Monday, July 22, 2013

How Music Changed My Life

Quite often I think back on the music of my past. What my first album was, what records opened my eyes to new musical possibilities, conversations and arguments about music theory. Not that I'm an expert by any means, but I am a lover of music and I try to not let what something "should be" influence my enjoyment.

A conversation about music with someone I don't know almost always starts with them saying, "I like all music except (insert genre here)." While I think some genres are more difficult to get into for certain people I think it's naive to discount a piece of music because of it's genre. There are artists that turned me onto a genre and opened my eyes to what it has to offer, and if I hadn't displayed that optimism I would have robbed myself from the enjoyment of the art. This is the core of how music changed my life. Skip to the last paragraph if you don't care about the journey.

I honestly don't remember what my first album was, but I think it must have been some Christian singer songwriter because that was the first style of music (that I remember) I was exposed to. I hesitate to dismiss the influence because it lead me to the path I needed to take to learn and explore what music has to offer. After a few years of mediocre, "convenient" music the gateway drug to musical awareness was a ska band called Five Iron Frenzy.

What happened at this point was an obsession with the band, as might be natural for a first love. For 2 years there was nothing but Five Iron Frenzy and occasionally some punk rock. Five Iron Frenzy disbanded in 2003. While it made me very sad at the time I can see now that their break up was the kick I needed to explore my other musical interests. Enter The Refused and The Mars Volta.

The Refused were a vessel of energy and feeling. Pure passion and movement. Their lyrics were about anger, injustice, and politics, the opposite of Five Iron Frenzy, which were about positivity and spirituality. I distinctly remember listening to The Shape of Punk to Come everyday after school with my good friend, Zach. I never got sick of it.

The Mars Volta was genre-less, conceptual, and experimental; they opened up a world of musical exploration for me. The concept album became a fascination as well as the melding of instruments into something unexpected. Because of this I became adverse to anything that sounded unimaginative and dismissed albums that sounded run-of-the-mill. Which made me miss out on some great music because I didn't care to look deeper.

I'm having a hard time remembering what happened at this point. I know punk music stuck with me for a long time. Dead Kennedys, Rancid, and Tiger Army were always on in my head. Pink Floyd was ever present along with a cornucopia of other "classic" artists: David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and Queen to name a few. But there was also lot of new indie music coming and going, very little of which stood the test of time. The Canadian Indie rock scene was particularly good though with The New Pornographers, Wolf Parade, and Arcade Fire completely killing it.

So began my discovery of great folk music. I could rattle off a ton of bands that came out with good albums and helped expand my interest in the genre but there is only one that stands out in a way that no other has even come close to. And that band is Neutral Milk Hotel with their album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

I highly recommend listening to the complete album because it is a beautiful experience. This was one of the first albums that stirred a serious emotional response in me. It is best listened to with only your headphones and your ears, no other distractions.

After Neutral Milk Hotel there was a steady rise in my interest in all genres and general optimism towards music. All styles were being poked at and dabbled in. Jack White, Beirut, Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits, Gorillaz... All were entering my ears and putting me at the peak of musical enjoyment. Of course it was still easy to dismiss artists like Lady Gaga, Linkin Park, and Kanye West without actually listening to their music, but eventually I had to ask myself, "Why?" I was no better than the people who blindly like the music because a marketer tells them to when I blindly dislike the music for whatever social or personal reasons. With any art there is experience that comes from outside factors that aren't just the needle hitting the record, so maybe there's something deeper than just the abrasiveness of the voice or sound if that's what puts you off.

These contributing factors can create a deeper enjoyment, but can also be a hindering factor. I find the former to be much more common. So as I grew to accept more forms of music and tried to have a deeper understanding of the pieces I was particularly interested in I started to explore the genres that were less attractive to me. I just wanted to know why I didn't like it and I think I found the answers I was looking for while discovering some great music along the way. Never again would I say, "I just don't like it."

Fast forward to the present. There is never a genre barrier to keep me from trying something new. If there was I would have missed out on one of the best albums of the last 5 years. Kanye West's My Dark and Twisted Fantasy. If I let what I thought was run-of-the-mill music go unheard I would have not listened to the newest Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork... which is my favorite album of the year so far.

Not to say that it still isn't hard to overcome musical cynicism, but I don't have many friends recommending the newest Brad Paisley song to me either.

This is how music changed my life: I am able to mirror my musical journey and experience to everyday living and attitudes. There was a time when cynicism ruled my life and every situation was looked at with a skeptical perspective whether it be relationships, activities, food, or enjoyment of art. This fostered an attitude of laziness, anger, and willful ignorance which then created a predisposition that any experience wouldn't be very good. Music showed me that I should look at people, life, and myself differently. It's not easy to keep this attitude up but now I'm more willing to try new things, meet new people, and learn something new every day. How could someone not want that? Life is too short to be angry all the time.

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