Thursday, June 05, 2008

What Red Likes About the Universe: Music

This may seem like kind of a "duh". "Uh, Red?" you may be thinking, "Everyone likes music." While that may seem true to one extent or another, especially in this corner of the blogosphere, not everyone does. I admit I find those people difficult to understand. A co-worker of mine falls into this category. (He's also a Republican. At 23. Oy.)

There are degrees of liking/loving music. I fall at a pretty intense degree. The way I see it, music is one of God's greatest gifts to man. Our lives literally have soundtracks. As a child in dance class, I believed that I had some sort of walkman function in my brain which allowed me to go home and practice recital routines to the music in my head. As a child in church, I loved singing best of any part of mass, and I still love it. (I have rather strong opinions on hymns, too. Most years I'm really hoping to make it through Advent without having to sing, "Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel". Two years ago I think I actually made it, so last year I didn't mind when it came up, just once. Maybe the music directors finally got the memo.)

One of my uncles plays guitar pretty well, and he learned to play "The Rainbow Connection" for his (then 5-year-old) Muppet-loving niece. He also taught me a couple songs, and I loved having someone to sing with. My dad didn't play the guitar quite as well as his brother, but used to play me "You Are My Sunshine" before pickin' out "Pack Up Your Sorrows" with a look of intense concentration.

Music can also bond strangers or new friends. Many of my favorite memories of the semester I spent in Europe coalesce around music. Like the time my two quiet roommates and I spent the weekend in Edinburgh. We ran into a group of people waiting for a Ghost Tour to start. I didn't know that yet when they began a rousing chorus of "Bohemian Rhapsody". Excited, I left my friends standing watching their strange red-haired friend in confusion and joined in the strangers' song, all of us singing at the top of our lungs. The next (and last) song was a spirited rendition of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy". (The strangers were calling on dead musicians, as it were.) I exchanged just a few words with the strangers before rejoining my friends, but that is absolutely my favorite memory of Edinburgh. There was also a great night in Nice where some of my actor friends and I marveled at the folks (French, we assumed, but perhaps some of them were as American as we) belting out the Doors "Break On Through." Did they know what it meant? We wondered. But it didn't really matter. That song has a feeling that makes its sentiment known whether the singers speak English or not.

In terms of cementing new friendships, I think first (chronologically) of a very dear friend of mine I met eleven years ago working at a summer camp. There is, of course, a lot of singing involved in working at a summer camp, but the absolute joy she and I both took in it is one of the reasons she and I are good friends to this day. We've since spent many an hour singing and playing guitar. (In the interest of full disclosure, she plays guitar MUCH better than I do.) The second story I would tell, and I hope he doesn't mind, is of one night when EG and I had been dating for only a month or so. We went bowling with my brother and sister-in-law, and as we were walking to the counter to turn in our shoes, something cued us and we both bust out with the refrain of "I Lost My Lucky Ball and Chain" by They Might Be Giants. Not the exact moment we fell in love, perhaps, but a fond early memory nonetheless.*

When it comes to music, there can really be no such thing as "good" taste or "bad" taste; there's your taste, and the extent to which others agree with it or not.** People can get incredibly passionate about what music they hate. For any of you so inclined, I recommend picking up Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs. To give you just a few tidbits, he describes at one point how he asked people in a column once what songs they hated, and years later, guys were still coming up to him on the street and saying, "You know that song? The one about the Pina Coladas? I HATE THAT SONG." He also suggests that if we want more people to vote in Presidential elections, we should ask them about something they really care about, like "What was the worst song ever recorded?"

I'm from New Jersey, and I'll cop to taking a certain guilty pleasure in Bon Jovi music. Funnily enough, I had no use for it when it came out and grew to like it much better as a nostalgia thing. Two precious memories, one from my sweet sixteen party and another from a party my senior year of college, involve groups of my friends and I pointing at or putting our arms around one another and singing "I'll Be There for You" at the top of our lungs. Every time this song comes on the radio, I crank it and sing Richie's part for all I'm worth. But I, at least, view Bon Jovi as a somewhat guilty pleasure. I was amused when I talked to a friend from college a month ago, and she was telling me, with honest pride in her voice, that Richie used to come into the restaurant where she worked and she'd gotten to wait on him. I asked her if she'd ever met JBJ. "Oh, no,"she said, awed. "I've never met him" And the thing is, I've always considered her cool, and this hasn't changed that assumption materially.

Friends I've had over the years have expanded my musical tastes in various directions. The girl across the street from me while growing up, as well as a number of my college friends, were big Billy Joel fans. I've got about ten of his albums on vinyl, and I treasure the sound I get from playing records. Snap, crackle, song - nothing like it. Digital music is beautifully clear, of course, but it's thinner than its analog forerunner. I do love my iPod, though. My tiny little nano holds so much music! And it's so much smaller than my walkman or discman. Amazing and wonderful. Ben Folds. The Indigo Girls. The Rolling Stones. They Might Be Giants. CAKE. Weezer. I could go on, but all of these are acts my friends turned me onto. I'm lucky to have some great friends.

I also love radio. There's something fantastic about not knowing what's coming next and then having it be "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" by Elvis Costello or "Surrender" by Cheap Trick or "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones or one of my many favorite country tracks. What feels better than hearing a favorite song on the radio, turning it up loud, and maybe driving fast with the windows down? A few things in this life, maybe, but that one's up there.

This post was actually inspired by hearing the Rolling Stones "Beast of Burden" three times yesterday. Once on the radio going to work, once at work on a CD I borrowed from a friend, and once on the way home. The times on the radio were worth more to me; I just love having my favorite songs come up by surprise. That was the germ of this post, though. I've left things out; I feel like I could go on about music almost indefinitely, but I've got a few things to do before bed and it's getting late. In closing, thanks to Beth at Cup of Coffey, who has exposed me to more music than anyone else I've met online, and to Pistols at Dawn, whose "You're Not Pretty, But I'm Not Picky" makes me laugh.***

*For any of you who are thinking, "Wait, didn't they break up?" Yes, we did. And now that some time has gone by, we're friends. You know how that goes.
**Perhaps a good many of you disagree with this statement, but that's mostly because you're incredibly cool and you know that many, many people in this world are not ;)
***Dammit, it used to be linked on his site. I mean, you get the joke just in the title, but I enjoyed listening to it.


Falwless said...

I loved this post. And you're so right. There's just no better art form than music. It can forever tie you to a memory, instantly stir your emotions and elevate you to a different level of consciousness. It is at once so simple and yet so complex. Music is the soul's voice.

Dude, I have no idea what I just typed there but reading it back I'm damn impressed with myself.

Evil Genius said...

A great philosopher once noted that "music mix[es] the bourgeoisie and the rebel."

This post was not lame. Now I will actually have to do some serious writing when I come back. Sheesh!

SkylersDad said...

Great post Red! As somebody who always seems to have a different taste in music than everyone else, I appreciate the good taste vs bad taste line.

pistols at dawn said...

That music stuff's okay, I guess. And I think you are officially the only person who has noticed that I took down my music link, partially because I am a terrible musician, and partially because I am still recording on cassettes, which is embarrassing. Bush league all the way around.