Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Music Made Me a Crabby Old Man at a Very Young Age

This post is dedicated to the lady at the Shell station, this weekend, who was eavesdropping on my conversation with fellow editor Bryan Wawzenek. When she heard me utter the words, “Music Made Me a Crabby Old Man at a Very Young Age,” she declared — based on her “20 years at BMI” — that I needed to write that song. Sorry to disappoint, ma’am. Not writing that ditty anytime soon, but I will write that blog.

What we were discussing, as we queued next to the Slim Jims, was my supposition that music is never so important to you as it is when you’re 15. You’re pissed at your parents because they don’t understand you. You feel increasingly isolated and alienated at school. And just a glance from a member of the opposite sex sends your hormones into overdrive. You can’t drive yet, which (to an extent) tethers you to your house, to your bedroom. The head, the body — it’s a boiling cauldron of confusion and unfocused, intense emotion.

For a 15-year-old, music can be a refuge. Artists are still mythic figures. You’re not quite old enough to see their faults or discover their frailties. The lyrics are religion. “The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams/It’s Heaven and Hell” might as well have been Shakespeare to me. I knew what Ronnie meant. And the music itself — you live and die on every note. I could replicate every nuance of the extended “My Generation” from Live at Leeds in my head while sitting in a classroom and trying (probably unsuccessfully) to look attentive. And life isn’t so crazy when you’re 15 that you can’t escape to your room to listen to music, meaningfully, every night. Life never again affords you that luxury. You sneak it in on car rides or over dinner. But nightly time for headphones and liner notes just evaporates when college and careers arrive. Music at 15 can be…everything.

The thing that happens, though, is that you spend the rest of your life chasing that feeling and, quite naturally, you rarely (if ever) capture it. And so, as you discover music later in life, it doesn’t quite measure up to the music that you loved as a teenager. This, in turn, causes the ears to close on new things. I fully admit to waging this constant internal battle. I fall into comfort zones for months at a time with ’90s Britpop, NWoBHM, ’60s Beat Music, Classic Rock…you get the idea. Old stuff.

And that’s why I’m so grateful when someone shakes me out of one of these musical comas. The aforementioned Bryan handed me a disc by The Hold Steady this weekend, a band I never bothered to learn based…well, on nothing really. The name, maybe? Seems like one of those trendy little fourth-generation, Gap-Punk band names. And yet, this stuff is good. I’m not the world’s biggest Springsteen fan, but this modern mix of The Boss, Thin Lizzy and maybe a bit of Elvis Costello is interesting. Intriguing, even.

I’ve been lucky enough to bump into sharers at several crucial stages in my Crabby Old Mannedness. In college, that lender was the Leon County Public Library in Tallahassee, FL, which turned me on to jump blues and a bit of classical, sure, but also some new music that couldn’t fight its way through the worst Classic Rock playlist ever concocted for radio. (Thanks, GULF 104, for hiding #@*$%! England from me during the #@*$%! ’90s!)

In my brief time in Massachusetts, my buddy Grover introduced me to Oasis, beyond the familiar singles. If I’ve annoyed any of you over the years with my Oasis-mania, you now know whom to blame. And this served to spark a ravenous appetite for all things Britpop.

When I got to New York, I had several musical lenders and sharers, if not mentors, along the way. I think I already gave most of these guys a shout-out in my last post, but it bears repeating, the immense personal value I place on their generosity, loaning CDs or burning discs of things I had turned my nose up to, forcing that stuff on me for my own betterment. Thank you, DCers.

I also discovered KEXP online, which allowed me to listen to the radio without wanting to bludgeon a station manager…or a Clear Channel computer, as the case may be. And WDST, Radio Woodstock, one of the rare broadcast stations that still plots its own course, playlists be damned. They may be few and far between, but these little pirate ships of music do exist, I’m happy to report.

And now I’m in Nashville, surrounded by a new batch of music lovers. I’m looking forward to sharing and learning about other brave new worlds of sound. If you’re sitting out there reading this, listening to Abbey Road for the 9,000th time, I encourage you to step outside your cocoon and trade some CDs or MP3s with your friends — friends who maybe don’t have the exact same tastes as you, who exist outside your comfort zone.

New and wonderful music is out there right now, my friends. Go and find it!


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  2. 1971. 15 years old. "Who's Next." Townshend's power chords on "Won't Get Fooled Again." 'Nuf said...