The Music of My Youth
by Joel Caris
Okay, it's a new year. No doubt, 2007 will see plenty of fantastic music, much of which I just might have an urge to write about. However, I've yet to hear any of it. At the moment, it's all the same stuff I was listening to in 2006. Come January 23rd, maybe I'll want to write about the new Shins album, but for now, I think I should buck the trend of looking to the future and instead go to the past.
The deep, dark past.
The past that is filled with terrible, embarrassing music.
It started in elementary school. I remember a crappy old tape player/radio that sat on the floor next to my bed. With this device, my habit of listening to music while falling asleep was born. Specifically, the song it was born with was "Like a Prayer" by Madonna. I listened to it time and time again, over and over, completely obsessed. I can't tell you why--I have no idea. But I loved it. No doubt it was a bad omen, and my following musical preferences bore that bad omen out.
When I wasn't listening to that song, I would often tune into my then-favorite radio station, Z100. It was the local crappy Pop station and played all kinds of top 40 type hits--mainstream Pop and R&B, basically. (By the way, do all cities have a horrid goddamn radio station called Z100? With the Morning Zoo, of course? Where is this rule, who made it, and how can I kill him?)
I expanded my love of shitty music listening to that station. Over time, my two favorite artists became . . . Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. Yes, these two dominated my musical tastes. Her self-titled debut CD? Sheer brilliance, as far as I was concerned. Emotions? Fantastic. I listened to her albums over and over, completely losing myself in that terrible, terrible music.
Then there was Boyz II Men. Cooleyhighharmony? Sign me the hell up. Of course, their true masterpiece was II. "On Bended Knee," "Thank You," "Water Runs Dry" and, song of all songs, "I'll Make Love To You." How many times did I crank up that song when I was home alone and sing along to it, engulfed in the emotional significance and sophistication of that artistic masterpiece? I can't even say. I played that song and the album time and time again, though, and loved it every time.
At this point I'm in junior high and, yes, still listening to very shitty music. I would listen to Keith Sweat and TLC and LL Cool J, Janet Jackson and Seal, Gloria Estefan and, yes, I would still break out Madonna. Things didn't improve, either, as my taste evolved (which is really an inappropriate term). Do I need to even get into my phase with Sarah McLachlan and Jewel? It would probably be better to not talk about it.
Of course, at the time, many of my peers were listening to the same crap. There's something to be said about claiming the ignorance of youth. My brother would listen to the local alternative station and I always thought it was terrible, to the point of calling it "waste of hearing" music. If only I realized at the time what I would later think of my own listening habits. The alternative station didn't have a flawless line up, by any means, but it was about a thousand times better than the ridiculous crap I was listening to--and watching, with my high enjoyment of MTV, that bastion of nonsense.
I think it's fairly common for there to be that phase of listening to bad or mediocre music as a kid. You have to learn what is good and what isn't. You have to be subjected to all the tame, mainstream bullshit that often passes for music until you eventually start to realize that there's a much larger musical world out there--one that doesn't involve superstars and media whores so much as struggling artists who simply dream of superstardom and media whoredom. Hell, even a few struggling artists who dream simply of making a decent living, putting some food on the table, and getting the chance to be screwed over by the music industry. You need to run any sense of musical decency into the ground and then, dejected and destroyed, give up on the entire music industry until that one, bright, shining day that you discover actual music--niches and small genres and independent artists and good major label artists and all the wheat that's sitting there, just wishing that the dominating, suffocating chaff would hurry up and fucking rot.
Of course, I didn't really start discovering the wheat until the joys of Napster, which I suspect managed to breathe new life into a stagnated music industry and foster the thriving independent scene that exists today. That's another column, though.
So it's confession time. What crappy, embarrassing music did you listen to in your youth? Or hell, yesterday? Let's hear it.
Joel still gets his groove on to Kurtis Blow