Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sonic Death Monkey or a Musical History

One of the folks at work (I would use the word "kid" but I don't think I can use the word "kid" any more without it showing some sort of generation gap) is hopelessly into 80s music. Now I think I've written about this here before and I certainly know I've commented on it elsewhere, but a few years back when the 80s stuff was hot again, I went through a retro phrase of hating 80s music all over again. This, of course, was a reflection of my 80s petulance where I basically rejected the music of that era as pedestrian at best and/or a synthesized means of exploiting kids to become a part of the MTV generation.

So to rebel against this I took up classical music with all the energy that a pop-music-aficionado-gone-terribly-off-track could give to it. It was smugness that originally drove this, of course--smugness that masked a huge amount of insecurity and fears. I was saying, in effect, "all you people think you are so cool because of the music you listen to? Well fuck you. I know the difference between a toccata and a fugue and and name a composer by only listening to 5 seconds of a piece." I knew I was on top of my game when I could get snobby even about the classics: Tchaikovsky is a sycophantic quasi-Romantic, masking internal conflict with syrupy melodies; Rossini was a musical hack with a talent to smooze the right people; Vivaldi wrote one tune...etc. etc. etc. I even had my top five composers and top five tunes. So you see the transference. I also got to feel a bit superior to others since the music I was listening to was obviously better than some pop crap that whoever else was into. This was a convenient cover for my embarrassment at having grown up on a farm and my somewhat desperate need to make absolutely certain that people understood I was in absolutely no-way a hick. Ultimately I was just setting out my own musical space that rejected everything that was playing on MTV or on the radio. It was my own version of SLC Punk where I was angrily opposed to pop culture and created my very own by reaching way back into the musical past to give it life.

This odd little musical world I'd made for myself was, like most things any of us do, something to prop up a lot of self doubt and, oddly enough, fear of being perceived of as weird by others. I guess I figured that even though my musical tastes were odd for my age, at least I had musical taste and could talk about them with force and verve.

All this knowledge did get me a couple of classical musician girlfriends who, unlike me, could actually participate in recreating the music that I admired so much. I'm not really sure what that means, but I think it kind of stirred up even more self doubt in me since I suspected they had a better sense of what was going on in the music than I did.

My classical music is still there and I can be uber snobby about it even to this day (I often wince, for example, at what they play on the local classical station and go on diatribes about how the other channel that used to play better classical music quit doing it in favor of a generic NPR feed), but gradually I began to accept that there really is some good music which although perhaps not "pop" is at least written by people still living. This all started in college and blossomed in grad school when I got heavily involved in the college radio scene. What this has left me with, however, is a huge blank spot in my musical history: I really know nothing of the sensibility of the music that was around when I was just forming a musical sense. Oh don't get me wrong--I know of it, but aside from a few key select tunes that are tied to certain teenage romantic interludes, I don't really have an emotional tie to it all. I guess it is kind of weird to have such feelings tied to Die Kunst der Fugue, eh?


  1. Hey, I'm hopelessy into 80's music (are you talking about me?!). I will defend my love of lame synth-pop to my death, though, as it has been quite consistent and not linked to any one era of my life (I can distinctly remember "Come on Eileen" for instance being my favorite song in 2nd grade--the curse of having 6 older siblings, I suppose). But all my years of viola/ violin playing give me the classical music as well. And I have to say, there is some classical music that is just as pedestrian as some synth-pop.

  2. Oh don't get me wrong--I quite agree; I am talking about my past reaction to things. This is a very specific era in my life that is now a gaping hole. Before and after I can fill it in quite well with "pop" music (whatever that is.) And, as I alluded to, some "classical" music is drivel. You will, for example, never get me to like Humperdink or even Rossini.