The power of music 

Memoir of a life spent listening

Memoir of a life spent listening
Music has been a significant part of my life for more than 25 years, dating from the moment I got a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here"s The Sex Pistols and placed it on my turntable. I was 12 years old then. The music that emitted from my speakers was unlike anything I"d ever heard. It was loud, fast, snotty and I loved it immediately. The demonic squeal of Johnny Rotten touched something deep within me. I immediately identified with the Pistols" music of anger and alienation. Since then, music has been a prominent player in my life. It"s been in the background during just about every major life event I"ve had, and pursuing my love of music has taken me to some interesting places. I"ve stood in a basketball gym and seen Chuck D. and Flavor Flav incite the audience to a near riot with "Fight The Power." I"ve waited in line overnight to get Springsteen tickets. I"ve sat in Market Square Arena and lit a joint while the Who played "Won"t Get Fooled Again." I"ve watched Prince play a 15 minute guitar solo, 15 feet from where I was standing. I"ve nearly gotten my ass kicked by Bear Force security guards during a Judas Priest show. I"ve gotten pelted with hunks of sod thrown by rabid Pantera fans at Deer Creek. And I"ve had a blast the entire time. When visitors to my home ask me what I"ve been listening to lately, I point to the giant wall of CDs and smile. "Everything," I say. And it"s true. After so many years of listening to so many different kinds of music, my tastes have become blurred and I see the value in everything. Depending on my mood, you might catch me spinning some classic Hank Williams gospel songs, or tunes from REM"s golden age, or the twisted virtuosity of Frank Zappa, or the blunt anger and paradoxical tenderness that comes from the mouth of Tupac Shakur. The music of Mahalia Jackson moves my soul, but so does the work of Miles Davis or John Lennon or Bill Monroe. There are times when I can listen to nothing else but the Elvis Presley Sun recordings because they"re filled with so much joy and energy. While my own musical abilities are limited, I"ve been fortunate enough to see and hear some of the greatest musicians of our era, both locally and nationally. For the past seven years, it"s been my pleasure and privilege to have served as NUVO"s music editor. Those years have seen some of the best popular music of the last 100 years and some of its worst financial times. In that time, I"ve seen the music industry lose some of its brightest stars and search for and then destroy any number of musical trends. I"ve seen the concert industry go from local to regional to national. I"ve seen the desolation of current times, when record labels are going bankrupt and most people get their music for free from the Internet. Throughout that time, there"s been one constant: People intrinsically crave music. Whether they get it from their home stereo, piped in their ears via a Walkman or absorb it through the speakers of a hot, smoky club, most people have a deep love for music. The love of music is something primal, which is one thing that makes writing about it difficult. Even setting aside questions of different tastes, writing about music is hard because there is no way even the most eloquent writer can accurately describe what a piece of powerful music does to its listener. I"ve written thousands of words about The Slurs, but not one of them accurately portrays what it sounds like when they play "It Just Gets Worse." I can describe Justin Allen"s strange antics, or the riffs coming from Jim Kuczkowski"s Silvertone amp, but I can"t communicate the same things they do, unless I play a CD of theirs - and even that"s not the same as seeing them live. Given that describing music is ultimately a futile effort, what can a music writer do? They can attempt to use big words and intricate metaphors to describe a sound. You see this a lot in the national music mags. "Radiohead"s deceptively ephemeral sounds are Churchillian in scope, evoking the grandeur of Britain"s past while celebrating the steely indifference of its bleak presence." Or they can dot their copy with pop-culture references. "Radiohead"s music is like being hit with a pillow-encased fist of Mike Tyson: ostensibly soft yet still painful." Then there"s what I try and occasionally achieve. Give as straightforward and accurate a description of the music as you can. Given that not everyone shares my tastes, nor I theirs, such an objective approach gives people a piece of information from which they can determine if they"re interested. So I"d say, "Radiohead"s music is dreamy but mournful British pop that splits the difference between the hard-rock bombast of Pink Floyd and the prog-rock experiments of Tangerine Dream." So even if you"ve never heard Radiohead, if you like either Floyd or Tangerine Dream, you may like them. (If you"ve never heard of Floyd or Tangerine Dream, then you shouldn"t be reading about rock music.) And I don"t often trash bands in print, because what I don"t like, someone else may and does like. It"s not fair of me to slam a blues band simply because I don"t care that much for modern blues music. If I describe where they"re coming from musically, the reader can decide whether to see them. Ultimately, I don"t trash bands because there are so many good bands out there to write about. Wasting space on poor art seems useless. At any rate, I"ve spent thousands of hours in my life either listening to, writing or arguing about music. I"m glad I did. And I look forward to the next few thousand hours of music with anticipation.

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