So I almost fell off the face of the earth again–whoops! I promise I’ve been a voracious gormandizer of various media this past month or so, but what with family visits, paid writing assignments (hurrah!), and a switch-up of day jobs, I’ve been a little distracted. Which isn’t to say this blog has been completely off the radar. To wit, a piece I’ve been wanting to write for a few weeks now, based on Pitchfork’s “5-10-15” series, in which they ask various musicians about the music they were listening to at 5-year intervals. I think most people, even those who aren’t so flailingly nerdy about their musical taste, have certain songs or groups that vividly recall moments and people in a way that few other things do. That’s part of the reason I love music so much–that time machine quality it has. So indulge me, and take a trip in the way-back-machine:
Age 5: Elvis Presley “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog”
I can picture myself coming home from kindergarten to be greeted by my mother at the top of the stairs. “Come listen to this!” she said, dancing around my room to a cassette of Elvis’ Greatest Hits. Maybe I giggled, maybe I danced with her. But I know that I loved that song from first listen. My parents raised me with the standard mix of kids’ songs and suburban parent soundtrack–Paul Simon’s Graceland, Earth Wind and Fire, Billy Joel, etc.–but there was a time when my mom explored music passionately. She was 10 years old when Elvis came on the scene and arguably introduced rock n’ roll to mainstream audiences, and I have to think in playing me that tape, she was thinking back to her own first musical love. That year when a friend’s birthday involved recording each kid singing their favorite song, everyone else sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Three Blind Mice.” I sang “Hound Dog.”
Age 10: The Beatles: “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”
At ten years old, I was at the nadir of my social life–awkward and smart and shy, like so many of us are; rejected and teased by a group of more popular girls, as so many of them do. On top of everything else, I hadn’t yet gotten into popular music. I was vaguely aware of Nirvana, but had never actually heard them. Someone gave me a copy of REM’s Monster for my birthday, and I deemed it too hard rock (Yes, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” was too much for my delicate sensibilities). But I knew almost every Beatles song by heart, had grown up listening to them to the exclusion of everything else. And for a time “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” was my favorite song of theirs, catchy and fun–I learned the harmonies and would lip-sync with my like-minded friends. The professor of a Rock History class I took explained the Beatles’ importance through their chameleon-like ability to traverse and reinvent genres. Loving the Beatles introduced me to the blues, to psychedelia, to chamber-pop and performance art. They are the bedrock of my taste in music, the first group I was ever passionate about.
Age 15: Shudder to Think, “Hot One”
I’m currently working on a post that will go into this in detail, but Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine totally transformed me, from someone who listened to the (admittedly decent) groups playing on the alternarock stations in the late ‘90s to a full-out glam rock obsessive. Shudder to Think wrote two original glam pieces for the soundtrack, and this one was the ear worm of the summer between freshman and sophomore year of high school. By the time fall rolled around I was covered in glitter, casually tossing off Oscar Wilde quotes and discovering the further beauties of Bowie, Bolan and the Brians (Eno and Ferry).
Age 20: Broken Social Scene, “Lover’s Spit”
I was deeply immersed in the trendiest of trendy indie rock at this point–The Strokes, The Hives, The White Stripes, The Shins, Interpol. Broken Social Scene was a band I’d been hearing about for a while, and then “Lover’s Spit” showed up on Queer As Folk–a show that introduced me to a number of great bands (and softcore gay porn)–and I was smitten. I’m still a huge fan of BSS, but something about those swoon-worthy strings, Kevin Drew sweetly crooning those filthy lyrics…they’ve never quite hit that high again. The entirety of You Forgot It In People is nearly flawless, one of those albums that flows together perfectly, and it absolutely encapsulates this indie rock love that took hold of me in my early twenties and just keeps evolving as the years go by.
Age 25: Daft Punk, “Harder Better Faster Stronger”
My mid twenties (which are shortly coming to an end) have been a strange, I think ultimately transformative period of hard life lessons on all fronts. A lot of those lessons were excruciatingly painful to digest, so there came a point where I was just so emotionally overwhelmed that I needed music that was good, but I didn’t need to think about. Enter Daft Punk. I’ve always been one to say that depressing music is cathartic, and is sad for me rather than getting me down. But the particular flavor of my quarter-century misery led to a lot of destructive introspection, and I really think Daft Punk, their driving energy, kept me afloat. I would walk for miles with them blaring through my headphones. I’d just close my eyes and let the beats go through me. They let me take a deep breath, and taught me that I actually do like electronic music.
Coming Soon: How Velvet Goldmine changed my life, why I’ll never read ebooks unless forced by government decree, and how dubbing is so much more than bad Kung Fu movies.