This Music in My Mind

I like shitty music. Art is subjective, I realize, and I actually do like my music very much, but I am the first to admit that my sensibilities leave much to be desired. My album collection is filled with the kind of innocuous, forgettable, embarrassing stuff most people outgrow by the time they graduate high school: Avril, Britney, Shania, Taylor, Blink. None can be excused as mere relics of my past, as all listed remain prominent features in my current playlists.

Some many years ago, I tried to resell a good chunk of my CD collection. I brought 20 or 30 albums I had already digitized into one of the largest independent music stores in the world: Amoeba Music in Los Angeles. The clerk dutifully went through them one by one, checking their condition. When he finished, there was a moment’s pause. “These are really middle-of-the-road,” he told me. “We can’t take any of them.” I brought everything back to the car. I felt embarrassed.

I never was all that musically inclined growing up. I didn’t develop an ear for good music (despite the considerable size of said ears), never bonded with my parents over their music. Perhaps as a result, my childhood love of Disney created a precedent I retained. I gravitated not towards lyrical depth or instrumental innovation or whatever “legitimate” variables might be discussed in the pages of Rolling Stone, but instead towards catchiness, simplicity, accessibility, fun. I preferred comfort food: top 40, bubblegum pop, conveyer belt stuff.

Unsurprisingly, I got a lot of shit from my friends about my tastes during my teenage years (and still now, sporadically). Like seemingly everyone else in high school, they fancied themselves connoisseurs: discovering indie bands, speaking of lesser-known albums. There is indeed something to the portrayal of music as a core component of adolescence, especially American adolescence, but because of my apathy and less-than-acceptable musical tendencies, it was a conversation I never took part in.

Even now, the aura around music and its meaning eludes me. I obviously enjoy the artform at some level, but its fit in my life remains unnatural. I simply cannot grasp the universal level of passion, of judgment, that appears unique to that form of art. People, for instance, do not extol the virtues of Byzantine art to great (or any) reaction, and no one would debate unearthed coins versus animal exhibits at the natural history museum. But music is treated differently. I wonder if it is the convergence of art and artist and performance that elicits such visceral reaction.

I wonder too whether my own issue goes beyond music. When it comes to the arts after all, I have always had a rather grounded and at times cynical receptivity. I cannot say that I have ever read a book that changed my life, as the cliché goes, nor have I seen a movie that altered how I saw the world around me. I am not a robot – I have been deeply affected by art of course, and I have at times felt art with every fiber of my being. But I would be remiss to suggest that any of it has penetrated my essence to the point of fundamental alteration.

Yet the preceding caveat does not fully explain the general distinctiveness of my feelings towards music. With literature, for example, I have gradually developed a sense of obligation to consider classics from all walks of life, jumping most recently from a sprawling work of historical fiction set against an African civil war to a British coming-of-age children’s novel tinged with magical realism. Similarly with movies, I hop with regularity from black-and-white classics to foreign language films to contemporary blockbusters and 1980s classics. But I have never in this manner actively or systematically sought the spectrum of options in music.

I pause to say here that I consider myself rather open-minded about music, certainly in a way that music snobs are not. I happily accompany friends to just about any live show*, I often purchase songs after hearing them in passing, and I will without fail check out recommendations sporadically directed to me from friends and acquaintances. Yet my personal exploration of music has heretofore been passive, and I simply lack the natural intellectual curiosity for the form I clearly have elsewhere. Essentially, analogously, I am content to watch Transformers and Fast and the Furious and little else.

*I absolutely love the environment – a corollary of my sports fandom, I suppose.

Perhaps all this has to do with the fact that music is meant to stick with the consumer of art in a manner that other forms do not. Indeed, I do not reread books, and it is actually quite rare that I will rewatch a movie – my favorites included. Even museums are not visited more than once. But music is replayed again and again. Music contains an intrinsic degree of permanence, and as a result, requires something that might exceed the boundaries of my open-mindedness. In fact, its very nature alters the conception of what being open-minded entails. Perhaps it is unsurprising then that the tried-and-true is what has stuck with me.

Still, much as I love the music that I do, much as I am ready to defend that music or (more likely) belt it out at karaoke, I do sometimes feel excluded from an art that reaches people so deeply. There is certainly some part of me that wishes to have the awareness to feel the rhythm (getting stronger) or the knowledge to break down verses and recognize allegories and so forth. Who knows. Maybe this will happen in due course, and I eventually broaden my horizons. But maybe it won’t. Maybe my love will always be superficial. After all, there exists the terrible possibility that music simply does not speak to my soul.


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