Thursday, January 21, 2010

Musical Musing

I've never been very confident when talking about music. I always seem to be out of step with what everyone else thinks is good, worthwhile, or important. As an example, one of the local radio stations has recently changed to a "Generation X" format, which is all music I heard on the radio in college. A lot of it I love, but I feel like somehow it's not supposed to be "my" music. My music should be the stuff that was popular when I was in high school, the heyday of MTV. But I hated almost everything that was on MTV and contemporary radio at that time. I was listening to Kansas and Bad Company and Pink Floyd for the first time, even though their music was, by then, already "classic rock".

So I tend not to talk about what I like, other than quoting random earworms on Twitter and facebook statuses. Recently, though, I've had some angst-filled moments surrounding music and musicians, and I thought I'd share them.

I'm a huge fan of the Pandora music service. It's a great alternative to trying to load up my BlackBerry (my only MP3 player) with all the things I think I might like, or putting a bunch of CDs in the car. One of the things I decided as I've been exploring new music on Pandora was that I had to figure out why people seem to be so enthralled with The White Stripes.

In a recent documentary film, Jack White shares equal billing with The Edge from U2 and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. Obviously, somebody thinks he's important. But everything I've heard from him just felt like noise (I know, stereotypical old guy reaction) or something trying to be interesting and failing. So I plugged in a title that Rolling Stone seemed to think was significant, "Seven Nation Army" as the seed to a new Pandora station. Some of the songs by other artists sounded good to me, but there was only one White song I liked, "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)", and that was really about the lyrics and the sentiment behind them more than the music. If anything, I felt like what I wanted the song to be had to fight its way out from behind his singing and playing.

"So what," right? I don't like The White Stripes. Big deal. But here's the thing. I WANT to like them. I feel like, somehow, I SHOULD like them. And I dislike them, not because they don't play music I like, but because I'm missing something fundamental. I'm not getting it. Not liking The White Stripes isn't a personal choice. It's a failure.

In a similar way, I've been avoiding listening to the music of Amanda Palmer and her duo The Dresden Dolls. For those who haven't heard, Ms. Palmer has been dating the author Neil Gaiman, and they've recently become engaged. I know that Neil and Amanda collaborated on a book based on her solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, and presumably, he likes her music.

The trouble is, Neil is also close friends with the musician Stephin Merritt, and I feel the same way about his band The Magnetic Fields as I do about The White Stripes. I just don't like their music. I want to, very badly, because it seems like I should. It has many of the same elements that I like in other kinds of music, like They Might Be Giants, but no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to stomach it.

Somehow, all of this gets bundled up together. I like Neil Gaiman's work. In fact, I ADORE it. Sandman, American Gods, Neverwhere, Good Omens, Don't Panic... Everything he's written fits perfectly with my tastes. Because of this, my dislike of The Magnetic Fields feels like a failing or a betrayal. Again, I'm missing something. I'm too stupid or I have no taste or I have some other fundamental flaw that makes me unworthy.

So I didn't want to listen to The Dresden Dolls, because I was afraid it would be The Magnetic Fields all over again. I finally did it, though. I seeded a new Pandora station with the band's name and gave it a shot. So far, I've liked one of Amanda's solo songs, but the station is rapidly steering away from her and the Dolls toward artists I really like. Regina Spektor, in particular, who I would just about follow to the ends of the Earth.

So in the end, I'm not sure how I feel about all this. Intellectually, I know this is ridiculous. Neil doesn't know me. Even if he happens to be steered to this blog entry by Twitter and reads it, I'm sure he would just shrug his shoulders. Different people have different tastes, after all. Nobody is universally adored.

But still, deep down, I feel like I've failed as a person because I didn't click the thumbs up on a single Dresden Dolls song.

Does this kind of thing happen to anybody else?


大陸 said...

每次心情跌到谷底,就對自己說:休息一下再重新開始吧 ....................................................

seanb said...

I like The White Stripes when "Seven Nation Army" came out, because it had a different sound, throbby, and lots of bass, and they had a schtick: just Jack on guitar, and Meg on drums.

I ran into the same challenge you did, I got into Pink Floyd "late", and didn't understand what the fuss was about at the time (partially because I didn't listne to it at the time).

Take what you like, leave the rest. Don't feel obligated to love something just because everyone else does.

That said, I've discovered some great stuff by listening to a few tracks of what's popular, or to a radio station that's got good taste or programming (89.3 the current in MSP).

Try stuff, even if it's got a weird name, and be prepared to not love everything. Time's short enough as it is: if you don't love something, keep moving.

kittent said...

I kind of like Amanda Palmer (even is she isn't the "white girl with guitar" music I favor. I probably wouldn't have listened to it on my own...the Neil Gaiman connection helped. She is pretty balls to the wall womyn's music. The problem with Amanda and many of the other grrrrrls is that they aren't FCC friendly and I look for music that can be played on community radio.