Insomnia and My Musical Evolution

As I laid awake in my bed my mind wandered from topic to topic. Retirement, super powers, and of course the new Taylor Swift song my wife was listening to earlier.

Despite my best efforts, I could not shake off the temptation to listen to the blasted song. Making sure my Ipad was pointed down with the off chance my wife woke up and saw I was listening to a Taylor Swift song I began listening. I could not help picturing the future of the song. Hordes of kids screaming when it played at a school dance, teenagers blasting it in their cars as they drove from party to party, and most importantly the people who REALLY know music looking down on the masses enjoying Taylor Swift. I knew it would happen because I used to be one of those people.

Up until middle school I did not really have a musical identity. Growing up I was fed a steady diet of Weird Al Yankovic from my brother and Earth Wind and Fire and Run-D.M.C. from my dad. I finally realized the musical gurus in my family were my two older sisters. I would never admit it at the time but I owed my entire musical preferences to them. I even decided to hate their favorite band Dashboard Confessional to appear like I had my own musical identity.

My sisters had fantastically obscure tastes in music. Neutral Milk Hotel, Pinback, The Decemberists, and The Shins to name a few. To the greater population these may not seem obscure but to a middle school kid living in Utah they were practically unheard of. As I absorbed my sisters music collection I quickly realized the benefits of liking obscure bands. When you like obscure bands you can say smug things like “oh you probably haven't heard of them” and have deep conversations about how “their older stuff is so much better”. I despised pop music and used my obscure bands to throw myself to the top of the music pyramid.

I found that I enjoyed talking about the music more than actually listening to it. I felt important and unique and that felt great. The two exceptions were Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service. Ben Gibbard spoke to my soul and I held his music close to my heart. I talked about and listened to both bands, they were my go to favorite artists. I found that when I listened to them over and over again it was almost like forming a relationship. Songs began to evolve from beats and lyrics to fond memories. Playing my favorite became a regular trip down memory lane. I still remember swooshing my hair back and for to “Such Great Heights” right before my mom made me get a hair cut. “Passenger Seat” literally stopped me on a mountain road at night only to be brought back to reality by a honking car.

Here’s the thing about being a poser musical snob, if you want to keep it up you have to work at it. When my sisters moved away from the house suddenly I did not have fresh new obscurity to throw in the faces of pop music junkies. Even worse, the obscurity I used to throw was now, GASP, being played on the radio. In my mind, the radio essentially murdered any good song and my underground army was being taken out one at a time. I did a good job about shrugging it off and ranting about how overplaying songs was stealing the virtue of great music. It was all fine and dandy until Ben got involved.

There are three moments that stick out in my mind. The first was when my friend told me about a girl using a Death Cab lyric on a poster campaigning for student government. I remember rushing to the poster to make sure he wasn’t playing a sick joke on me. Sure enough there it was. Suddenly the memories I created with “Title and Registration” were plastered on a cheap piece of cardstock. Later in the year I heard one of the football players, the kind of person who literally bathes in crappy pop music, singing Death Cab down the halls. The final blow came when “Such Great Heights” was played on a UPS commercial. UPS!? Suddenly, with only efficiency UPS could provide, my entire relationship with such great heights was delivered to the entire world.

As I sat in my car bemoaning yet another Death Cab song being played over the radio I realized I had to work this out. Somehow, I had to consolidate my relationship with these songs and the rest of the world listening to them. I had a realization that day and many since then. I concluded that if I really cared about band I would want them to be successful, that my esteem was wrapped way to tightly with “unique” music, and someone else's enjoyment does not diminish from my experiences with a song. Looking back they were relatively small things but it was a big step in realizing I didn’t have to feel better than others to feel good about myself.

Music is an extraordinary thing because of the effect it can have. It can evoke emotion, inspire thought, and straight up motivate. This is made possible by both the music and the lyrics. Admittedly, I still have some snobbish tendencies with music. Sometimes the lyrics might be a little too terrible or tune a little off. However, in my best moments, before I judge, I try and think about what the music is doing for the listeners. At first it may seem like masses drinking up pop dribble but I step back. I see a kid feeling like the song is expressing exactly what they are feeling. I see someone getting pumped for a date, competition, or another day at work. I see people having fun not worrying about what people think of them just having fun. I see people making memories, the same memories I made and still make with so many songs. I might not approve of the quality of song but I let that be overwhelmed by the quality of the listeners experience.

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