Thus far, my blog has played host to talk of my writing, snippets of prose, and the occasional rant about something writing-related that irks me (or about my podcast, which is its own animal and I don’t feel like counts as what I “write about” exactly). Today, we’re going to take a break from Authorship and focus on one of my other loves: Music.
This isn’t the same as “music”, which is stuff that technically involves notes, a rhythm and sometimes words (I’m looking at you, Miley and Bruno Mars). This is Music, capital-M, which is music that is so well-crafted and/or well-performed that it graduates to Music. Most people tend to think what qualifies as Music is in the eye of the beholder, but I disagree; if it’s truly done with exceptional acuity and skill, the fact that it’s big-M Music should shine through regardless of genre or preference. That is how I can hear the rare rap or country song (genres I mostly detest) and still be able to tell that it’s decent.
I have spent my adult life trying to define Music versus any old music, and I’d like to think I have a pretty good handle on it. Of course, occasionally I can be surprised, but for the most part my ear has become very keenly honed. When I tell you certain Music is good, I’m usually at least partially right. That might sound like bragging (and it kind of is), but the truth of the matter is, Music matters so much to me that I spend an inordinate amount of time second- and third-guessing what I listen to and why. It’s a somewhat-unhealthy obsession.
Today, out of the blue, I suddenly got the itch to put on some John Mayer. A lot of people are going to stop reading at this point, and that’s fine; the entitlement of being able to disregard someone’s viewpoint based entirely on the fact that they mentioned a celebrity you have some preconceived notion about is part of what’s great about living in a Free Society. It kind of makes you an even more pretentious douche than I am, but hey, freedom!
Back to Mr. Mayer. I have no particular love for him as an individual, I don’t know much about him other than a handful of articles I’ve read, some crap about his on-again-off-again relationship with Katy Perry. What I do know about him is that he can make a guitar sit up, beg and roll over, and that his semi-bluesy voice is perfectly suited to his craft and style within that craft. He writes Music – it’s definitely poppy and mainstream, but it qualifies. My friend Scar (yes, he killed Mufasa, but we’re past that in our relationship) handed me a copy of Room For Squares several years ago, which pushed me beyond the tiny snippets I had heard on the radio and made me a casual fan for life. That said, I haven’t actually thought about his Music in a year or so… but today, when I said to myself, “Why haven’t I listened to ‘Half Of My Heart‘ in so long?”, I fired up Google Play just to see if I had it backed up there.
I did. I listened. I smiled.
Those who aren’t Mayer fans can skip this paragraph: Squares and Heavier Things are incredible but for different reasons. I will always rock out to “Neon” and “Bigger Than My Body“, no matter what is happening when they come on. Continuum was… not as good, but had one or two golden, indispensable tracks (mostly “Say” and “Waiting On The World To Change“). Battle Studies, however, was ridiculously awesome and saw near-constant rotation in my CD player (kids, ask your parents what CDs are) after its release. I’m sorry to say I lost touch with him after that, but I know he has newer material I may have to check out soon.
As a quick aside, I love the fact that I can go “DUDE, that song from that one time, I haven’t heard it in forever” and be listening to it five seconds later. Which I Tweeted, but that’s beside the point.
Before my high school years, my notion of what was music and what was Music had no strong foundation. Unfortunately, my mother (and stepfather, her eventual accomplice) were very Christian, which is fine for them, but based on this they limited my exploration of Music severely in my formative years. I had oldies, Christian music (most of which doesn’t even come close to capital-M status), and “Fun Radio 95.5”, which was a station that catered to a younger audience (IE, they played Disney soundtracks, Joe Scruggs, Raffi, and the theme song to Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?). Cutting out HUGE swaths of my patchwork childhood (you’re welcome), this continued to be the case exclusively right up until my Freshman Year of high school, when Fun Radio underwent management change and started playing some mainstream pop alongside the kiddie songs. Suddenly, I was introduced to strange new animals like Will Smith, Sugar Ray, Aqua, Smash Mouth, Spice Girls. To most people, this is nothing; you’re probably laughing at my “discoveries” right now, which I totally get. To me, it was like a door to a glorious landscape opening the tiniest crack. On the other side was Music.
Slowly throughout my teen-age, my tastes evolved. Sugar Ray led to Third Eye Blind, which led to Vertical Horizon, which led to Toad the Wet Sprocket, which led to Tears For Fears, which led to Smashing Pumpkins, which led to Nine Inch Nails, which led to Ween, KoRn, Tool, Stabbing Westward, Placebo, and it continued to rabbit-hole until I couldn’t even recognize where I had started compared to where I wound up. For a while, I even tried to make music, but I soon gave that up as a lost cause and a chapter better left forgotten. As the years wore on, I developed this strange dual-sensibility; my love of alt-rock, metal and industrial spread like poisonous weeds in one half of my heart, while pop and light rock thrived like a pretty rose in the other.
Spoiler warning: the flower killed the weeds eventually. While I still put on NIN or the Pumpkins once in a while, well-crafted pop-rock and alternative “shoegaze”-type fare dominate my playlists these days. The last concert I went to was Stars, a bunch of Canadians who write euphoria-inducing Music like this. Definitely not the insubstantial “Contemporary Christian” pablum my mother listens to, but me-at-17 would have thought me-right-now was a loser for liking it. Dumb punk.
I’m not really going anywhere with this, I realize, other than to offer you a glimpse into something I haven’t yet discussed: I love Music. A lot. When people insult my musical tastes, I take it very personally, but I also don’t fold or back down, because I know what I love is worth loving. New Placebo album (which is insanely good, by the way)? Just as important for me to critique as the new Katy Perry (which is more “snore” than “Roar“, other than one or two cuts). Not normally critique to other people, but to myself: “Do I like this, or do I just feel like I’m supposed to like it?” “What might listening to any more of Suchandsuch Band do for me?” “Am I viscerally angry at forcing myself to listen to this for another second, or is it growing on me?” That kind of thing.
And therefore, I started to second-guess myself when I cued up “Half Of My Heart” today on a whim. “Why do I need to hear this right now? I’ve been listening to Fall Out Boy, Cibo Matto, Ben Folds, Jonatha Brooke and random German folk lately… how does that even relate to a sudden craving for Mayer?” I’m honestly interested in my own answers, because from a more objective standpoint my musical selections seem arbitrary and make no sense. However, there had to be some kind of pattern there… not that I can fully untangle it. I just wanted to hear “Half Of My Heart”, despite an artist of middling talent like Taylor Swift being a guest vocalist. It’s catchy, the melodies are woven so precisely that it seems like they took no effort at all, which is an under-appreciated talent in and of itself. Also, its lyrics are totally relateable. Possibly to me currently, but we won’t speak about that.
These are all the things I factor in when I try, in my infinite ignorance, to distinguish between music and Music. Most of the time, I like to think I make wise decisions. Doubtless you just think I’m crazy, which is your prerogative. Meanwhile, I’m over here grooving as I type this entry. Who is happier? Who has a grip on the situation?