Saturday, April 14, 2007

Listen to the Music

I’m not gifted at making music – that talent went to my brother and sister. But I love listening. Being a child of the 50s and 60s and an adult of the 70s and 80s, I have wide-ranging tastes. Mixing groups and genres to get custom playlists on my computer always produces some shall we say fascinating results – everything from doo-wop to hard rock, classical to folk, Motown to pop – no bubble gum music allowed!

Who else would mix Santana with Peter, Paul & Mary? Or maybe Journey & Jim Croce? Harry Chapin & Rachmaninoff? Led Zeppelin & Gordon Lightfoot? It makes for some interesting transfers to my MP3 player. (Unlike most of the civilized world, I don’t have an I-pod. I have a 30 gig Philips – I call it a P-pod.) Those artists are all on the playlist that’s rattling my headphones while I’m writing this epistle.

I haven’t heard much music over the last decade that has moved me. Being a part-time college instructor, I hear a lot of new music on campus that interests my students, but I haven’t connected with much of it. I always tell my students at the start of the semester that I try to stay current about various cultural tastes, including music – although I admit to them I don’t know Ludacris from Limp Bizkit and can’t tell techno from trance without consulting Wikipedia. Once when we were discussing file sharing downloads, I brought in a Led Zeppelin LP – yes, a vinyl one. I handed it to the nearest student and said, “This was our idea of file-sharing.” Times have changed.

I can’t say I haven’t tried to appreciate contemporary music, although I find much of it dark. With so much percussion, there’s not much melody to focus on. I understand that hip-hop expresses a great deal of anger and frustration, but I think Marvin Gaye did the same thing about 35 years ago with “What’s Going On” – and with haunting vocals and rich, full music. Even hip-hop artists acknowledge that.

I keep trying. I told my students I’d bought an Evanescence CD – that really stunned them, but it’s good stuff. Recently, while in my favorite Quizno’s, I heard something on the sound system and asked the young man at the counter (whom I talk to mostly about sports), “That sounds interesting. What is it?” “Panic! At the Disco,” he announced. I should have quit while I was ahead, but I boldly ventured, “And who’s the band?” Of course, as I was summarily corrected, Panic! At the Disco is the band. I can’t remember the song title.

Maybe that’s what makes it hard for me to follow contemporary music. With bands like Audioslave, 311, Dido, Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy and Rage Against the Machine, no wonder I can’t tell the bands from the songs without help. I’d like to say it was different once upon a time, but then who can forget Strawberry Alarm Clock, Procol Harum and Creedence Clearwater Revival?

Listen…isn’t that Badfinger playing?