you and your musical rut
I was in tenth grade when I was fixated on The Doors. Fixated to the extent that I wrote a term paper for my music class on the band. I was so proud of that paper, which showed off my knowledge not just of Jim Morrison and his band but of the entire genre in which the Doors resided.
That was the year I had befriended a DJ from a local rock station. He was an expert on this particular band and music from that era so I asked him to read my paper. I waited excitedly for his commentary, which I was sure was going to be nothing but high praise for both my writing skills and my expertise on the subject.
What he said, in so many words, was “You need to get out more.”
He said I was stuck in place with my music choices and there would come a time later when I’d regret not branching out more, trying new things, listening to music outside my set comfort zone.
So I listened to him. I tried different radio stations. I read Rolling Stone magazine and bought albums reviewed in recent issues. This was just about the time punk was breaking and discovering the new music out there changed my life.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I’m going to tell you what that DJ told me. I want you to learn the same lesson I learned before it’s too late and all your memories are soundtracked to the same damn song.
See, one day thirty years from now you will be sitting at your desk listening to music and a song will come on. Let’s say it’s “Call Me Maybe.” You’ll chuckle to yourself and think “Man, did I ever really like this song? Did I really think this was good?” But that matters not. Because you will sing along with it. You will smile. You may wince a little bit at the induced nostalgia and melancholy. You may sigh and long for the days when you felt free and full of hope. But you will sing, because you will have some awesome memories tied up in Carly Rae Jespen’s twee little voice.
I’m not going to tell you to not like what you like. Go ahead. Listen to all the Katy Perry and Bruno Mars your heart and ears desire. Listen to pop punk and wistful emo and some indie band that’s made up of two guys playing the spoons over a barking dog. But don’t let that be all you listen to. There’s so much out there. There will be moments in the future where memories will walk in unannounced and you’ll start reminiscing. Reminiscing comes with a soundtrack. Songs will pop into your head. Whether you’re thinking about the night you lost your virginity in the parking lot of Chuck E. Cheese’s or the day you realized you’ll be paying forever for a useless degree, you don’t want it all to be set to the same music. Do you really want Mumford and Sons to be the sole artist on the soundtrack to your life? Do you want Beyonce to be the voice of every recollection? Do you want your future playlists tilted “Summer of FUN” to sound like the “We Are Young” played over and over again?
Let me answer that for you. No. You want more. You want some diversity. You want to mix it up. It’s all well and good to have a favorite genre of music, but if you don’t mix it up a bit, you’ll be using the same song for your wedding slideshow that you’ll use when you upload to YouTube the video of you burning down your trailer when you attempted a career as a meth dealer. Yea, life is going to suck sometimes, kids. You may have great moments of achievement. But you’ll also have your share of moments of despair. And you’ll need music for all those occasions, for the weddings and births, for the AA meetings and sentencings, for the job promotions and unemployment checks, for the day you buy a house and the day you move back into your mother’s basement. For every party there will be a night spent in the house crying that the world hates you and you’ll die alone. For every weekend fling with a dozen friends and a truckload of beer there will be a summoning to the boss’s office. When these things happen you’ll be glad you had different music marking the occasions.
Listen, I know you’re really into chillwave right now. Or maybe it’s synth-pop or seapunk or dubstep or good, old fashioned heavy metal. Whatever you are into, recognize that there’s a lot more out there. There are all kinds of waves and cores and pops. Diversify. Get out of the musical rut you don’t even know you’re in. Switch from the top 40 station that seems like all Taylor Swift all the time. Just go down the dial and find something else. Switch iPods with a friend. Browse through the used section of a record store. Listen to your parents’ music. And I don’t mean listen to the entire Van Halen collection. Dig deeper than that. Expand your horizons. Crawl out of the musical rut you dug for yourself and listen to some bands you never heard of or heard of but thought you were too cool to enjoy. You don’t know you hate boy bands until you listen to them. Conversely, you don’t know you love 1970s era psychedelic rock until you put those records on.
Trust me, you’re going to regret it some day if all you have to go with when making a playlist called “Remember That Summer After High School When We Got Wasted Every Day At The Beach House?” is a 40 minute loop of T-Pain being featured on other people’s songs. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for your future self. You don’t want to be like my 40 year old coworker who just discovered The Pixies last week.
Life is going to be tough. There are going to be many challenges ahead. There will be death and despair, joblessness and hopelessness. There will be breakups and loneliness, hunger and empty wallets. Yea, sure, all these things make you tougher. What doesn’t kill you and all that. Oh, there will be good things, too. There will be parties and paychecks and clandestine sex and drinks with names you can’t pronounce. You’ll fall in love, maybe you’ll get married, have kids, wear a suit and tie. Perhaps there will be trips to Europe or box seats at Yankee Stadium or a bit part in a sitcom (you’re billed as The Wacky Neighbor). All these things, the good and the bad and the ugly will stay with you forever. It’s up to you to make sure the movie of your life (usually titled Regret, Part I) has an awesome soundtrack.
So go out there and listen. Make a decent playlist for your memories. Metal, indie pop, lo-fi and alternative. Hip-hop, dream pop and hard rock. Hardcore, electric folk and sludge metal and crabcore.
Wait, no. Don’t listen to crabcore.