Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Phased" Out: A Post of Music and Me

I am a pretty consistent person in most aspects of my life.  Routine and structure are comforting to me.  On work days, I always wake up at 6:00, while on non-work days, it’s 7:30.  I have cold cereal for breakfast every day of the week except Sunday mornings, when I get all crazy and make French toast or waffles.  Every morning, it’s two cups of coffee for me, no more, no less.  Whenever I log onto the Internet, the first thing I do is check my e-mail, just like clockwork.  My days for serious writing are Saturday through Wednesday.  I fuel my car at the same service station in town, usually at the same pump, and often on the same day of the week.  Before falling asleep at night, I have to read something, at least for a few minutes, no matter how tired.  I've awakened more than once with drool on my Kindle.

None of these routines are set in stone, of course.  This is not obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I won’t sit behind the wheel and wait for pump #5 at the Shell station to come open if another one is available, for example.  (Well, I won’t wait for long.)  And if I am on a serious roll because the idea fairy has bludgeoned me over the head with inspiration, I will write on a Thursday or Friday.  But still, I have my preferences and try to stick to them.

One area of my life where routine and structure do not apply is in my musical taste.  With music, I go through phases, especially over the past couple of years.

I have been a huge fan of music ever since I can remember.  While I have always gravitated most strongly toward rock and pop, I've dabbled in country, jazz, and even classical to an extent.  Over the years, I've amassed quite a bit of musical knowledge and a decent-sized music collection as well.  Some people I know lament the absence of a physical product in today’s MP3 music files, but if I had to have a CD in the house for all the music I have these days, I’d be forced to live in my car and producers of that Hoarders reality TV show would be knocking at my door.  I collect music in the same way that other people collect Elvis memorabilia or paintings of kittens with big sad eyes, only less creepy. Much less creepy.

Source where you can buy this if you are so inclined. I'd have to cover it at night or whenever I ate if it were in my house.

Having so much music from which to choose and ridiculously easy access to it, I find that I have evolved into a tendency to go through phases, much like young kids often do with superheroes, dinosaurs or TV characters.  You parents who had to endure their toddler’s “Barney phase” know what I am talking about.  Some of you still have that nervous twitch you developed during that period.

The phases are kind of interesting.  I’m sure a psychologist could write a heck of a paper on them after a bit of analysis.  They began about five years ago.  Some might say I went over to the dark side then, when I got into modern country music for much of 2008-2009.  Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were particular favorites.  Maybe it was a country with a “K” phase?  However, much like Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, I came back to the good side of the Force (rock music), and spent much of 2010 alternating between Stone Temple Pilots and the Eagles.  2011 was when I went through phases with the Foo Fighters, George Harrison, The Cars, and anything “unplugged” (a.k.a.-acoustic). 

At this time last year, I was musically reliving my twenties with lots of 1990s alternative and grunge, which narrowed itself to almost nothing other than Pearl Jam by spring.  In early summer, I had moved on to Nirvana, and that was followed by a kick for 1980s rock and pop, which is the stuff I listened to the most in my teens and is the bedrock of my music collection.  Fall brought on a mini-obsession with ZZ Top, followed by the Rolling Stones, and right now I cannot get enough of Led Zeppelin.  I wouldn’t be surprised if another Beatles jag was looming on my musical horizon too, since I often develop an intense interest in some aspect of their work every year or two around this time.

Looking at it now, the current trend seems to be one of going back further and further in time.  If the pattern continues, I’ll likely be rocking out to Thomas Edison’s wax cylinder recording of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by the middle of 2014.

Even after a phase passes, I do not throw the artist on the trash heap.  I still listen to them, just not as intensely.  While Pearl Jam was last spring’s phase, I still click on Vitalogy or Ten from time to time.  Neither do I listen to the object of my current obsession exclusively during a phase, though they do tend to dominate.  In spite of my current Led Zeppelin phase, I just finished listening to an album by Fitz & the Tantrums, a current band specializing in retro-Philly soul style stuff.  (They are really good, by the way.  The link is to their album on Amazon. Highly recommended!)

I've discussed this tendency toward phases in my musical taste with some fellow music lovers of my generation, and they've noticed much the same in themselves.  In our conversations, we've all reached the same general conclusion: Since most of today’s music isn't really directed toward our demographic, we are mining the music of the past in hopes of unearthing some new nuggets that will set us on fire like music did when we were younger and “in the mainstream”.  It is one thing to listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits over the years, but quite another to explore the contents of an entire album from earlier in their career that you've never heard, as I did with Let It Bleed last month.

On a wider scale, it gives those of us who are moving into middle age the hope that, while maybe there is nothing (or precious little) that is new under the sun these days, there are plenty of things, in music and in life, that have been around a while but that we just haven’t discovered yet.

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