Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Music Lessons

on April 13, 2011

I do not collect music.  I do not cultivate an active interest in particular bands, albums or songs.  I do like music.  I like to learn about new bands and genres, but I don’t go out of my way to feed that interest.  So, I’ve been feeling at something of a loss about what to write here.  So, instead of writing about my own history with music, I thought I’d introduce you to a few of the musicians and music aficionados I’ve met in my life and talk about what they’ve taught me. 

1. Music in High School
I’m pretty sure that in high school everyone knew someone who was in a band.  Or was starting a band.  Or wanted to start a band to support the unique sound they had developed by teaching themselves to play the tambourine or the garden hose or some other nonsense.  There were several “bands” in my high school.  It became a very big part of one’s social identity to support one band over the other, especially since they would hold an annual battle of the bands and sides were expected to have been picked ahead of time.  Of course, the ability of any one of these bands to induce ear-bleeding was matched only by the sheer number of inane lyrics they could produce.  Angsty teens are the absolute best at making melodrama both loud and insufferable. 

Lesson: You can either like what you like, and suffer the consequences, or you can like what others like and feel weird about yourself.  It’s completely up to you.  *hint* As a teenager, you’ll feel weird either way, so you might just be better off liking what you like.

2. My Roommate in College
My roommate in college, who for anonymity purposes we’ll call Gertrude, was a pop culture omnivore.  If it was popular, girl consumed it (everything from MTV to WWE).  To wit, her two favorite bands were Korn and N’Sync (not sure about the (in)correct spelling/punctuation of that name, but I’m sure you all know who I’m talking about).  A mutual friend of ours compared this to “worshipping God and the Devil at the same time.”  (He did not say which band was being compared to the Devil in this analogy–but I think he may have meant N’Sync) It was 1998, and both of these bands were at what I imagine was the height of their popularity.  Gertrude (and a few other people who lived in our building) would go to the LA airport and stalk either of these groups if they knew they were arriving that day.  They’d follow them around the airport (which is huge, so they must have somehow found out which airline they were on) and take pictures.  They were total stalkers.  In a harmless and amusing way. 

Lesson: I think what these girls taught me, and what I still think is absolutely true, is that you really, honestly don’t need to determine the one thing that you like and never experiment with anything beyond that.  Music is music, and you hear in some of it things that you like, that make you think, that make you dance, that make you sing, and in some of it, what you hear only makes you want to turn it off.  But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  You don’t have to identify with any particular genre of music, because that’s boring.  (Evidenced by Gertrude’s deep and abiding hatred of another boy band of the time, the Backstreet Boys)  Also, don’t apologize for what you like, and don’t feel like you have to justify your stalkery behavior.  As long as you don’t hurt anybody, it’s probably ok.

3. Musicians in College
Ok, here in print, in a fairly anonymous forum, I’m finally ready to publicly announce that I had a crush on a musician in college. This crush was probably painfully obvious to all of my friends at the time, and if they read this I’ll thank them to continue to do me the courtesy of pretending that I’m much more subtle than I am.  This person is on his way to becoming very successful now, and he’s incredibly talented, but in college I was a blindly adoring fangirl (I totally put lesson 2 into action, in that I may have been somewhat stalkery).  I went to his shows, I bought his albums and I did whatever I could to worm my way into his circle.  I didn’t really care all that much about his music (which, again, for the record was quite good, it just didn’t matter to me that much), I just wanted his attention. 

Lesson: I did have a lot of fun and meet a lot of cool people in this pursuit, but it wasn’t really me.  The role of groupie wasn’t one that fit, but I did it to get attention, and it didn’t even really work that well.  So, I guess the lesson is to do what comes naturally and let the attention of others come to you, rather than putting yourself into a box that can’t contain you and raising people’s expectations needlessly.

4. Musicians after college
The people I know now that are musicians are working exceptionally hard.  Most of them have day jobs and then write and produce music in their spare time.  I don’t think that everyone’s goal is to “hit it big” but I do think they would all like to support themselves, however modestly, by writing and/or playing music.  It’s an intense life, and it seems to be a rewarding one.

Lesson: Do what you love, even if you’re not being paid for it. There are other kinds of rewards for doing what you want to do, and if you’re lucky, you’ll reap those.

5. Music Collectors
I have a friend who has an unparalleled cd collection (well, it’s probably only paralleled by her mp3 collection, which I’m pretty sure comprises over 2 YEARS worth of music).  She has floor-to-ceiling cd shelves along an entire wall of her apartment. Not a little wall, either.  A big fucking wall.  She’s incredibly organized and all of her cds are in alphabetical order by artist (we worked at a bookstore together and she really liked shelving).  In all the time I’ve known her, I’ve never ever mentioned an artist she didn’t either know well, or (usually) own their entire collection.  I’m lucky in that she has taken it upon herself to help me broaden my musical sensibilities.  She has bought me cds that she thought I’d like (she was right) and made mixes for me to listen to in the car that are totally awesome and fun.  She has a critical ear, and she likes a lot of different things.  It blows my mind that she has enough room in her brain to hold information about all the albums and records she has (if I think about it though, I probably have similar amounts of space in my brain that hold information about yarn and fiber). 

Lesson: Find at least one friend who collects music and likes to share.  You’ll get a lot of good music out of it.

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