Saturday, February 02, 2008

Music is my boyfriend.

I've been thinking lately about how I grew to be enamored with music; how that relationship evolved. It's become such a big part of my life, such an important part that I'd be remiss if I didn't at least recount a little bit of the journey.

When I was growing up music was little more than background noise to me. I remember the voices of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon, big and beautiful, filling the halls of our tiny house, telling stories about chelsea mornings and the earth moving under my feet. Later, in my teenage years I'd hear a familiar song on the radio and wonder why I knew the lyrics, why it felt like home to hear this chord or that hook. And then I'd remember the watermarked album covers in my mom's collection, strewn across the shag carpeting like lily pads on water.

The music stayed with me. Like the lines of poetry, lyrics have always stuck with me, the meaningful ones adhering somewhere inside, the less meaningful ones falling away through the years.

And at twenty-seven years old, I've built this abounding library of songs that correspond with particular moments in my life.

"A Long December" instantly pulls me back to high school, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my room, reading over that handwritten note asking me to Prom. "Whole Lotta Love" sends me two states over to Michigan, five years old, frenetically dancing with my sister in front of the musical fountain. And Snow Patrol's "How To Be Dead" puts me right back in the middle of winter. Into the middle of bad memories. Of frozen feelings. And those moments have been stored for me, as if etched into the records themselves, released with a touch of the needle to the vinyl. I can keep them as close as a bookshelf away.

But, I really can't take all the credit for this lasting relationship because it was really my other love, books, that made that initial love connection.

It was Barnes & Noble, 1998. I was browsing the shelves for a good vacation read when my fingers grazed the jacket of a book titled, "England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond". Staring back at me was the face of Sid Vicious, that enduring face, with that menacing sneer scowled across his lips.

And that was it for me.

By far, nothing has captivated me more than music history. Though, specifically between the years of 1973-1977 in England and New York. Yeah, I'm talking about the Punk Rock movement. I know a lot of you already know how cuckoo for coco puffs I am over this shit, so bear with me.

The interesting thing is, no one seems to be able to pin point who or what created this monster progeny and that fascinates me.

I've been trying to decide why this obsession of all of them, has stuck with me through the years. It's kind of an odd thing to be obsessed with, especially considering I don't really like the music. But then I think Punk wasn't really about the music anyway. I am drawn to the social impact of it all and that inaccessible quality to it. You don't really know what happened unless you were there.

And that's it. I'll never truly be able to capture that experience and it's something I think I chase. It's a romantic idea, changing history through music, through a movement. I don't see that happening with my generation. I guess I'm somewhat envious. I don't know if I will ever be a part of a galvanizing movement like that in my time. And I sure as hell don't have enough talent to start one of my own.

The Sex Pistols literally lasted only eighteen months before imploding on themselves. Who knew those eighteen months would last a lifetime?

There's finally starting to be a discourse in music again, dissent. It's encouraging, but it's not enough.

Since that fateful day at Barnes & Noble I've voraciously devoured every book, documentary, article, album cover, and liner note I can find. Netflix and Amazon continue to fuel this addiction.

The history of the trite, safe, homogenized music of the 50's evolved into the politically charged, inconsistently mellow music of the 60's into the truly innovative and, in my opinion, the most exciting time for music, the art-rock turned punk, kick you in the pants music of the 70's and early 80's. How the turmoil of whatever era we entered into shaped and paralleled the music that emerged from the underbelly of this war, or that recession. The urge to say SOMETHING.

And that made a serious impression on me.

I can recall specifically, two moments that changed the way I looked at music, felt about music, what I believed music could do, be, change.

The initial moment was the first time I saw, "Stop Making Sense", a live concert performance of The Talking Heads captured on film. The second was my first Pearl Jam concert.

Both of these experiences showed me that music can be transcendent (without sounding like an asshole). It is more than just a bunch of little bubbles drawn on bars. It is not arbitrary.

Before then I had always enjoyed music, been a student of it's history, but I hadn't held music in the same regard that I held literature or poetry. And I know there are probably some people reading this who are saying, "Is she serious?" A fucking DVD changed all of that? A concert?

If you have to ask, you don't get it.

Seeing David Byrne writhe and twist about on stage, discarding the rock star sensibility for a more artistic, less superficial, purer form of perfomance was like seeing music for the first time.

When he's not simultaneously inciting every joint in his angular body to the infectious rhythms, he's running laps around the circumference of the giant stage, or dancing with an oversized floor lamp, or bouncing around trancelike in "the big suit" while repeatedly bopping his head as if by a healing televangelist. The movements, the skewed choreography, the placement of the whole group of about nine musicians and singers, the colorful backdrops, the music itself, the unsettling tone of David Byrne's all comes together with this sense of conscious conceit. This isn't how it just happens, this is a vision.

For a band like Talking Heads to come out in a time of disco balls, spandex and glam bands, it truly was revolutionary. Music before then had followed a certain structure. "Once in a Lifetime" cannot be templated.

I guess that's what romanced me about the whole thing--how different it was from everything else. That outlier quality has always fascinated me about anything. I am attracted to that quality, that darker, mysterious side of things. The side left unexplored. The side people are afraid to explore.

They led the way for bands like Television, Blondie, The Modern Lovers, Patti Smith and eventually The Ramones. People don't know that the birth of punk rock didn't happen because Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy decided to pick up guitars. It's because a group of people, a culture of people, had the desire to break the mold, even if it proved unpopular. That to me, is real courage, real risk. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't admire that. If everyday I didn't wish I could be a part of something like that.

I guess I just grew up in the wrong generation.

And it's not just about the Talking Heads, even though if you watch "Stop Making Sense" you'll understand why they crop up in my head first. It was about that time period in music. All at once everything changed. What causes a phenomenon like that? That intrigues me. Questions like that. A discourse. I am truly interested.

The second time I felt the same way was my first Pearl Jam show. I have to admit, I wasn't a big fan before that night. I grew up with the sounds of "Ten" and "Vitalogy", but the songs never wrote their way into my head quite like they did when I stood in front of them and watched them play live.

Number one, Pearl Jam is a fan's band. I've never been in the presence of so many people at one time feeling the exact same thing the person next to them is feeling. That thought gives me goose bumps. The band works the crowd into this frenetic, mechanical mass, swaying in sync, eyes closed, their lips mouthing the same words as the next. Maybe I haven't been to a lot of live shows, no wait...I have. And I've never experienced something like this before.

It's as if there is an invisible umbilical cord between the crowd and the band, each feeding off each other's energy, neither able to survive without the other.

The night I saw them play, the arena was dangerously on the verge of spilling over its rim, thick with smoke and cloudy with the rapid notes that screamed out of Mike McCready's guitar.

The music comes as a barrage. It reels toward your face like a barreling truck and then smacks you upside the head. You can’t escape it. It's like water rising in a closed room. Pretty soon, you're going to go under.

You can't talk about the band without talking about Eddie Vedder. He's fucking captivating in the same way that David Byrne demands attention. I mean, yeah he's a world famous rock star. But there's something about him that never lets you forget he's just a guy with a screwed up past who is trying to heal, just like the rest of us. There's something earnest about him. About the way he says, "Now your turn." and points the mic at the audience as they happily oblige him, chanting his melodies and lyrics right back. He makes you feel like you're a part of his private relationship with the music. And there's something there more intimate.

I can see why the band's fans are so devoted.

What really got me was Vedder, for all his reclusive behavior, seems to want to return to an era when established stars pushed each other artistically, mingled socially and brought about social change through common concerns and actions. You can enjoy the music and without knowing it, you're socially conscious. And I'm not talking about fucking Bono-type heal the world shit here either.

But that's not why that show changed my view on music.

It was more than that. It was ten thousand people believing in something, believing together, that five people on a stage could change the world.

Shake your head if you want. But I'll bet that there wasn't one person in that audience who wasn't completely captured. Including me.

So that's the story of how we met, me and music. Thanks for sticking with me for so long. Thanks for not only making me hear, but also see.


Anonymous said...

I have a thing for your boyfriend, too. I also have a thing for obsessions, which sometimes snowball into psychotic episodes. So...uh...yeah....

Kristi said...

Woops....I'm not anonymous. I'm Kristi. From Here in Idaho. I'll be going now.

Kristi said...

I have a thing for your boyfriend, too. I also have a thing for obsessions, which sometimes snowball into psychotic episodes. So...uh...yeah....

Kristi said...

I have a thing for your boyfriend, too. I also have a thing for obsessions, which sometimes snowball into psychotic episodes. So...uh...yeah....

Kristi said...

Isn't it funny how I just commented about psychotic episodes and then I ACCIDENTALLY LEFT FOUR COMMENTS ON YOUR PAGE?

Seriously. I suck.

Deutlich said...

I'm pretty sure I would die without music. Shrivel up like a dried prune, even.

The Stormin Mormon said...

My problem is that I listen to way to much music... I'm an addict, but to no particular genre, I'll listen to almost anything thats on. I filled my 30GB Zune, and decided to get and 80GB when the price dropped.

It all started for my when I was 6 and saw a Saxophone... I had to learn to play.
Then later a guitar...
Then a drum set...

Dre said...

i am also in love with music...

music always makes me feel right.

great post!

Peter said...

"I don't know if I will ever be a part of a galvanizing movement like that in my time."

I think about that A LOT. I have for a long time. Woodstock video especially reminds me.

And this post is amazing.

Sean said...

Wait I though music was my girlfriend?? I sing and listen to music all the time. I just did three days travel with the boss and was musically frustrated. Once home I drove from the airport singing I even went abround the blocks a few more times because it felt so good. Been on a big accapella music kick lately with the Bobs, Tonic sol fa, and some others. I'll stop blabbing now. Great post!

sam said...

I'm a bit older than you, but I know exactly when the music changed for me. I discovered pot and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the same night. Deja Vu challenged everything I thought I knew about music. This was a great read, your writing gets beter with every post.