What the heck am I listening to?

According to Spotify’s Year in Music, the top artists I listened to in 2015 were:

  1. 21 Pilots
  2. Smallpools
  3. Bastille
  4. Fall Out Boy
  5. WALK THE MOON

Reading that, my thoughts range from… “oh I love that music” to “who knew I was so ‘pop punk’” to “oh, god, I don’t want to be associated with those bands”. Ironic, that the bands I listen to the most project the self image that I want to convey the least. To me, those are bands that you go to festivals, sleep in tents, get high and spend an all around miserable weekend in order to listen to. The people who do that are foolish for wanting to subject themselves to that, and I wouldn’t be caught dead there…. listening to my favorite bands?

Well, if this is the case, then what image DO I want to be associated with? In my mind, I see myself as an Eagles, Heart, and Phil Collins fan, to name a few. None of which even lie in the same century as what bands actually claim to be my favorite. If I’m asked what my favorite band is, that list is probably what I’d give you. However, If you asked my best friends what my favorite bands were, they’d give you Spotify’s 5.

So, now I’m curious. We as a culture have a tendency to identify with our music. Punks listen to punk. The popular people listen to popular music. Christians listen to… KLOVE. Or at least that’s my observastion. I’m not against the thought that I may rely too much on stereotypes, but that is how things piece together in my head. So why don’t I want to identify with my music? Well. Spotify classifies my favorites as what I listen to most. It’s a computer, it works in quantifiable measures alone. And it’s true. I listen to 21 Pilots the most. I remember a road trip where I listened solely to Blurryface, Vessel, and their self-titled album on repeat from Georgia to Kentucky. I like the way they sound. I like the way the instruments go together, the notes and chords they use, and the tempo of the songs. It’s interesting, it makes me feel good, and it puts me in the mood I want to be in. Now. If you were to ask me if I knew the words to the second verse of House of Gold… I would come up lacking. I don’t know the words to any of those songs, or I just know the chorus, and I definitely don’t know what the songs are about. Another example: I have fun listening to Bastille, and it’s my go-to artist to drive with the windows down the day after it rains and the sun peeks out with the cool wind, just warm enough to bring a smile to the corners of your mouth. That music just feels like a mid-spring dewey day. But again, who the heck knows what Pompeii is about?

It’s all about the sound.

On the other hand. If you put on The Eagles’ Hotel California, I’m going to get close to knowing, if not actually knowing every line. And I’m going to belt them out at the top of my lungs. And I’m going to think about what they’re saying, and think about it as I’m listening to the song. I’ll even take parts of the song and look up what the heck it means or the artist was talking about.

For example, my research from “warm smell of colitas” from Hotel California:
“Colitas is little tails, but here the author is referring to ‘colas,’ the tip of a marijuana branch, where it is more potent and with more sap (said to be the best part of the leaves).” We knew with an instant shock of certainty that this was the correct interpretation. The Eagles, with the prescience given only to true artists, were touting the virtues of high-quality industrial hemp! And to think some people thought this song was about drugs.
Be careful about googling some song lyrics though.. sometimes you may have been better off not knowing.

Anyway. I love the lyrics and messages to the songs from artists I want to be associated with. So why aren’t they the ones I listen to the most? Is it because I don’t want to ruin the magic? Is it because it’s like reading your favorite book over and over again? I definitely like the haunting sound of Hotel California, or the upbeat “go get ‘em” sound of Heart’s Barracuda. But you’re not going to catch me listening to their albums on repeat during a 8 hour car ride. If I listen to Life in the Fast Lane, sure, I’m going to know all the words. But I can tell you now, I’m going to be bored 2 minutes in, unless I’m singing along. And sometimes I’m just not in a singing mood. Alternately, if I’m listening to American Love, I’m going to be anticipating every chorus to rock out in my car to, I’m going to be calling the down bridge before it gets there, and savoring every sound that comes out of Smallpools’ repertoire… while not knowing a single lyric.

Another layer to this puzzle: I grew up listening to the Phil Collins, Eagles, and Heart type bands. Cher. John Mellencamp. REO Speedwagon. My pops made a point of making sure I was “cultured” with the “good stuff” before I was exposed to the “shallow” content of the 21st century. (His words. Not mine. Hold back your judging 21st snarles and protestations about “still being deep” and “in touch with your emotions”) So it’s not like I wasn’t conditioned to like the music I want to be identified with. We can’t blame my tendencies all that much on my upbringing. So we’re back to the question:

Why in the world is this the case?

Why do I feel the need to separately classify the music in my life as “music I like listening to” vs “music I want to be associated with” vs “music I like singing to”. At this point, I can only hazard a couple guesses and run off of “gut feeling” alone.

1First. You’ll notice my “favorite” most played band as quantified by Spotify are all current. I’m pretty sure the oldest one on the list is Fall Out Boy, and they started in 2001. While I didn’t grow up listening to “new” music, it is still the music of my generation. It’s the music of my peers and what appeals to us as a *cringes* whole. So do our preferences change as we move through the ages? Did my friends beat out my dad’s conditioning and overwrite it with the popular music of today? What makes us like the music we do anyway? I just like the sound better of the poppy “Dreaming” over the somewhat repetitive, but definitely meaningful “Take it Easy”.

So maybe its just the fact that I’m doomed to lke the music of my peers, of my generation.

2 Second. Do I not want to kill the magic? I associate Turn Back Time to driving down the road with my sister late at night, singing to the point that we made ourselves hoarse, and laughing at the fact that neither of us can sing. You can’t just duplicate that experience on every commute to and from work. It just doesn’t work. Maybe the songs that I love, I love because they’re special. They’re elite, and saved for the right people, the right times. They can only be brought out for the right occasion or they lose their magic, like the special Christmas plates. They deserve the respect of your full attention, rather than to just be the background noise of your overly busy day.

3 Third. As for what it is I want to be identified with, I think this is a matter of the message backing up my music. I want to be identified with the rock music of an earlier era, and I know why. I love the heart and soul behind the lyrics as Heart asks “What about Love?” and Cher rocks out about heartbreak and life after Love. I want all of this emotion and depth of personality to be what people see in me; that I’m not just a catchy beat but an artist and intelletcutal. As for the music I listen to all of the time, I have no idea what the message is there. It could be just as deep, or it could tend toward the shallow and meaningless that is emerging as a motif in popular music. Either way, I don’t know because I don’t listen to that music for its message, I listen for the sound. And if I don’t know what the message is, I’m not going to want to risk being identified with something that I’m not fully educated about.

I guess the moral of the story here is that we have different reasons for listening to music. Sometimes, it’s to get us hyped up because we need a mood boost, or we’re working out. Other times, we need something to sing along to with an artist that knows exactly how we feel. We get to choose what we identify with, and what identifies us. While a computer may quantify the number of plays and use that to determine your favorite song, it can’t qualify how close you are to getting hoarse singing along, or how happy the combination the sunset on the Palisades that awesome song you’re listening to makes you.

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