Music appreciation

So I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading Steven Hyden’s retrospective series about rock music in the 1990s on the A.V. Club called Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation? His latest installment looking at 1998 was posted a couple of days ago. Hyden is very funny and if I ever got to work as a music journalist, one of my many dream jobs, I would want to be just like him. Hyden takes a pretty personal perspective in these pieces and gives quite a lot of insight into his own journey as a music connoisseur coming of age in the 1990s. I feel like I can’t do the series justice here so you should check it out for yourself.

Hyden’s pieces got me thinking about my own musical education, as it were. I think any music lover can look back on their adolescent years and fondly create a time line of their angst ridden, awkward, and hormone-fueled experience marked by the albums and artists who deeply spoke to them at different points along the road. We all have bands that we deeply loved, and that now make us groan with embarrassment when we think back on them. We also all have albums and artists discovered during this time that will stay in our mental top ten of all time for the rest of our lives.

{Warning: Unless you want to slog through a boring recitation of my history with rock music, read no further. Also, if I offend you with my remarks about certain bands, I apologize. It’s great if you love them. They are just not my cup of tea}

Unlike Hyden, who is quite obviously a generation Xer (why did they start naming us with letters?) while, I did not come of age and enter adulthood in the 90s. I was a child in the 90s and did not start actively listening to and cultivating a taste for music until the latter half of the decade, and I only have vague memories of babysitters and the teenage kids of family friends watching grunge music videos on MTV. I never really got into grunge music when I got older like some of my friends did. It always seemed like something better left in its own time. It seemed like my generation was just too disconnected from that time period and couldn’t fully understand or appreciate it. I know I couldn’t. The latter half of the decade, though, I remember well musically.

I remember having a very brief affection for the Spice Girls. I think I got caught up in all the swirl of “Girl power!” and garish, sparkly platform shoes (ick 90s fashion). I did manage to shy away from the boy bands like N Sync and Backstreet Boys, and I was terrified of Britany Spears. The pop music all of my little friends listened to in the late 90s scared me, quite frankly. At such a tender age I couldn’t really place my finger on why it did, but I later learned it’s because I have something called taste. I realize this last sentence makes me sound horribly pretentious. I swear I am not when it comes to other matters, but I think that quality is acceptable when it comes to music, though. Anyway, while my buddies were listening to the plastic sounds of Brit and Justin and the legions of look and sound-alikes their popularity spawned. I kept my radio dial (ah the days before iPods and Pandora) tuned to the local oldies station. I cut my teeth on rock and some pop from the days when my parents were kids, and I soaked it up like a sponge. I think I knew all the words to every Trogg hit by age eight. I began nurturing my love for the Beatles and Bob Dylan, which have now become requisite affinities for pretty much every kid into rock music these days, long before my peers would “discover” them in high school. My dad, definitely a product of the 60s and 70s as far as rock is concerned, recognized my leanings early and started to feed me on a steady diet of classic bands. Some kids get quizzed by their parents on stuff like multiplication tables or spelling words. I was quizzed with music trivia.

I came into my teenage years in the early 2000s, a truly dismal time for rock music, as Hyden correctly notes in his pieces. Bands like 3 Doors Down, Linkin Park, Creed, and Nickelback were extremely popular among my peers. I was pretty ambivalent to them. I occasionally flipped over to MTV and VH1 or turned over to the contemporary stations on the radio just to see what was up, but I was never extremely impressed and would turn back to VH1 Classic or my favored classic rock station. There were two contemporary bands that stuck out to me as being good, though. Their cds were also the first two that I bought for myself with my own money, which is a very important and momentous experience for the young music lover. The first was Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American and the second was Weezer’s Maladroit. While my love for Jimmy Eat World did not extend much farther than middle school, Weezer established itself as one of my favorite bands from then on. I subsequently acquired their earlier works not long after. However, much beyond these two bands I did not dare venture, and retreated back to my Led Zeppelin and Beatles.

The rock genre did not improve much for me in high school either. A couple of friends finally caught up on the classic rock front, though, which was nice. I finally had someone other than my dad with whom to have the classic John Bonham vs. Keith Moon as greatest drummer ever debate. Among my other friends, though, the two popular genres were nu metal and emo, both of which I did not care for at all. I found Hyden’s latest piece concerning the rise of the nu metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizket very familiar. I dated a boy for a while who was quite into all of that, and he tried turning me onto it. It just would not take. Instead I turned to punk and fell extremely in love with the Clash in particular. It seemed like a better fit for my brand of teenage pissed-offedness than Slipknot.

I also remember Green Day becoming a favorite band at this time. American Idiot, hate it or love it, became the defining album of my youth. I had liked Green Day well enough before, but that particular album spoke to me in a way their earlier music had not. While I don’t really listen to them much anymore, they will always have a special place in my heart just for that reason.

As I moved toward the end of my high school career and matured a bit my tastes began to change again. I began to put away my spiked jewelry and safety pin earrings and lightened up on the eyeliner. I started searching for something different. This is when I found Bright Eyes, and had my first introduction to indie music (the rest is really history at this point). I remember listening to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and sitting back in stunned silence afterwards. After this, I started amassing an interesting and eclectic collection of cds (iPods were still very new and very expensive), which included bands ranging from Death Cab for Cutie to the Dresden Dolls. I also remember particularly enjoying the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When I admitted this to my best friend one day in art class, she wrinkled her nose and said “Oh yeah, I don’t really like them at all.” I just kept my mouth shut after that.

As I said before, the rest really is history. In college, I finally learned to stop being afraid of new bands and that people really were still making good music out there. You didn’t even have to dig that hard to find them either. I shed my misconception that the production of good music stopped in 1978 with the death of Keith Moon. I also came to appreciate some of the bands I missed back in middle school like the Strokes and the Vines, oddly enough. While I still love the Who and the Clash and other bands of their time and subgenre, I’ve learned to make room for music actually made within my lifetime.

I think as Generation Yers we are in a wonderful position. We have sixty years or so of rock history from which to cultivate our particular tastes, and in this sense rock will never be dead. I do have an incredible optimism for the future of the genre, though. Just look at the long list of amazing records released this past year. Yeah, I think it’s going to be all right.

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