Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Year End Thoughts...

The truth is that I thought I'd lost the love. I blamed it on a lot of things this blog being one of them. I blamed it on being inundated with tons of music from any number of sources. I turned a passion, a true love, into a requirement.

When you're required to love anything that love fails. It's simple and it's true. I thought that writing about music would be as natural to me as falling asleep and it was. I think I've got good ears (though barely passable grammar skills) and have long been a member of the cultural elite when it comes to music. I was the kid in high school listening to DC Hardcore and trying to screw up the courage to go see a Go-Go show. I was ear to the pavement, my friends were the same but times ten so I could always soak up their know-how. When I went to college I was the freak on a conservative campus dominated by people from Conneticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey. My dyed hair and weird music made me a novelty and I'm pretty sure that I got lucky a couple of times simply because someone was curious. Through it all I had the love. The love of the music. I "soundtracked" big time, but didn't we all? Whatever was in my headphones or blasting out of the speakers from punk to new wave to indie rock was obsessed over, analyzed, memorized. I knew every lyric to every song on the albums that I loved. I remember being this way forever. I remember listening to my pop's 45 of "Tequila" over and over and over on my shitty little record player. I was obsessed with Madness, had every album I could find, odd 12", imports. Then it was ska: the English Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, skanking at shows, wearing skinny ties, trying to be something that we assumed the British were and we weren't. The formula altered little as I grew up and even post college I was still obsessing. I was fortunate to always have a friend a step ahead who could guide me into a scene and then allow me to figure out what I liked. After moving to San Francisco it was the burgeoning alt-country scene that grabbed me. Sure there was Uncle Tupelo, The Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, each with records I loved, memorized, had to have on no matter what I was doing be it tying my shoes, taking a shower or cleaning that crappy apartment on the edge of the Tenderloin; but the SF scene was pretty damn good in its own insular way. The city's alt-country shows were sweaty drunken spectacles hosted by Richard Buckner & The Doubters, The Buckets, The Old Joe Clarks, Our Lady of the Highway, Gran Falloon Bus, Red Red Meat. What was a joking mockery in my youth became a relevant part of my musical landscape as a young adult. I realized that country music was a rich and varied part of this country's heritage and I sought it out in a variety of modern forms and loved what I found.

It's about now that my little tale gets tricky. When I started writing Bars & Guitars, when I started writing reviews for Trouser Press, Junk Media, Stylus Magazine, and Pop Matters I became exposed to a tremendous amount of music. Some great, some average, some terrible. I was plugged in to the indie rock music snob elitist underground and could safely snort at the mere mortals who told me at parties that they'd just found this great band called Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Broken Social Scene, and (this year) Wolf Parade. I had the "yeah they're alright but you should really check out..." line down. Impress your friends, end good conversation, prop up your ego, all in the interest of music. I wasn't that bad really, but I imagine you get the idea.

It was around this time, as I started to realize how plugged in I was, that I started to get overwhelmed by the music. Unlike some fortunate souls I don't make a living doing this. I've got a full time job, I own a business, I've got a kid. Free time started competing with listening and writing. I admit that those are two things I love to do, but what I found was that I was listening without loving and writing without feeling completely submerged. I quickly came to realize that with deadlines I simply couldn't listen to all the music that needs to be heard with the same verve and passion as I did in years past. This has been a supreme disappoint to me. Good records slip through the cracks, good records get a cursory treatment and deserve better but fuck there's no time now. Part of it is getting older I tell myself. Part of it is not constantly blasting music, living with it, being enveloped in it. I began to think that I'd lost the love.

When I reflect back on 2005 I'm keenly aware of it being an excellent year in music. If you think otherwise you haven't listened much. We've been fortunate to have tons of good records come out and many seeds to future goodness planted. It's been great, but as I said I was unconvinced that I did anything much justice either here or in review elsewhere. I didn't think that I really loved anything but had lots of hot little crushes. Then I started paying attention to the music my six year old daughter wanted to hear. We have this thing we do in the car with the iPod where we take turns putting on songs, first her then me then her then me. It's really fun and we have some bonding time while driving to school or to go swimming. Inevitably her first three song choices are from either The Moutain Goats The Sunset Tree, The Decemberists Picaresque, Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy or Sufjan Stevens Illinois (specifically the song "Jacksonville"). I realized that I must have been playing these records a lot in order for her to love them, to know literally all the words to her favorite songs on those records. My passion may be diluted through too much listening but hers was just beginning. What a wonderful thing to witness, to be a part of, to share. She's got good ears too and those ears have reminded me that mine are connected to a heart that is still capable of loving what they hear, of sorting through the mediocre to find the lasting impressions. Now everytime that I doubt myself, that I'm overwhelmed with the huge pile of CDs on my desk, that I'm convinced I can't give anything the attention it deserves, I'm going to drive with my daughter and listen to music. I'm going to watch her face light up when she hears something she loves and let her remind me that the passion is still inside of me and then share it with you.

All the best in 2006. See you then. In the meantime track down Incredible Love by Chris Brokaw it's one of those records that deserves more listens.

Chris Brokaw - Move


Blogger DanFlan said...

I know what you mean. I'm 36, got a full time job, a wife and a kid. The explosion of blogs is great. But it's almost like there's too much. I rarely get to listen to a whole album in one sitting, and definitely not at the volume where I'd notice the decrease in quality from CD to MP3. While I don't want my list of new music to match the "pitchfork recommends" list, I need a way to scale back if I really want to do any given band/album justice.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

when i was a kid, I'm 36 too - you went out bought an Lp (on vinyl of course) & listened and listened - you soon knew every song frontwards, backwards & every point inbetween

how on earth can you do that now

there's too much

loads of great internet radio shows, podcasts, hundreds of mp3's, thousands of bands...............

but it's great - music is so alive these days & every day there's something new to discover

i've also got a busy full time job but also lots of driving, flying time so i don't do to bad catching up wise

just discovered this blog & your tastes are pretty close to mine!

happy new year & apologies for rambling!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Chad said...

This is an excellent piece in many ways, and really reflects a lot of the same thoughts and feelings I've had recently in regards to running a music blog...

Thanks for this, I really enjoyed it.

Happy New Year,


10:40 PM  
Blogger Bradly O. said...

I know how you feel.

I'm 43 and playing in a new original rock band...again...part of an endless stream of music since 1985...everything is more difficult. And the music written tends to have too much life experince in it to be relevent to a 20 something.

First finding the time to rehearse, record and gig is a huge issue.

Then when you are gigging at a club where everyone watching you is 15 to 20 years younger than you it is pretty hard to make a connection...when you hear..."these OLD guys rock..."

2nd everything has changed....pretty much for the better. hence all the great new music being made. Any blog that says 2005 wasn't a defining year in music was either asleep or watching reruns of Kelly Clarkson on American Idol. But I think it is a young persons game now....us old fogeys still at it are bound to fade into the couch. Too many influences...too long of soundtrack running in our heads....


10:40 AM  

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