Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A Journey Through the Musical Landscape

Music is such an important part of my existence. Sometimes I think of it is a reason for my being. However, listening to music is by its very nature a passive experience. Except I can never do anything passively. Many of you know this to be the case, especially when it comes to music. I have become known around my workplace as ‘that guy in the wheelchair who has his IPOD attached whilst singing along in the library'. Music for me is largely an interactive experience.

Music was a huge part of my childhood. One of my first memories is of a Saturday morning in the mid 1980s when my father would put on Gold by Spandau Ballet as he was performing his weekly routine. Ask my brother about this and he will recall the exact same moment, its etched in our collective brains. My family is by no means musical, between my brother, my parents and I we do not have a musical bone in our bodies and yet there is, and was always a soundtrack that made up our lives. Dad would play Steely Dan, Neil Young, Crowded House and many pathetic Australian bands too tragic to name. Mum would clean the house whilst listening to Enya and Kenny G. I even remember way back in 1988 when my brother bought his very first LP, Faith No More’s Epic. His taste hasn’t improved much since.

For me though, due to my late development, I was attracted to music well before anything else, and so it has remained. Like my peers I have made the occasional questionable choice, but these will always remain in my memory, not because of the regrettable choices they created, but the memories they forged. The first time I realised I had a genuine crush on a girl, it was my first day of high school and Savage Garden’s To the Moon and Back was playing on the way home. It was the shape of things to come both musically and personally, not least because I found out more than a decade later she liked girls.

Then I moved to Queensland, and thus was freed from the shackles of Top 40 radio into the realm of the not quite popular, not quite respected. During these years I loved Oasis. Only thing was that I was about three years too late. By the time I was enjoying the riffs of Supersonic both Liam and Noel Gallagher wasted what good talent they had via several lines of cocaine. Similarly, Third Eye Blind were massively popular in the US, but no one had heard of them in Australia, save for their one hit wonder Semi Charmed Life, which happens to be the worst song in their catalogue. I was neither trendy, nor popular.

I remained in this kind of flux for several years, until the life changing event that all good musicians write about. I fell in love and she broke my heart. Then of course music spoke to me on a new level, and thus the world of musical subcultures emerged. Was I an indie rocker for loving Death Cab for Cutie? Or was I ‘emo’ for liking Evanescence? What about my not so secret penchant for the world of pop music? I spent my time in recovery frequenting a music message board that had five or ten decent people frequently posting, but largely consisted of poser idiots. How did I recover from my heartache? I tried to be just like them. I failed miserably.

That’s when the wonderful world of music criticism came into my life. Not only did intelligent people talk about music in an honest and refreshing way, but also more importantly no genre was taboo, no taste dismissed. It was all good music, and it all had a reason for being. The ill fated music webzine Stylus Magazine acted as a training ground for my all around appreciation. Not only were they celebrating the brilliance of an obscure artist such as Laura Viers, but also lavished praise on teen pop starlets like Marit Larsen and Mandy Moore. That in itself was just as good as thrusting a figurative middle finger at commercial pop, like so many hipster wankers are inclined to do these days. It was better because I knew something they didn’t. I had an open mind and I knew what good music sounded like, whereas they continued to exist in a claustrophobic musical space for fear of breaking the boundaries of ‘cool’.

Halfway through this year, the four newish records I listen to most often are from Grizzly Bear, Taylor Swift, Meg & Dia and Kelly Clarkson. I would assume that’s not a combination too many people listen to on a regular basis. Two are popular, two many people haven’t heard of. One is country, another is pop, a third is pop punkish, and a fourth is unclassifiable. That is the beauty of my eclectic taste, one that I fought against for the proceeding fifteen years.

Possibly the best post of my now deleted Myspace blog argued the case for mainstream pop to be critically admired. It has some merit, but now I wish to amend the statement. All good music should be critically admired. It transforms the listener from passive observer to active participant. It is a feat, which arguably no other art form can achieve. It is time we all sang in the library.

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