I like music but I’m not sure what kind of music I like anymore. I have accumulated close to four thousand songs on iTunes since it was introduced in 2001, which works out to over $4000.00 spent on music to which I am largely ambivalent. That’s not even counting the storage tubs of CD’s that have sat, untouched, in the basement for at least ten years. None of these songs or albums has been part of any sort of cultural phenomenon. There are no Sgt. Peppers or Folsom Prisons in my collection. Most of these songs were largely used as background noise—something new because I was tired of the old. I’ll hear something I like and then listen to it for a few weeks only to discard it into limbo’s playlist where it will languish forever. Out of all that music, there are maybe—maybe—a hundred songs that I still consider meaningful.
Nobody dislikes music, but I’ll bet if you asked, there would be a lot of people over forty and certainly over fifty who would say that they just aren’t passionate about it any longer. Of the twelve push-button presets on our car sound system, I only filled three with FM stations that I could tolerate. Part of that lack of interest was because of the incessant chatter and endless commercials, but most of it was because I just couldn’t find anything that I liked.
One option we had was satellite radio, so after much telephone wrangling, I cut a deal with Sirius for a year. Now I’ve added six channels with catchy names like Coffee House, Loft, Groove, Bridge, Watercolors and Spectrum that I can play in the background. This option has all but ended my CD burning career and I don’t need a chatty DJ because the radio itself tells me who’s playing the song. I can now play the same commercial free channel from here to California if I want, so long as I don’t drive through a tunnel or next to tall buildings. It’s kind of cool, but when I’m driving alone, I often forget to even turn the radio on. I just don’t think about it.
I tend to like a lot of different music, but nothing specific comes to mind. I have no favorite artists, nor do I wait breathlessly for Tuesday for the new releases. As long as whatever song that’s playing doesn’t sound as if somebody has hurled a metal trashcan full of silverware down a fire escape or worse—as if some generic female ingénue is screaming at me in an octave only heard by fruit bats, I can usually put up with just about anything for three minutes and twenty-nine seconds.
About thirty-five years ago, I worked as a disc jockey at a jazz radio station, so one would think that I had an extreme interest in music—particularly jazz. The irony was that I
really didn’t like or understand jazz. They simply offered me the job so I took it. I didn’t have to like jazz; I just had to play it and when the music wasn’t playing, I had to sound reasonably entertaining on the air for a few seconds.
Occasionally people would call into the show, and if somebody ever asked me a deeply complex jazz question, I would have no idea how to answer it. I would usually babble something about Dave Brubeck’s daring time signatures or ramble on about something that I read on the liner notes, but it was all a ruse. I just played songs that bled from one to the other in the time slot allowed and hoped that nobody would call my bluff on the details.
Here’s what I did learn in the two years I did this: Jazz is a splintered musical form ranging from highly melodic and soulful music to something a one-year old would play on his toy xylophone with a wooden mixing spoon. I have never understood the free-form nature of it and the endless riffs being played on whatever instrument somebody is butchering is the opposite of music to my ears. I would rather listen to a cat strolling over piano keys than a musician playing every single note ever invented in one, long rambling musical diatribe.
So that leaves most jazz off my iPod.
I won’t even touch the topic of blues. People who like music that is inherently depressing are not people I want to trifle with, because they will probably hunt me down and leave dead animals on my doorstep. I’m not saying that all blues music is bad. Some of it can be heartbreakingly moving but most of it is either a suicide note set to music or it’s about trains. Add a harmonica and stir in a dusty road and there you have it.
And then there’s country music. To put it mildly, anyone with vocal chords can sing country music. Warbling about love lost, trucks loved and too much drinking just about sums up country music. Toss in a few starry mountain nights and a quick reference to Texas and/or America and you have a country song. If you’re attractive, you have a CMA
opening act. If you’re Taylor Swift, the sky is the limit because honestly, that girl is just flat out adorable and she has made a career out of lyrics normally found in a middle school Trapper Keeper.
While most of country music today seems to be filled with a non-stop roster of second tier pop stars, some hardscrabble country music with fiddles and banjos seems to be making a comeback. I sort of like that but maybe that’s because there’s been a Mumford and Sons disc in my truck’s CD player that refuses to eject, so I’ve been listening to that for almost two years. It hasn’t driven me mad yet, so it must be growing on me.
Contemporary pop music is where my age really starts to show because as much as I like to hear a catchy new song, pop music has been completely destroyed by American Idol, The Voice, The Larynx, and any one of the dozen other singing shows that are on TV. Sure, some of these people are talented, but they all sound exactly the same to me. Pop music should be catchy and have an irrepressible hook and even though it sounds totally disposable, it should still sound fresh twenty years after it first came out. It’s a unique form of musical magic; a lightning in a bottle bit of musical luck that is almost impossible to do well and probably not aimed at people like me; people who are closer to sixty-five than Maroon 5.
Our choice of music is as unique as each person that listens to it. From pop to jazz to opera to classical and everything in between, there is something for everybody. Music is a personal choice, and one that is often better when experienced live. For example, there is no way to appreciate Zydeco music from a pair of earbuds. That’s something that just has to be seen and felt on a balmy summer night.
I don’t think there is anyone who can’t hear a certain song and not be reminded of what they were doing when they first heard it. Music is a part of growing up and just about everybody in my generation can sing along to all eight-and-a-half minutes of American Pie. I wonder if, in forty years, Treasure by Bruno Mars will stir equally nostalgic memories in a different generation?
Good music makes a party pop and can make a summer festival go from dull to exciting. Music fills the voids in conversations and it brings out the air drummer and the chair dancer in otherwise conservative people. It stirs memories and emotions and life would be empty without it—something I too often need to remind myself as I sit in silence.
It’s hard to tell what musical bookmarks we’ll file away as part of the soundtrack of our lives. Right now, I’m playing Jim Croce’s Operator in my head and forty-one years after I first heard it, I can still remember every word, where I was when I first heard it and how I felt when I heard that Croce had died. That’s a lot of mileage to get out of one little pop song, even though the matchbox is old and faded.
©Rick Garvia This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.
The phrase,“even though the matchbook is old and faded” and “you can keep the dime” came from the song, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” and is a 1972 single written and recorded by Jim Croce. It was released August 23, 1972.