…
I had a conversation with someone and they informed me that the band I was referencing as being the next big thing had been so for more than ten years, and was hardly so now. That would have been Coldplay and the song “Trouble,” which I enjoyed a great deal. The shock that I had coasted on the treadmill that long caused me to rethink my plan. Instead of putting the foreign stuff into the binder, I’d put the most familiar stuff away. It wasn’t like I was throwing it out, but I was consciously inconveniencing myself, perhaps forcing myself to listen with fresh ears to things I dismissed casually. Maybe laziness could be my virtue this time out.
So there I was, carefully prying traycards out of the bulky jewel cases, cautiously packing them into the plastic binder sleeves, making sure to sandwich the discs inside their booklets as the plastic of the sleeves tend to stick to the fronts of discs. Everyone believes scratching the playing surface of the CD is damaging. It is, but not as damaging as scratching the label side. Think of a CD like a mirror. Scrape the front and you leave a mark. Scrape the back and you remove silvering permanently. On a CD, that silvering holds the recorded data. Always protect the label side.
How has the experiment gone so far? Not badly, but not great either. The infrastructure is sound, but instead of going for those other discs, I’ve been listening to NPR talk radio more. Having identified that, I’m now look to play more of the music. It’s a blessing in disguise as our local station, as of late, has been busy self-flagellating about presumed “liberal biases.” A change in audio was bound to come.
You might ask if all this analysis is worth it, and perhaps I should simply enjoy my old favorites and not panic about what I’m not listening to. I should accept that, as we get older, we like what we like, dislike what is different and have earned some holy right to complain that the world has moved on without us and that is, somehow, the world’s fault. I ought to recognize that this is another phase of growing up, and that we all will, one day, argue about the merits of color versus black and white, acoustic drums versus electronic beats, bell-bottom versus bootcut.
I ought to, but I’d rather try not to.