A few months ago, several months in fact as I’ve been what we’ll call lazy, a friend of mine shared her playlist online. I thought it was awesome. I don’t know if that was her tried and true got-to playlist, or a recent collection of tracks that she’d been making her way through on her way to yet more, but it was a solid list. I knew by heart most of the songs on there, and a sizeable portion of them on were my own go-to playlist.
I have loved music for as long as I can remember. I used to have heated arguments with my siblings about the virtues of different genres, I said some awful things and made some horrific generalizations, but I can forgive little me for his errors in judgement – I didn’t know it then, but I was forming the foundations of the view I hold to this day. Music is powerful. Music is ubiquitous. Music is capable of toppling empires. Music is, at its core, something personal and individual and ineffable, yet it transcends all the interpersonal barriers we erect and forces itself out of every single one of us in an expression of the desire to share something with one another, to know and to be known. Music is a precious human enterprise that should be treated as such, not shilled out to us in truckloads by disconnected, disingenuous executives.
My first exposure to music was The Blackwood Brothers, sitting in the back of my grandmother’s Chrysler. I don’t remember any of their songs, but I think listening to that music at that time was central to my developing views. I eventually moved on to Chris LeDoux, Travis Tritt and Garth Brooks and all that. I heard Prince for the first time in my uncle’s jeep and it shattered my worldview. Up until that point, I thought music was just something put on in the background to cover up the weird little autonomous noises we all make, so as not to offend or become self-conscious. Prince showed me that music was itself a thing to be pursued, enacted, undertaken, a struggle worth winning, a tool to be used for becoming more human.
My dad turned me on to Classic Rock and rudimentary Heavy Metal. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush. I still get down on this era of music all the time, the only radio station I listen to in the car is the Classic Rock station, otherwise I’m streaming something or listening to podcasts, and Queen is the greatest band of all time! Sometime in the early nineties I stole a Rancid tape from The Warehouse, or Sam Goody – I can’t remember, but that very moment is the single most responsible moment for the person I am today. I never liked Rancid, but they opened up doors to so many types of music and helped me understand what music really is.
I’ve identified as a Punk Rocker since about a week after I got that tape. I went back and got as much as I could, NoFX, Bad Religion, The Descendents, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, countless others; fortunately for me most of that stuff was in the bargain bin anyway. That summer was when I realized that music not just something that speaks from and to and about the human soul, but that music is inherently subversive. We can’t help but connect with one another when the rhythm and melody take hold, we can’t help but move, both physically and spiritually, we can’t keep our walls up when those sonic forces are confronting us with our own humanity.
Back then, there was a group of us kids that didn’t really fit in anywhere, sometimes our skin was a different shade, sometimes our clothes weren’t cool, sometimes we sounded different, sometimes we just didn’t ‘get it’ and sometimes we just didn’t want to fit in, so we all just started hanging out together. We started riding skateboards and writing graffiti, and we all brought our own soundtracks. We’d share music with one another, trading albums in attempts to explain and understand how we felt. I learned that the best music didn’t adhere to a certain formula, didn’t chase a particular sound, but it shared one thing in common – the quest for and cause of humanity. Whether it was Punk Rock or Thrash or Hip Hop or Third Wave or any of the other innumerable sounds, the best music, the music that really hit you right in the feelings, all had a message of compassion and honesty, a desire to connect with other humans and make the world a better place to live in.
I listen to all different genres of music now. From Show Tunes to Ultraviolence, Reggae, Outlaw Country, Hip Hop, Swing, Rockabilly, Psychobilly, Hardcore, Post-Hardcore, Doom, Thrash, Power-Thrash, I could go on for far too long listing words that really only have significance in obscure subreddits and conversations in basements across the midwest, suffice it to say that I like music, all kinds.
When I started asserting my musical taste, I got told I was foolish. I was told that the music I liked was garbage, that it was all just about iconoclasm and rage and contrarianism. I don’t disagree that there is a hefty serving of those things in the music I love, but I have to push back against the idea that it’s worthless. Music has always been a medium for the communication of complex ideas. I like Punk Rock for the way it sounds, but I love it for the meaning in the songs, same with Hip Hop and Ska and all the others.
For some reason I bought in to the silly idealism found in the music of my youth. Songs about casting off our archaic caste systems and just being a human being, about love and hate and change, about compassion and overcoming your own personal demons, about making the world a better place. I learned many things that I would never have been exposed to were it not for those songs. KRS-One and Chuck D and Greg Graffin and Fat Mike taught me that in order to truly learn I’d have to seek out knowledge, not just sit and wait for it to come to me. Busta Rhymes and Henry Rollins taught me that I need to be okay with who I am as a person in order to build anything on my foundation, Nas told me that I wasn’t going through this alone, Milo Aukerman and Chris Hannah taught me that discipline leads to excellence, ?uestlove and Tony Sly showed me how to find beauty in desolate situations. There were so many talented and aspirational individuals who shaped the person that I am today, and many more are still going about the task of sharing their humanity for our youth.
I was about to go on a tirade about how all the music nowadays is trash, that all the millions of new artists popping up every day are completely worthless and that the music scene has died, but that’s simply not true. Being a parent, that’s the line I’m prone to take, and I hate the fact that the music being generated by the industry behemoths is all about doing drugs and making money and flexing or flashing or flossing, or whatever; but in reality the music scene is more alive and healthy than it’s been in a long time. The fact that almost anybody in the world has reasonable access to the tools required to make and upload the ‘next big thing’ is exactly what we need, the decentralization of the producing power, more of the capital going to those who generate it, less gatekeeping and whitewashing, the revolution will not be televised you know.
I am more excited than ever to be a music fan, with so much out there and so much more being created as we speak. The word genre doesn’t really mean anything anymore, you don’t have to sign up to a certain subgroup, you don’t have to look or talk or think a certain way, you just have to go out and listen! The youth have always driven music, it’s always been more lucrative to market to someone with fifty or sixty years worth of purchasing power ahead of them than someone with five or ten, but now they are finally getting the opportunity to spread their messages without the middlemen and the gatekeepers, the censure and censorship, and I couldn’t be more happy about it!