White Boy Got No Rhythm

Much to my astonishment, Dave mentioned that he’s something of a music elitist who can categorize people based solely on their choice of songs.  This prompted me to think a bit about the role of music in my life, and why the list of MP3s on my hard drive looks the way it does.

First, my musical history.  I had several years of piano lessons as a middle-schooler and was an enthusiastic member of the children’s choir at church.  I enjoyed it, yet by the time I hit high school, I was too cool for piano and choir so instead I took up the coronet for a year.  When I discovered that band was for nerds during my freshman year, I walked away from music altogether.

This was a decision I came to regret.

While wrapping up my undergrad years, I took two semesters of private organ instruction and one semester of small-group vocal performance, all electives for the non-music majors.  I loved these classes, and the instructors, but I learned that with music, “use it or lose it” is an iron-clad law of nature.  I was so accustomed to touch-typing, for example, that it was hard for me to play a keyboard instrument and make both hands work simultaneously as they did when I was a child.

I decided to try it yet again last summer.  I had a few months of private singing lessons with a local performer, and my attempt at piano lessons was rebuffed by a classical pianist from Russia who said I didn’t need instruction (she believed I knew the fundamental techniques and appropriate theory) but rather practice, practice, and more practice.  So, I sing in the car and occasionally tinker on my electronic keyboard, knowing that for now, I’m just going through the motions.

This brings me to my musical preferences.

The short version is that I have none, really.  My tastes are eclectic.  I really like classical (more specifically, the ornate works most characteristic of the Baroque era — I think Bach’s Mass in B Minor is perhaps the most sublime creation in the history of humankind).  Chant also moves me.  Some of the modern stuff (typically, Top 40) I find agreeable, but mostly for want of a reason to reject it.

So, what explains my playlist?

Sentiment, mostly.  A lot of songs I enjoy that were produced in the modern era, I like not because of the music itself, but because the song has some sort of contextual meaning.  I love Chris DeBurgh’s Lady in Red because it reminds me of my high-school prom and my date, Jenni, who wore a red dress and insisted that we dance to that song.  I like some of Paula Cole’s music because I heard so much of it while my mother went through her divorce.  The ’80s hair metal I enjoy was the music of the cool kids while I was growing up.

Some of it is admittedly rooted in the music itself.  I confess to a guilty pleasure in the absurd synth of most of Bonnie Tyler’s stuff.  Eminem’s lyrics are damned good — poetic, even.  I love singing along to Simon and Garfunkel or Dan Fogelberg.  The mood of, say, Iris or Unwell usually strikes a chord.

That notwithstanding, sentiment really does rule the day.  Most performers don’t deliver a sufficiently consistent corpus of work to make me a true “fan of the band,” so I don’t really have loyalties to contemporary musicians.  I simply pick and choose what I like, even when “what I like” is governed by reasons external to the music.

So, if a music elitist were to browse my playlist … what judgments might be derived?

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1 comment

  1. I’m going to state a hypothesis. Bear with me.

    I enjoyed it, yet by the time I hit high school, I was too cool for piano and choir so instead I took up the coronet for a year. When I discovered that band was for nerds during my freshman year, I walked away from music altogether.

    Full disclosure: I was in that band. I took it to get out of gym. Which was for idiots. Having deserted music, you wind up in your present condition, which is:

    I love Chris DeBurgh’s Lady in Red.

    My GOD, man. My hypothesis is that there’s cause and effect here. People who disdain musical performance at a young age wind up liking crap music. Crap, I say. And then you drop “Dan Fogelberg.” Where is your soul? What did you sell it for?

    I’d also disagree with the statement:
    “The ’80s hair metal I enjoy was the music of the cool kids while I was growing up.”
    No it wasn’t. The cool kids hated the hair metal. The truly cool kids were rocking out to Zeppelin. Raaah! And the uber-cool ones, like me, were digging Blind Willie Johnson and Woody Guthrie.

    It worries me, sir. I can send you some Yo La Tengo, Flaming Lips…hell, some X might be in order. Just…stop…listening…to…”Lady in Red.”

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