Saturday, May 5, 2012

Music That Matters

I have been preparing a discussion on Iconic Rock and Roll CD's of the last 60 years that I'll be hosting at my local library over the next few months, and in making the selections and doing the research I've once again discovered how very personal music really is to people. 
There's no question that many of the greatest recordings ever put on tape or captured digitally share a massive audience, and that a majority of music critics and fans have an appreciation for them, but it's still amazing to see the number of detractors out there. While perusing various music sites I found a number of comments about Michael Jackson's Thriller that ranged from "the most over rated piece of crap ever put on vinyl" to "boring, fluffy, uninspired pop garbage", and this is an album that, by many estimates, has sold 100 Million copies worldwide. Conversely, there are a number of less commercial bands out there that have sold very little albums and have a rabid, protective and dedicated fan base and often take pride in the fact that "their band" hasn't joined the mainstream, and these bands, along with those fans, are frequently ridiculed as well. So what is it about music that can be so polarizing? So intensely intimate and subjective? How could one person hear "Born to Run", "Stairway to Heaven" or "Billy Jean" and think genius, while another finds them uninteresting? I could share a number of theories, and the web certainly has many more, but for the sake of this post I'm going to focus on one simplistic and likely answer: We all hear things differently.

Anyone that has heard their voice recorded and played back for the first time knows what it's like to hear something you're familiar with, or at least thought you were, sound totally different. I'm not going to dissect what the science of that may be, but instead use it as a basic foundation for making my point, that music sounds differently to each person that hears it. All of us are familiar with the different textures and shapes and intensity of various styles of music-someone hearing Heavy Metal knows it's different than Opera or Bluegrass-but how we "hear" some of these styles, and in turn connect with them emotionally and even sometimes physically is very different. One could build a case for a "chicken or the egg" theory in terms of how our musical tastes are formed early on, meaning is our own physical make up and the very composition of our brain what makes us hear and enjoy certain songs or kinds of music, or does the exposure to various musical styles or lyrics, etc cause us to connect with what we're listening to. Whatever it may be, it's always perplexed me to hear what someone else may say about a song that I feel is beautiful, amazing or even just catchy. In some cases it's probably just a matter of wanting to argue or annoy me, but without question there are times that someone just "isn't feeling it", and that leads me to what I think I'm trying to say. Finally. ;)

Music is one of the most personal things that we humans involve ourselves with, at least in terms of the inanimate. We read and discern lyrics for their deeper meaning, we hear what's being said and relate the message to our future or past, and we hold it all very close to our heart. Lost and unrequited love, a sad childhood, a traumatic event...the birth of a child, a passionate relationship, the overcoming of adversity; both sides of the emotional spectrum live within the words and music that we hear and love, and we breathe it all in through our ears and decode it in the ways we see fit, sometimes completely different than someone standing right next to us. While a happy and upbeat song may start your feet moving and cause a smile to break across your face, someone else listening might get angry and annoyed. A sad song about the loss of a loved one might be just what you need to extract the emotions you've been waiting so long to purge and deal with, eventually finding peace, while another may hear hear it and sink further into despair. In music, there can be no absolutes, no guarantees of taking anyone on the same journey as their neighbor or friend. The process of listening and enjoying music is and essentially has to be our own personal experience.

Over the years I have had countless arguments with friends and family about the merits of certain bands and songs, partially because it's in my nature to debate things, but also because I feel passionately about the music and artists I love and I like to defend them and expose others to what I feel is their brilliance. However, as I get older and find myself enjoying the discovery of what makes all of us different, and finding a place within me that desires to be more selfless and understanding, I am trying to do this less. For me, music is a lifeblood, a "Godless religion" per se, and I can't imagine a day without it, but I am learning that's not how everyone else feels...and that's OK. I have also found myself in a place where I can connect to the emotions that one might feel listening to something I had previously dismissed as "formulaic" or uninspired, a cheesy pop song or even a repetitive rap song I have no interest in. In walking the road of self-discovery, we often find ourselves arriving at places we never knew might be on the path of our lives, and we awaken to new ideas and fresh concepts that seemed at one time so foreign and detached from us. 

It's OK that someone might hate The National, or find Iron and Wine boring or want to pull their hair out listening to Bruce Springsteen. Someone who finds immense pleasure in scanning the Pop Hits channels on their radio dial may just enjoy filling their free moments with the hooky beats and words that landscape often provides. I get it now. Music is extremely personal, for a myriad of reasons that none of us may ever fully understand, and all of us should be free to like or dislike what we choose without fear of being attacked or feeling stupid. Music lives in the space between our hearts and minds and creates within us an experience unique to each and every person that hears it, as personal and rare as our very own DNA. The idea of that should be celebrated and embraced and never attacked.
Music matters, and is important to the vast majority of us that inhabit this great planet. Yet it's the music that matters to each of us that's most important, as it's uniquely ours, how we hear, understand and use it. Listen to and enjoy what you choose, and keep an open mind to what those around you love, because music is a gift and a blessing, just like each and every one of us.


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