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Tuesday, April 29, 2003
more than words, less than jake, but better than ezra
So as alluded to yesterday, I picked up a new CD while on "vacation." (I don't think taking the bus to Binghamton and going to a wedding counts as a vacation, but let's go with it.) Unfortunately, I left my CD wallet at work, and as I was about to get on the bus to go home I really started dreading not having anything besides a Spoon CD to listen to the whole way home. Thankfully, though, we stopped at a truck stop, and I could buy a CD. My choices were Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits, the Wrestlemania album, and Power Pop: the 90's Decade. It was a hard choice, but I eventually went with the last one. Here's the tracklist. Read it and weep.

1. Hey Jealousy - Gin Blossoms
2. Open Up Your Eyes - Tonic
3. Break It Down Again - Tears For Fears
4. The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You - Bryan Adams [something new to request at Ryan's concerts!]
5. What's Up - 4 Non Blondes
6. Shelter Me - Cindarella
7. Love and Affection - Nelson
8. I'd Do Anything for Love - Meatloaf
9. More Than Words - Extreme
10. Wind of Change - Scorpions [has this whistling hook that sounds like a Billy Joel song]
11. P.A.S.S.I.O.N. - Rhythm Syndicate ["P-A-S-S-I-O-N, got me in a jam again..."]
12. Everything About You - Ugly Kid Joe

Obviously I was in ecstacy, because these were all songs from my formative years, most of which I hadn't heard in a long time--I mean, honestly, when was the last time you heard "I'd Do Anything For Love"? Most of them struck me as the kind of songs that got cut from modern-rock playlists when rap-rock and boy bands came along. Anyway, some were disappointing (maybe I was just in the wrong mood, but "What's Up" seemed to pale next to, say, Blind Melon's "No Rain"), but by and large it was a very enjoyable listening experience. Except for Nelson. I mean, it's not exactly all power-pop--if the Meat Loaf song isn't a power ballad, "November Rain" is a fucking hardcore song--but it's still good.

The interesting thing, though, was that I listened to it twice. The first time was on the bus, riding through the country, and the second time was on the subway ride home, and they were very different experiences. Driving on an open road under blue skies and all that crap, Meat Loaf sounded majestic, powerful--I mean, it sounded indescribably cheesy and overdramatic, but still, it did so in a good way. Same with Extreme, and Tonic, and even (shudder) Bryan Adams. But then when I got in the subway--nuh-uh. Maybe it was because I already listened to them once, but they just didn't sound as good without trees whooshing by. It was something about the way the subway moved, and its starts and stops. I can't quite explain it, but I got the definite sense that the music just didn't sound as good as a direct result of my surroundings.

So then is there some actual basis for localism, geographic snobbery and "authenticity" based on where you grew up or where you're living now? Is that why people on farms prefer country, people in the suburbs prefer rock, and people in cities prefer hip-hop? More importantly, is that why, say, urbanites disdain suburbanites who like hip-hop, since it just can't sound the same without the subways and the vacant lots and the housing projects and the dingy parks? Is that why country fans disdain people who listen to it in the city, since it just doesn't sound right without trucks driving down big highways and all like that? It all sounds terrible cliched, but right now I can't help but think it's true.

There's no question that your surroundings dicatate how you respond to music, and certain places just feel more right than others. It's easy to see why, for instance, hip-hop beats match the mood of a city, or why some country rhythms match that of trains going by, or folk songs reflect a bucolic existance, or one lived on the road. For me, Blur's "Essex Dogs" never sounded good except when I was wandering through Regent's Park on a grey Sunday, and Radiohead's OK Computer never sounded as good as when I listened to it on a National Express bus going down an English highway at night. Do other people experience music this way? They have to, don't they? There has to be some reason certain music is linked to certain geographic areas. And if it is, is that a legitimate reason for snobbery--that it just doesn't sound the same? Should you know when listening to album X in place Y, that it would sound better somewhere else, or if you grew up a different way?

I don't know. I'm all in favor of taking everything and reusing it for what feels right to you, but at the same time I can't ignore the fact that music I make won't effect peolpe in the same way it effects me, or that some albums will take on certain very personal meanings for individuals that it won't have for anyone else--that, in other words, just as the creation of music is individual, so is the experiencing of it. It's a weird feeling. This is why musicians get so obsessive about people hearing things just so, I guess, and about mixing and mastering, and little things that no one will ever hear but them. I'm usually happy to throw it to the wind of chance, but I guess I'm feeling a bit OCD lately. Must be Meat Loaf's fault.