I have had three musical ages in my life.
The first would be the one that almost everyone has, from the time they are old enough to recognize music until the first time they started actually thinking about music. This age is composed, largely, of simply the music that is put in front of you. For me, this was the Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, etc. that my mother listened to. Much of my music was what my mom listened to in the car.
As I got a little older and started listening the local top 40 channel, the now defunct Y95. This is all part of my first age. Very little conscious decision-making on it, but just taking in the pop culture.
Incidentally, I really believe that most of the country is content to stay in this stage.
At the tail end of this age a band showed up with a anthem that simply rocked the foundation of the popular music world at the time. They were dirty, they didn't give a shit, and the music flat out rocked. The first time I heard it, I knew I was hearing something different, completely original, and totally cool. I also remember watching the Kasey Kasem Saturday morning show around that time, and he stood there, with a befuddled look on his face saying "Just what is this song that talks about 'an albino,' 'a burrito,' and 'my libedo?" No one knew what to make of them.
'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was a bombshell in musical life. And so you would think that this touched off a new time of musical activism for me. That seeing the first real roots of music that actually said something (I was a bit too young to really get into U2 or REM at the time), I jumped on a new time of self-discovery, musically speaking.
But that wasn't to be, because I found God.
Not long after Nirvana was making their way into the scene, I began attending church. I'm not going to go into the whole story, because I'm saving that for a Conversation Piece, but this turn in my life took up the better part of my high school, and some of my college years. This would be the second musical age of my life. During this time, I swore off secular music and listened to nothing but Christian music. My heroes during this time were Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, and Rich Mullins. I can still pop in a Rich Mullins CD and listen to it, which is not the case for much else from my Christian music days. Rich Mullins was one of the great poets. His music didn't come from a place of evangelism or preaching. He wasn't trying to set the world on fire with a God-breathed message. His music talked about the day to day struggles of being a Christian and of the seemingly contradictory part of Christian life in which one tries to attain Christ-like perfection while being completely aware that such a goal is totally unattainable. Rich Mullins talked about the journey, and that is something that still resonates in me today.
I can't say precisely what switch in my head was flipped that made me start listening to secular music again, but it was before I left the church. And I can't precisely say who I started listening to first, but I can tell you that one of them was Paula Cole. I was listening to some Top 40 radio at the time, and it was around the time that "Where Have all the Cowboys Gone" and "I Don't Want To Wait" came out. I liked both of those songs a great deal, and I went to the store to pick up the CD. "This Fire" was the album that had those two songs on it, but I inadvertently bought "Harbinger."
"Harbinger" was a revelation, and, though I can't say for sure, it probably marks the beginning of my third musical age. Suddenly, this somber, introspective, dark and beautiful album opened me up to a whole world of people, especially women, who had real things to say, and who's poetry was matched with their ability to string it together in intricate and interesting music.
I spent some time trying to go back to catch up on the music I'd missed during the 90's, but didn't have just a whole lot of success.
Over the course of the next few years, my musical "discoveries" very closely mirrored my personal journey, one that marked a total rethinking of my religious, ideological, and political ideals. During this process, I began going back to music of the 60's and the 70's. I LOVED Billy Joel, old Elton John (obviously... Alvin Tostig... come on people!)... It was during this time that I think my dad recognized that I was discovering a lot of new things, and he asked me to put together a CD of what I was listening to. This was the first time I'd ever tried to burn CD's, as the technology was still a little new. I ended up making three CD's. I didn't realize it at the time, but the first CD I made, that was largely composed of Billy and Elton, was music that, when it first came out, was very personal to my Dad. Even some of the specific songs had very personal impacts on him.
It felt like I was going to my musical roots, and during this time I found the great love of my musical life. I'd heard a song called "Untouchable Face" a few years before this, and thought it was a smart, funny, quirky little love song which expressed a deep longing and desire, but who's chorus was a stream of 'fuck you's.' I didn't think about it much, but a couple of years later, when I first started downloading music, I came across this song again, and as a result, downloaded as much Ani Difranco as I could.
Every song I found was solid gold. I loved every single minute of it. Her songs were smart, complex, musically inventive, lyrically bold, and they weren't afraid to take a stand. I fell in love with this little Buffalonian girl. Looking back, there is no doubt that this music was one of the most influential things in my life, affecting me both in view of the world and in my political stances as well. I was named Dylan after Bob Dylan... I want to name my daughter, Ani.
Over the past few years, it has been a bit slow, musically, for me. I've spent most of my time listening to the music I found the past five or six years, with very few additions, although people like Ben Folds found their way in during that time.
Which brings me to why I wrote this post. I am firmly ensconced in my fourth musical age.
Over the past 6 months or so, I've managed to expose myself to a lot of much different music than I ever would have before. I guess if I had to label this time, I'd say it is my "indie rock" age. I've never really tried to dig deeper than what I could find on the charts or on the radio, but now that I've started, I feel like there is a whole world open to me.
And most of it is due to the blogosphere. I am exposed to so many names I've never heard of before. I am so grateful to have found Eliott Smith, Ted Leo, Modest Mouse, Keane, Scissor Sisters (review upcoming), The Arcade Fire (review upcoming)... There is so much good music out there, and I had no idea.
I have no real way to wrap this up, except to say "keep those suggestions coming." It is because of the random blogs I have come across (Information Leafblower had THE great 2004 wrapup), and because of my readers who constantly supply me with an endless supply of suggestions that the door to this whole new world has been opened. It is in writing posts like this that you realize the great benefits of the blogs, beyond the politics, the mobilization, and the dissemination of talking points. The community of bloggers has the ability to enrich people's lives... people that are likely to never, actually meet in person.