Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Deep Cuts

I stayed up way too late watching a documentary about The Who on VH1 Classics last night. I’m sure you’ve watched your fair share of these things too. “Behind the Music” was a favorite for a while, but it ran its course due to redundancy. There are only so many ways to dramatically render shooting, smoking and snorting your money away while your friends watch helplessly or nearly as often, don’t realize you had such a problem because, you know, they were drunk. All budding musicians should be forced to complete a scared straight program that consists of watching these rockumentaries for 28 days before being allowed to sign with any major record label. Call it “pre-rehab.” So I stopped watching because they were all so sad and dumb, which I think is an accurate description of many lead singers. That being said, if they should ever do a BtM episode on The Wiggles I will definitely not miss that one.

I grew up in a region of the country known by those of us who know these things as The Classic Rock Corridor. I’m sure there are other pockets of space-time scattered throughout the lower 48, Alaska, and Hawaii where these exist, but this particular area is located in central Upstate New York. Classic Rock inexplicably persists there despite the advancing years and a drastically changed music scene. It is the land that rock forgot – or where rock is eternal, depending on how you look at it. You can tell you’ve entered into the Classic Rock Corridor because suddenly your radio station will fritz out and the only station you get is playing Yes or Pink Floyd or, more often, Boston – and more specifically still “More Than a Feeling,” which I’m pretty sure is the national anthem of the Classic Rock Corridor.

Getting back to The Who for a minute, I should say, they were never one of my favorite bands. I never doubted Pete Townsend was as cool as cool gets, but I think I suffered from “Baba O’Reilly” overdose from too many years of living in the corridor. Now, mind you, I don’t reject my upbringing. I haven’t forgotten where I come from. You want to duel Classic Rock lyrics? Bring it. I know every word of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and who among us has not said to his kids at some point: “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!”

But I stopped talking about music a long time ago, and I stopped buying music for a long time. I felt that talking about music and bands had become this way to quickly eliminate people from your list of Those Who Should Be Taken Seriously. I thought it was an adolescent thing, but then it seemed to follow me into adulthood as well. People need you to know what bands they like and don’t like. Nowadays I think we no longer worry about having clean underwear on in case we’re hit by a bus. Instead we worry what people would say if they saw every song on our IPod. What if someone found you by the side of the road and saw every single one of your songs – I mean every single one -- and you didn’t have a chance to explain that your girlfriend was the one who’d loaded Lady Gaga? Some people might not bother calling an ambulance. I worry that soon we will not have to have actual conversations; we will just have a bar code on the back of our hands and carry scanners around with us like cell phones. Want to know someone’s whole life story? Just scan them and you can move on if you don’t like their playlist.

Ah, but this is modern life. Short cuts are a fact of our existence, I guess, especially since we’re all so busy, but I will always resist them just the same. When we were younger we all tried to like the same stuff. Now we all seem intent on being as different and singular as possible. But I, for one, want you to know that you should feel free to confess to me that your music tastes are NOT exotic, obscure, and terminally hip. I will not walk away from you at a party. In fact I might find it charming.

My husband gave me an IPod for Christmas two years ago. It was literally the first piece of technology I’d owned since having a portable CD player in 1994. Getting that IPod, not to overstate in any way, allowed me to rediscover one of the lost passions of my youth. My father once told me that the first time he heard a song in stereo – it was The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” – it was so beautiful, such a great leap forward in experiencing the fullness of music, that he wept. It was like that for me, too – getting that IPod was just really effing awesome. One of the first songs I picked from ITunes was “Let My Love Open the Door.” I guess I’ve aged into Pete Townsend finally or maybe, now that I have a choice about it, I can choose the occasional Classic Rock song and feel good about it. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I hope that you’d notice that it got played a LOT. The rest of the songs, well, I’ll keep some of them to myself and just beg for your understanding. After all, it’s not what the music is, it’s what the music does for you.