Friday, July 8, 2011

Learning to Listen...

by contributing author Dana Caudle

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” --Victor Hugo

I’ve always loved music. I’ve just not always appreciated it to the level that I do today. Today, I like to think of music as an extension of the senses: there is seeing, tasting, touching, feeling, hearing…and then there is music. Music can take me back to a time or place in my life as swiftly and specifically as the scent of coffee and bacon frying intermingled can take me back to my grandparents’ home on the mornings after I, as a child, spent the night. Today, there are songs that I match to my various moods; happy songs, funny songs, angry songs, sad songs. And, today--because of my love of music--the variety of artists I am willing to listen to is immense and continually growing. I was not always this way.

I grew up around music lovers. My dad was himself a musician; his tastes ran mostly to Elvis and 70’s alt-country ala the Eagles, James Taylor, and B.J. Thomas. Oldies were a staple on the car radio when we took our family vacations. At the time, I enjoyed this music; however, my understanding of it was more along the lines of me hearing it rather than actually listening to it. It didn’t necessarily provoke any kind of emotion within me.

Around the 6th grade, I decided to become a fan of country music. Because I’ve always been one to throw myself into things full-force, I decided that I should look the part, too. My hair began to take on the immense proportions and heights popular in country music at the time, blowing up to the point of resembling Mt. St. Helens circa May, 1980. (Yeah, it was pretty bad. In fact--and this is off-topic--my husband has seen basketball pictures of me from this era, and proclaimed that I must have been a great defensive player. Not only did the other team have to shoot over me, they had to make it over my hair as well.) I also acquired the ubiquitous “Garth Brooks” shirt; a red and purple color-patched atrocity with pearl snaps, worn with,--of course--red Rocky Mountain jeans and lace-up boots.

Though I played country music extensively on my Walkman, in the car, and on my stereo, I really don’t believe that I was really listening to music yet. I mean, how can one get really excited or emotional over the lyrics, Blame it all on my roots, I showed up in boots…? I’m not being snobbish, the song is enjoyable, yes, and great to dance and sing along to (and I will sing it, loudly, any time it gets played in my vicinity), but nothing that grabbed me by the heart and squeezed. Plus, I’d always liked to think of myself as an individual, a square peg in a round hole, and the fact that nine out of ten girls in my small-town Texas school wore Rocky Mountains and lace up boots didn’t sit well with my sense of eccentricity. It was time to move on. To what, I just didn’t know.

Now, I had not lived in a complete hole, just one partially buried by ten-gallon Stetsons and Justin boots. I did, at this time, know who the Beatles were. My cousins were already huge fans, my brother--who was always more willing to try something new than I--was indoctrinated, and I had been forced to watch a documentary on the band, albeit half-heartedly. My vision of the Beatles was four guys in suits and a bowl-headed haircuts singing antiquated songs from long ago. And, I’m embarrassed to say, I ridiculed them…loudly…to anyone who would listen. But looking back I think maybe, just maybe, I was more intrigued than I let on. Sort of like the kid who picks on a girl because he secretly has a crush on her--I don’t know, I can’t really say for sure. But I do know that I began to gradually change my mind.

I remember my interest first being piqued when I heard one of my cousins enthusiastically describing all the “Paul is Dead” clues on the Sgt. Peppers album. It probably appealed to my inherent sense of the macabre; I listened…and began to wonder. I wanted to hear these clues! But, I would not swallow my pride enough to ask my brother if I could borrow the copy of Sgt. Pepper’s he had attained from my cousins, knowing fully the unmerciful teasing I would endure. I had talked enough smack to eat my words unto gluttony if I even hinted at liking the Beatles. So I waited and wondered some more.

My chance finally came one day when I woke up with a stomach virus and couldn’t go to school. I was home alone! I was well enough to sneak into my brother’s room and find his Sgt. Pepper tape. The copy was in poor condition, having been made by the speed-dubbing recorder on his stereo (fancy stuff at the time, before cd’s made copying albums an almost instantaneous process.) The songs were in fragments, quite a few were incomplete. But then, “A Day in the Life” came on in its entirety. My life was changed forever.

This was a song that was so simple, yet so complex. The lyrics were so inconsequential, mostly about some guy reading the morning paper. But the morbidity of the words--someone blew his mind out in a car--combined with the nonsensical--someone actually counted how many holes filled Blackburn Lancashire--combined with the various complex movements of music--including the Beatles’ frequent use of the “middle eight” convention--escalating to the final cacophony of instruments…!!!

It might have been that I finally saw the light (or, most probably, my 102 degree fever), but I actually began listening to the music. Until then, I thought popular music was simple, about loving or losing a lover, drinking and doing people wrong, or someone doing the singer wrong. After hearing this song, I began to realize for the first time that music is an art form, and that a perfect blend of lyrics and musical arrangements could move me in ways I’d never imagine. And from then on, the Beatles--who were no longer just four bowl-cutted guys, but in my opinion, visionaries--became my favorite band! I wanted to hear more.

It wasn’t easy, I was still ashamed of my close-mindedness. The next time I went shopping with my mom I snuck Abbey Road into the cart, much like someone trying to smuggle hemorrhoid cream without anyone else noticing. My mom noticed. She glanced at the cover and said nonchalantly,

“I thought you didn’t like them.”

Nothing more was said. I wasn’t teased by my family for my new appreciation, either (though close-minded kids at school didn’t hesitate to do so. However, that appealed to my square-peg thingy, and I didn’t really care.) And years later, Mom and I went together to see Paul McCartney in concert, celebrating simultaneously my birthday and graduating from college. It was a momentous occasion for me. I was beginning a new chapter in my life and celebrating one that I will always fall back on--the beginning of my love for music--while listening to a member of the band that had opened my eyes to this affection. The Beatles ended up being just a stepping stone of my music appreciation, and now this appreciation is vast and includes many genres. But the Beatles will always be the first, and “A Day in the Life” will always be the song that “turned me on” and made me actually listen…to music (and also the song that, literally, deflated my hair.)

Now, since this Jive is usually a catalyst for expression, I would like to know the songs that inspired others to start listening to music. I know that tastes vary, and that there’s no real prescription for what makes a person actually like a song, the differences in preference are as vast and complex as music itself. But if you are a music lover, you can usually remember the song that inspired you and lead you in pursuit of more and more musical inspiration.

“Music is what feelings sound like.”--Author Unknown

At a movie you can feel it touching your heart
And on every day of the summertime
You'll hear children chasing ice cream carts
They'll play it on your wedding day
There must be 'bout a million ways
To add some music
To your day--The Beach Boys “Add Some Music to your Day”


Christopher said...

I cherish the Beatles' music. I would probably take a bullet for Springsteen. I would give anything to have my memory erased like "Eternal Sunshine" and have the opportunity to re-discover Johnny Cash. And don't even get me started on Elvis. Bands like The Who, Ramones, Beach Boys, and Guns N Roses hold a special place in my heart for their contributions to my Musical Journey. Strange as it may sound, the song that "got me into music" wasn't recorded by any of the afore mentioned bands. Not only that, whenever i hear this early-90s,flannel shirt wearing, Seattle-Grunge Trio, I usually change the channel or skip to the next track. This wasn't the case in 1992. 
My "Jr. High gfriend", Michelle (shoutout) gave me the cassette of Nevermind by Nirvana. "I feel stupid and we are now, entertain us"- I rocked out so hard as my brother drove me home in his white pontiac from the Methodist church X-mas party. 
I have a theory that age 12-14 is the period in which music lovers begin discovering. This was the case for me and I'm proud to be from the "Cobain generation" of angst-ridden adolescents.
 As a 31 year-old, I find it difficult to listen to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" anymore. However, in 1992, it changed my life. Thanks, Michelle.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was just a skinny lad and never knew no good from bad when I remember hearing the song that had changed my life. It was more of a gateway song that led me to "the song" that had inspired and motivated me not only to listen to music, but to have the absurd idea of making it.
I was at that humiliating age where everybody was hitting puberty and my testosterone was still stuck in line at the DMV. I had remembered this song from before, this gateway song called "When I come around".
I remember being at my grandparent's who cleverly knew how to hide channels so that when dialing through the channels, it would skip that channel. Of course I had knowledge of the number system. Number's just do not skip from twenty-one to twenty-three with out twenty-two. "This is madness" I thought to myself. Little did they know when you manually tapped two two, you got the channel twenty-two.
This was no accident.There is something they didn't want me to see and that was my MTV.
It all might have been grandma hiding the channels from grandpa seeing the bikni clad women dancing in the middle of the afternoon for no reason at all but I needed that music.
At this date and time "when I come around" wouldn't be played. It was outdated by any standard.Well there had to be a band that was inspired by Green Day that could quinch my ear drums to paradise.And there was.
Carefully watching grandma with my hand on the back button to make sure I was watching Jeopardy, just in case she happened to walk into the room. Then this noise started coming from the TV with this high treble harmonic pitches with melody from an icecream truck.Bass line waited about eight ticks then came rolling in like a train three hundred yards away.Tink tink tinky tinkee tink tink on the cymbal.
Yeah, I remember the song.

Lazy Eye said...

The first song that I can remember loving was PM Dawn – Set Adrift on Memory Bliss. I remember loving it so much that I recorded it off of fuzzy FM radio, and listed to the cassette recording over, and over, and over. I listened to it until the tape was worn to the point of deterioration. I loved, loved, loved that song. Now as someone who considers themselves a music connoisseur, am I happy about this particular song being my first love? Hell no. But I’m not going to apologize for it. Hell no, because it also set me Adrift down a road of musical appreciation. Pardon the wording. Truth be told, I still secretly love that song although you will never find it on one of my “best of CDs”. It goes without saying that my musical taste have blossomed since 1991. And in the spirit of DC’s wonderful Jive, I have indeed learned to listen.

As my musical appreciation continued to evolve, not quickly for the record (my second and third loves were MC Hammer – Can’t Touch This and Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby) I found a whole new world of opportunities. I also realized really quickly that music served as a catalyst to help me remember certain people, places and events. I’m still amazed at how crisply I can recall details after listening to a particular song. Case in point, there are certain songs that make me think of my friends every single time I hear them:

No Key, No Plan/Okkervil River – Kyle
Back on the Chain Gang/Pretenders – Brent
Off He Goes/Pearl Jam – Joe
All Star/Smash Mouth – Chris
Tubthumping/Chumbawamba – Johnny D.
Hold On/Wilson-Phillips - Dana
House of the Rising Sun/The Animals – Billy Golden and Karen
Hip Hop Hooray/Naughty by Nature – JRK and Lyle
I Stand Alone/Jackyl – Frank*
*Shout-out to Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door for all the wrong reasons…

Lazy Eye said...

I guess I should point out the randomness of these song’s associations and admit that some of my friends don’t even enjoy the song that they will be forever linked in my mind with. Too late, that’s what music does and it can’t be reversed.

After what I like to call my Neanderthal musical state, a revelation was made in the fall of 1993. My first two CD albums ever purchased (on the same day none-the-less) were Pearl Jam – Ten and Counting Crows – August and Everything After. Coincidently they continue to be my two favorite albums of all time. With these albums, I had found my niche, and there was no turning back. There followed a glorious musical time in my life where everything was new and evolving. I would like to Jive about some of them…

Early Albums that Shaped My Ear:
Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Metallica – Metallica
Check Your Head – Beastie Boys
The Chronic – Dr. Dre
Bringing Down the Horse – The Wallflowers
Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette
Aquemini – Outkast
Play – Moby

I couldn’t narrow it down to 5 and I apologize for the Jive faux pas. These are in no particular order of time or relevance. They just established a pallet in the 90s for what I would appreciate as a musical fan. There were others that I wish I had known about during this time, including: Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, and Massive Attack. I guess I found them eventually, but not soon enough.

I also have to give props to the band that put me over the edge in realizing that a song or artist doesn’t have to be played on the radio to be greatness. That band for me was Modest Mouse. I still consider MM one of my favorite bands, and if I had to name a particular band to represent my individual taste, it would certainly be them. And also for the record, if my life is ever made into a movie, I would prefer that they provide the music for the soundtrack. Mark that CC.

As a product of the MTV generation, I also appreciate the art of the music video. I sometimes have wondered if I like the song better because of the video or vice versa. Regardless, let’s Jive…

Criminal – Fiona Apple
Rockafeller Skank – Fatboy Slim
Hurt – Johnny Cash
Sabotage – Beastie Boys
Karma Police – Radiohead*

*Without question my favorite video of all time.

If you have not had the privilege of viewing any of these videos, I would suggest this as your duty. Tonight, time is wasting.

This has been a great trip down memory lane, courtesy of music. The beauty in all of this is that it will continue to grow and to evolve. In wrapping this all up, I can’t help but ask myself: Wouldn’t it be great to go back and rediscover? My final Jive will touch on some of the songs that I wish I could listen to again for the first time…

Hero of the Day – Metallica
Big Pimpin’ – Jay Z
In the Meantime – Spacehog
Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead
Mr. Jones – Counting Crows

In conclusion, I want to stress that my musical taste and opinions are just that and nothing more. I do not judge anyone based on their musical likes or dislikes, and I would never be critical of anyone for liking a particular band, musician, or song. Especially if your own personal tastes entail Limp Bizkit, Nickelback, Aqua, Offspring, etc. Who am I to scrutinize, my first love was a song about Christina Applegate.

Christopher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana said...

Lazy Eye, I think you hit the nail on the head with Christopher and "All Star." I've always thought of him when I heard that song--don't ask me why.

I also think Modest Mouse was my first big foray into non-mainstream music. I love the "smartness" of their lyrics and their wordplay, the way Isaac Brock sings over the riffs, and the drunk-sounding backup singer (ha ha). I call it my "angry" music, not necessarily because the lyrics are all angry, but because Brock's voice just sounds angry. I also like them because they are originals. Let's face it, when you hear Modest Mouse playing, you aren't going to get them confused with any other band.

On a side note, I read an interview with Isaac Brock one time, and he said that when he first started playing, he really wanted to sound like Radiohead--he found out pretty quickly that that wasn't going to work. Go figure.

Modest Mouse is also one of the most disappointing concerts I've ever been to. It was a combination of the sound messing up (I couldn't hear the vocals--a very important aspect of MM's music), and one of the idiot girls I was with complaining the whole time how MM had sold out (this was after the success of Good News for People Who Love Bad News.) Before every song she would Yell out, "Play 'Tiny Cities'!!" then get mad when they didn't. Grrrr...this is a topic I will argue over and over again. Just because a band finds some success, it doesn't mean that they "sold out."

Three bands who have given me my best not-played-often-on-radio rock concert experience...Wilco, Cake and Ben Kweller. Both were surperb live. I was at ACL when Kweller played the whole Sha-Sha album in order from start to finish. Cake had a triple encore!And Wilco, is just one of my favorite bands, period. I looove the song "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." In fact, most of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is pretty darn groovy.

To round up the Top5 non-mainstream bands that have made me want to hear more is Built to Spill. Greatness. I wrote my Masters thesis while listening to Built to Spill.

Here are my top5 non-mainstream fave listed, in random order 'cuz I really enjoy them all:

Modest Mouse
Built to Spill
Ben Kweller

The Franker said...

Oddly enough, for the first decade of my life, I had no knowledge or even interest in music to speak of.

My first musically recollections are of a couple of cassettes that I found around the house. The most notable of these was perhaps the most appropriately named album of all time: "Surfing with the Beach Boys." I do not remember the tracklist on that particular tape, but I presume that it included the hits "Surfin' USA", "Surfin' Safari","Surfer's Stomp" and "Surfin'". (Man, young Brian Wilson must have loved writing about the beaches of Southern California as much as Andrew W.K. loves writing about partying or Eminem loves writing about his mom/ex-wife.)But anyway, I remember playing that tape on this little Fisher-Price cassette player! I may be mistaken, but I think that little radio was one of the toys the E.T. the Extra Terrestrial used to build an inter-dimensional communication device at the end of a popular movie of roughly the same time period.

Of course, I would much later realize just how complex their music actually was and how beautiful many of their melodies and harmonies could be. The Beach Boys still rank highly on my list of favorite all time musical acts.

Fast forward to present-day hipster's shouldn't be a surprise that two of my favorite current bands, Fleet Foxes & Animal Collective (esp. Noah Lennox/Panda Bear) incorporate a lot of the same musical elements into their music.

Aside from the Beach Boys, there are two songs in particular that define this embryonic period of my musical consciousness. If any reader (besides my brother) has heard of "Stagger Lee" by Lloyd Price, or "My Ding A Ling" by Chuck Berry...please let me know and I'll bestow upon you my utmost respect as a fellow musical snob!

Dana said...

Frank, I was sing Ding-a-Ling to Seth the other day, believe it or not. I told him about how it was you and Christopher that introduced me to that dirty, dirty song. I also think that he wanted to call BS on it...until I told him who it was who introduced me to that dirty, dirty song. Then it became believable.

I, too, love the Beach Boys. I really like all of their music, but if you listen to Pet Sounds carefully enough, it can bring you to tears. Every time.

Brent Dawson said...

As is the case with most Texas youths, my musical journey first began down that all-to-familiar trail of popular county music. For the most part, that ship has sailed, but I still hold on to the two artists I enjoyed the most during that era, Dwight Yoakum and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I guess if I had to pinpoint my gateway into music, it would be these two. Kyle and I spent many an afternoon with Yoakum's This Time and Carpenter's Come On, Come On set on repeat. If I was listing my favorite 25 albums of all time, I think you'd find both of these nestled in that list somewhere.

Cracked Rear View sent me packing for good into the bountiful land of rock'n'roll. However, if I had to pick the one album that truly sparked my love for music, it would have to be Weezer's Blue album. And if pressed to pick the song, it would have to be Buddy Holly. When I think of this album, I think of high school. When I think of this album, I think of college. When I think of this album, I think of my friends. And when I hear a new song from some new hip indie band that I can't get enough of, somewhere in the back of my mind, the Blue album is still turning.

Joko said...

I have had a similar journey through the early part of my life as many of you listed before...My first love and still my favorite genre of music is classic country. Maybe because I was in Mr. B's English class or that I just grew up in Gordon, TX where time seems to be about 20 years slow. I still love to listen to Buck Owens, Charlie Pride, and Willie Nelson. I love country music still but I can't leave out the 90's and that genre of music because of how it shaped my interests today. I am very fortunate to have a brother that had great musical tastes. He introduced me to many different kinds of music but a couple of artists stick out.
First and probably most obvious would be Pearl Jam and the song alive. I think the first time I heard that song was comparable to Bob Marley's first encounter with Mary Jane. It opened a door for music and finding a deeper meaning with what music is about. They still are my favorite band of all time.
Second was listening to Robert Earl Keen Jr Live #2 album. This was a new type of music that scratched me right where I itched. It is a throwback style of music with a great storyteller.

Also a shout out to two more albums: American Beauty by the Grateful Dead and the Who mix that my cousin Frank made. These albums were big in shaping my musical interests.

Lastly I don't think I can talk about music without mentioning Elvis. I have always been an Elvis man, probably because my parents were both Elvis people.

Good jive and discussion....

Christopher said...

I was expecting a shoutout but didn't get it. Remember the Elvis Mix I made u in 1997?

Joko said...

oh I for sure introduced me to my favorite Elvis song....

B.J. said...

I started out on my musical journey fairly open. My parents were constantly listening to country, oldies, or classic rock. I went with this trend for several years. Then While on a trip to the metroplex I remember dad turning up the radio as "Last Kiss", by J. Frank Wilson, started to play. I remember thinking that for a fairly upbeat tempo this song had a very sad story to tell. At the time I had it fixed in my head that I didn't want to hear any songs about bad events, but the song seem like a good tune, even if it was sad. It was from there I guess you could say I was off and running into the musical world, from Chopin to Yoakum and the Beatles to Broadway. The only one genre stint I did was for a few years in High School I was pretty enthralled with Texas Country. However, overall I guess I've always been a little wierd in my music, and tried to look for what spoke to me. That goes back to two things, dad always said to listen to the words, and I take songs one at a time each one could be good.