It's kind of funny, I think.
In these days I don't listen to much music anymore, but I keep thinking of the idea of music, about what it's supposed to do to us. I keep thinking about the logical aspects of music: the genre taxonomies, the gamut of possible comparisons one can make. I keep thinking about more cerebral aspects too: how am I capable of determining if something is a good record, why my taste might differ from someone else's.
I know -- all of that sounds vague and possibly even generic -- but hear me out.
Technology is at the point where virtually every album is at the tip of my fingers, to use the old cliche. Certainly with a small amount of effort I could find the good stuff -- but if I were to meet one of those "arbitrary people on the street", what would a deep knowledge of '90s indie mean? In the whole, it's better to be able to sing along to John Mayer, to pump our fists to Metallica, and accept (shoddy) indie-rock substitutes such as Panic! At the Disco as the real thing (Nothing against Panic! -- their last record actually was decent -- but if that's what we're calling indie rock we're truly neglecting so much!). It's populism at its finest -- rise up against the indie elite while they play their expensive vinyl records and laugh at us ordinary folks.
I wouldn't mind being able to join in as everyone sings along to the pop anthems of our generation. They suck, but maybe if I forget about it for a while I can fabricate a sort of veneer: that I actually like these songs and I haven't seen the alternative.
Here's one of the first stories I can remember that relates to my current girlfriend. This was a couple years before we started dating -- we and a few friends were sitting around my kitchen table, Monopoly game in action. My friend Ian had a set of crappy iPod speakers, and we were listening to a populist blend of music -- the kind of stuff where you maximize utility by neither pleasing everyone nor offending anyone. Lots of Queen's greatest hits and early Coldplay. There's one thing I remember rather vividly. Someone put on A Fever You Can't Sweat Out by our indie-rock substitute friends, and the mood changed: everyone was singing along, word-for-word, following the dense wordplay as it zigged and zagged.
Was I the only person in the world who didn't know the lyrics? Wasn't this one of those records I had deemed artificial and crap when I first heard the lead singles back in high school?
A few days later I found myself asking my friend John to let me steal the album from him. At the time I was listening to lots of Galaxie 500, but I made sure to leave that dreamy bliss and drink the Kool-Aid, as they say.
I did a mathematics research program last summer, and my roommate kept telling me that only weird people listened to indie music and watched indie cinema. The purpose of being exposed to culture, he would hint, is to create a set of experiences that you can share with the maximum number of people, whether those experiences are singing along at a pop concert, enjoying a trashy superhero movie, or reading a popular graphic novel.
If you want an example of what I am trying to say this webcomic says it so much better than I ever could. Right now, at this point in my life, I would trade all my musical knowledge for the ability to sing along to the top 40 radio (or even mainstream alternative radio) without embarrassment.
When I listen to music now I try to alternate pop albums with indie albums. I'm starting easy, with lots of mainstream '90s alternative rock -- all the stuff I missed or disowned even a few years ago. I just listened to Gordon by the Barenaked Ladies, and though I thought it was cheesy as hell and found the instrumentation to be overly dated (seriously, who needs two splash cymbals? But that is a post of its own) it was well-worth it. It actually tied up a lot of loose ends in my understanding of early '90s college rock and helped me figure out where Rheostatics, a Canadian band I enjoy that apparently launched the Barenaked Ladies' career, fit into the picture. But that's the music nerd speaking. The populist in me says it's just good I heard the songs. And maybe later there will be a memorable social experience that derives from it. Hey, my girlfriend and I have made significantly more references to the lyrics of "If I Had A Million Dollars"!
I guess what I am trying to say is what's the point in good music -- music I want to hear -- if the world revolves around shitty music? A few months ago I merely wanted to observe from the outside. Now I want to try to take the full plunge.
What's ironic is that I am moving to Brooklyn, that supposed hipster Mecca, next month. I'll be able to see any band I want -- and that means possible chances to see bands like Versus that rarely tour. If it's possible it would be cool to get involved in radio again, but I'll have to take a look to see what the landscape is there for community radio. And no doubt I'll have to start writing again -- there's going to be interesting stuff on the horizon.