Jammin My Life Away

Music has been the spine of my life.  Since the time I first discovered music, until this very day, music is often the thing which supports me. Music makes me feel if I am numb and makes me numb enough to survive devastating feelings.  It is a part of my nervous system, without music I would feel paralyzed.

One of my earliest recollections of music is my mother’s distress.  She had purchased me a copy of “Yellow Submarine” on 45rpm, thinking it a fine children’s tune.  I however, much preferred the flip side “Elanor Rigby”,  and she found my fascination with the flip side distressing due to it’s poetic content;

“Father McKenzie,
writing the words of a sermon
that no one will hear
No one comes near!
Look at him working,
darning his socks
In the night
when there’s nobody there.
What does he care?”

Ever since that time music has been a poetic delivery system.  For 50 years now I drenched myself in music and  I am not alone.  Although it sometimes seems that way.

Music activates the most primal parts of our brains,  evoking emotion and thought at the same time.  Some music is purpose driven, with an aim to teach, for mnemonics, for history, even for math.

“Nasty, naughty, mean ole number nine”

Some music has no vocal at all and is pure emotional experience, the pinnacle of this is Symphony.  Opera attempts this level of emotion with a moral tale, combining theater and music into one genre.  I can appreciate all types of music, but like all people I am a product of my times.

I grew up in the “British Invasion” when all the talented bands of the European  scene imported their sound to America.  In my home my ears would hear radio and records from many types of music;  Ma listening to Glen Miller and Johnny Cash; my sisters, each with a style and fan aficionado, Dylan and Elvis, Carol King and Joni Mitchel, The Beatles and Jefferson Airplane, The Guess Who and The Doors, and a Brother with the Stones and Deep Purple, hiding those Zappa LPs from prying little curiosities.

By age 11 I had my own stereo and began collecting albums.  In the early seventies the drug culture had permeated music culture and so if your friend heard a new group they would say “Let me turn you on to this”; as if music itself were a drug.  To this Day I often recall who turned me on to which band and when.  I cannot hear Areosmith without thinking of Tom, who died when I was 16, but who turned me on to Areosmith.  Old Girlfriends and past relationships can often so stain songs or artists that listening to them dredges up too many painful memories.

I quickly developed a taste, not for any particular genre of music or style,  but for lyrical content.  If a song held meaning for me, whether personal. societal, philosophical, or political;  that band would grab my strict attention.  I can recall many long days of doing nothing but reading lyrics while listening to a new LP, to better learn the lilt of the singers voice.  I remember the frustration of an LP with no printed lyrics and a distorted vocal on a song with meaning, but unless I could hear the words I could not grasp that meaning, and so wore the grooves of certain tracks listening deeply, intently, to find the meaning.

Through all of this for me the binding effect is the lyric.  I do not prefer vacuous music which tends to lack a message or has only the message of breeding.  It offers nothing to me which is astute.  It allows us to amplify the emotions of our sexual desires, and nothing more, like an Oreo with no creme filling.  So when Disco appeared I was disappointed, and I came to despise the genre.  It is true you can find a few songs with more astute meanings than “She’s a Brick House”, but I was not willing to put forth that effort and saw the whole scene as simple exploitation for profit.

As a teen in the seventies most kids I knew had a fondness for music, but the only people I met in my life who felt as strongly about music as I did were musicians.  I had no talent for music at all, and efforts I made to learn were swimming against the tide.  I instead utilized my musical friends to learn, hear new sounds, new bands, new styles.  To broaden my musical understanding and taste.

I picked many a brain on music history and development, on theory and composition,  and came to have a great appreciation for many types of music in history, some of which are still favorites of mine to this day despite being written long before I was born.  A poet was a poet was a poet, and the lines might well transcend the epoch in which they lived.  A poet in music likely sings, and a poem in song can rend your heart and open your mind.

“Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

I was never much concerned with what was in fashion,  for me the message was of import.   So when a new band came out and everyone was listening to it, I was often disinterested, instead interested in whatever album I had got last week.  I was disinterested until I heard a certain something, a combination of time, sound, and lyrical content which resonated within me.  If I heard such a thing at a party, from the radio or on someone else’s stereo,  then I became interested.  Sometimes, I became obsessed, so deeply did a poets words strike at me.  I would wear the grooves off such albums.

FM changed things first.  Now we had many stations where there had been few.  Specialized stations playing all kinds of different styles and genres of music ended the days of waiting for hours to hear a single song play.  For me what I felt like hearing depended upon my mood, and many styles suit many moods.  Now we had radio stations to match our moods, but most people did not treat them as such. Whatever their niche they had a station for it, and people developed brand loyalty to radio stations.

As a working adult the scene changed.  People at work were of diverse ages, and for most, somewhere along the way, their taste in music had stagnated.  They were stuck in the music of yesteryear, strictly.  Others were pigeonholed into a single genre or style they liked, many times this was an aspect of yesteryear as well.  For instance, they became a fan of “Do Wop” back in the day and that is still all they listen to.  You may  know someone like this or even be like this yourself.  For such folks music is more nostalgic, a remembrance of youth.

There were also a surprising number who did not listen to music at all and saw music as a child’s thing.  An aspect of life they had outgrown which felt to me like they had let their own arm die. How could they allow that?

Among adults it was easy to tell the few people like me if I went to their home.  Stacks of albums take up space, and if I saw racks I knew I would find something new and interesting.  Yet often there were few or no LPs, and if few,  they were all related with little variety.  This was alien to me, and a red flag with a new female acquaintance.  If she did not like music, then poetry, literature and art were probably not high on her list which would remove a lot of shared interests.  Looking through a persons albums was a window into that person.

Social judgments were often made upon others based simply upon  music tastes.  A “If you are into that, we do not have much in common”, mindset.  Stereotypes of people based upon the music they listened to, like rednecks like country, rebels like punk, druggies like psychedelic and so on.  These things in society made no sense to me.

I felt like Ginger Baker, “You can’t put my music in a box!”  I did not like types of music, I liked songs.  Songs might be in any genre, I may or may not agree with what they say in order to like them.  If the song is good and I disagree with the lyrical message I appreciate it, if I like both the song and the lyric’s meaning and depth then that song for me is great.

Religion uses music to set the emotional stage for the sermon.  It bolsters the flock, or requests solemnity, or rises in joy, all depending on what the pastor wants for an effect.  In this way religion uses music to evoke emotions in the congregation.  My life did not leave out that aspect of music but while I can emotionally enjoy some of the songs, I cannot intellectually agree with the message in it.  This leaves me a lot like Marc Cohen who sang  . . .

” Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
She said, “Tell me are you a Christian, child?”
And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!”
illustrating that to him the music alone is a religious experience.

It might be true that “video killed the radio star” but marketing poisoned the music industry. With the birth of FM and MTV came a new mass marketing of music. Now music was prepacked and freeze dried for a certain demographic, to maximize profit.  Message was not important at all, only what sells.  What sells is promoted and what is promoted sells, and the cycle drives on to this day.  I more or less gave up on both mediums and went back to the old school way of finding new tunes, by ear.

Throughout the years my stereo itself had evolved.  From a cheap 2 speaker disk player to rack systems with Kenwood or Bose; from Lp’s to cassettes to cds to the I touch.  These days I rarely play music in my home, my car has become my stereo, where I can embed myself and disturb no one.   If traffic or weather demand I reduce of turn it off, but mostly if I am driving I am jamming.  Since I enjoy both things they complement each other nicely.  My car is my musicmobile.

I do not recall when the odd looks began, although it seems I have always had some.  Whenever the motifs do not match it seems to jar some people.  It is as if the very same people who are locked into a music style assume those very stereotype assumptions.  For instance if they see a lawyer listening to Billy Joel or a young black man listening to Grandmaster Flash it seems to fit, but if you invert what they are playing then people get confused at times.  A lawyer jammin Public Enemy on the courthouse steps will tend to turn heads.   It sets some people on edge.

The first time I recall the drive by stare was  with Nirvana.  That is where someone stares at me as I drive by, obviously because of my music. First time  i heard Nirvana I could not make out the words, but I picked out phrases and thought there was a poet there.  Buying the cd proved it.

“With the lights out
it’s less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid
and contagious
Here we are now
Entertain us”

However going down the road with young kids in my car and my stereo pumping out . . .
“And I swear
That I don’t have a gun
No I don’t have a gun
No I don’t have a gun
No I don’t have a gun
No i don’t have a gun”—turned heads.

This effect would only worsen as my kids grew and found their own music, much of which I like as well.  At this point my children and their friends have exposed me to all kinds of music by proximity, and if I liked it I would ask “who’s that?”.  Their friends would often be boggled by this because their own parents were still locked in yesteryear.  So I acquired new music from them.

I often got the evil eye from other parents when dropping my kids off to school.  I am sure they thought I was allowing them to play their music, but that was less likely.  Although I would allow them to play things in my car, I was usually first in line, but I had no issue playing things we all liked.  So my car dropping them off might be blasting Megadeath, or Nine inch Nails or Jane’s Addiction, or Alainsis or whatever else they liked that I could tolerate.

I did not meet many people into Rap as it developed as Rap and Hip Hop are urban styles and Maine is very rural.  I was excited at first because it had the potential to be slam poetry to music, but what I heard was market driven and often as vacuous as I found Disco.  Many rappers have a sound political message and a legitimate gripe, others seem to be all about the Bling enough so other rappers take note . . .

“It’s not about the money, money, money,
We don’t need your money, money, money.
We just wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the Price Tag.
Ain’t about the (ha) Cha-Ching Cha-Ching.
Ain’t about the (yeah) Ba-Bling Ba-Bling
Wanna make the world dance,
Forget about the Price Tag

As always it was people who would tun me on to something tight or I would by chance hear something down like . . .

“I wear tight clothing and high heel shoes
It doesn’t mean that I’m a prostitute, no, no, no
I like rap music wear hip hop clothes
That doesn’t mean that I’m sellin’ dope, no, no, no
Oh please forgive me, for having straight hair
It doesn’t mean there’s another blood in my heirs, ahh!”

Over the years I have added more and more bands to my playlist.  More and more songs of more and more diverse types, you never know what I might be playing.  My car stereo is audible and who knows what I might be listening to today, maybe some Son House or Buddy Guy, How about some Grateful Dead or Jefferson airplane; something heavier, some Led Zeppelin or Deep purple, more country Eagles or Skynrd, real country like Hank or Waylon, more hippie like 3 Dog night or the Guess who, Darker, like Sabbath or Alice Cooper, darker still, some Nine Inch Nails or Nirvana, how about some R&B, some Stevie Wonder maybe?

“Very superstitious, writings on the wall,
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall,
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past”—What mood am I in now?

So I garner odd looks from people as I roll down the street with my I pod on shuffle switching back and forth between styles and genres as often as songs.  I do not care, I’m jammin.  Sometimes I notice and smirk as someones stereotypes come crashing down.  More often than not from youth I will get a distinct and directed nod, as they realize that old dude is actually listening to “my” music, because their parents would not be caught dead doing that.

In the last decade or so a new thing has arisen, what people would call a new style or a fusion, or some such thing;  my inner Ginger Baker cringes at the labels.  Bands have pulled together sounds and styles from multiple areas into something new.  Lincoln Park and The Red Hot Chili Peppers are good examples of this, blending elements of music into new fountain drinks of all sorts musical flavor.  Dr. Dre helped Eminem break the color barrier to the Rap and Hip Hop scene and now that too is broadening, blending and transforming.  Music is ever evolving, always something new and nothing seems old to me.  There is only what I am in the mood for right now.

So today I will go down and buy a new cd, support the artist so they can make art you know?  I know what I’m after, and likely the clerk will ask if I want it gift wrapped, because why would I be buying Yelawolf?  Simple, he’s a poet new to me I found the other day.  Grinding his way up for seven or so years and just released his new album “Love Story”.

Getting older though, no friends said, “hey check this out” and turned me on.  I heard a verse from his new song on TV, something I rarely watch, and looked him up on you tube.  Unlike the old days where every disk was a crap shot, you might only really like the track your buying the disk for, now the whole things is online to preview.  Nice, but I’ll go buy the disk, so I can upload  it to my I tunes for full audio clarity, then upload it to my I pod and add him to the mix in my car this week.

Yealwolf is blending elements of country, rock, hip hop and whatever else suits his fancy, into something else new.  Like Mr. Baker says, “My music does not fit into a box”, Yealwolf’s new sound is like that too, not an easy thing to label.  He’s another poet in sound though . . .

“I’m not the table you can come and lay your cup down on, now
I’m not the shoulder for a bag
don’t wanna carry your  heavy load
I’m not the road that you take when you looking for a short cut, uh
I ain’t the stepping stone to be stepping on
I ain’t nobodies crutch
I ain’t the money man, with your money, man
You ain’t looking at me
I’m not the cheap one, looking at me son
You ain’t looking at free
I ain’t the dish rag to come clean up
all the shit that you dish out
Ain’t got no check for em’
If you checking in, mothafucka, check this out

Ain’t much I can do but I do what I can
But I’m not a fool there’s no need to pretend
And just because you got yourself in some shit
It doesn’t mean I have to come deal with it
You handle your own when you become a man
And become a man when you handle your own
Ain’t much I can do, but I do what I can
But what can I do if I do till it’s gone? Oh oh
Till it’s gone. Oh oh
Till it’s gone. Oh oh
Till it’s gone. Oh oh
What can I do if I do till it’s gone?”

Mr Cohen, of the Leonard type, put forth the idea of the Tower of Song.  While he might sing out the windows, I think it is people like me and music lovers of all types, who tend the brick and mortar.  We mow the grass and sweep the sidewalks.  We support the artists and enable them to create more works by purchasing their stuff.  I suppose that’s what I’ll do about music, I’ll do till it’s gone.


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