Monday, February 27, 2017

Following that beat, through the decades

We can all share tastes in music, but it would be a terrible world if we all liked the exact same type. There is enough for everybody, and we’ve all got our own favourite genres, artists, songs and albums, and while we can usually all agree on sheer musical genius in any form, there is no real objectivity when it comes to our tunes.

We’ve all got our own musical paths through this life, whether they involve blazing new roads into the unknown, or coming back home to the safety and comfort of old favourites. The destination keeps changing, as we all get older and older, but it's always worth the journey.

My own life immersed in music is typical - like a lot of my entertainments, I generally like stylish, intense music. I love it loud and fast, with a deep bass beat, but I always appreciate the glory of the chill-out, and love calm, breezy music. I like bubblegum pop music and hardcore thrash metal. I like music that has something to say, but sometimes I just need a good beat.

How did I get here? How does anybody get here?

Like everybody else, it was a mad rush at first, but I got here slowly, over decades.

It took a while to get going - our household wasn't big on music when I was a little kid - we had a chunky Solid Gold Hits of The Seventies cassette tape, with Kung Fu Fighting and Staying Alive on it, but the only record we had was this weird horror stories thing which gave me wonderful nightmares.

We still listened to a lot of radio, but in the late seventies and early eighties, that meant a lot of soft cock rock, and I ended up intimately familiar with the oeuvre of Olivia Newton-John and Linda Ronstadt (not necessarily a bad thing). Sometimes my Dad would have a couple of beers too many, and bring some bootleg Jimi Hendrix out, but it was always hidden away again in the harsh light of morning.

Until my big sister brought some Duran Duran fanaticism into the house, that was as good as it got.

It's the teenage years when the obsession with music kicks in. This is typical, because teenagers spent a huge amount of time trying to figure out what sort of person they are, and find cultures and friendships by following certain music.

It's never more important who your favourite bands are, who you like and who you listen to. The bands you like when you're 15 become part of your adult DNA, it's unavoidable. Combined with serious, grown up issues like sex and identity, music is an escape from those mundane realities, and can take you anywhere. And it gets the fuckin' heart pumping.

In my bubble, I literally make life-long friends through a shared passion for dodgy metal, outrageous rap and prog rock foolishness. It's all a terrific reminder that no matter how hard things get, you're not alone in the world, because there are other people thrashing out to Anthrax in their bedrooms, all over the world.

As important as the teenage years are, my real musical appreciation actually peaks as a young adult,in my twenties, when I'm seeing so many more bands, and trying so much new stuff. It's never fully satisfying and that is so glorious, because feeding the hunger is so much fun.

Pulp's Different Class is the first CD I ever buy, after years of tapes, but punk is the sound of my 20s, in love with the ideology of learn-three-chords-and-start-a-band as much as the actual music. But I'll give everything a go, and buy hundreds and hundreds of CDs, spending whole afternoons in the record store, looking for the next sound, and always, always looking for music that sounds like the future. Sometimes it's there in Radiohead's unearthly wailing, or in the deep throb of a Massive Attack tune. I can hear it on the guitar, and I can hear it on the sample desk.

It helps that my friends are sometimes seizing their chances, and getting up on stage to show the world what they've got. While it takes quite a while to work out that my mates that are good with a guitar are generally completely fucking useless at everything else in life, the best music sometimes comes from their stage in a grotty pub in the early hours of the morning.

I'll try anything, with one big exception - and it shows that it's all just a fucking pose, because I become deeply embarrassed about the earlier stuff I liked when I was a teen. The music I'd obsessed over just a few years ago is shamefully unlistenable, and the Iron Maiden tee-shirts go in the bin.

But the 30s are different, and all that semi-youthful embarrassment is just too much damn work, and I can like what I want. This leads to a new appreciation of all that dodgy metal, rap and prog again - rediscovering old albums that I still know all the lyrics for, even though I haven't listened to them in a decade. I even wish I still had those Maiden tees.

The sheer passion for new music never dies down, although I'm always looking for my next favourite band. There are less albums and a lot less CDs, but now I have playlists that are thousands and thousands of songs long. It's all there, and if it isn't, it's easy to find anything on Youtube.

One of the nicest thing about this musical phase in my life is that I finally live in a city that lets me get to see so many of the bands I’ve always love – at least seven of the top 10 artists I’d ever wanted to see live – and they're always a wonderful experience. I even get to see artists like Neil Young multiple times, and can compare the hits-heavy festival set he does at a Big Day Out with a endlessly chugging Crazy Horse performance a couple of years later.

Now I’m in the early forties, and I feel like I’m back where I started, filled with a craving for anything new. Thanks to YouTube again, it’s so easy to find, and I'm still looking for that future.

I am embarrassingly behind the times, and still getting quite excited by all the shit the cool kids were into eight months ago. But at least I'm trying. I'm deathly scared of turning into an old fuck who only listens to the music of their youth, and sneers at all the new trends and tunes.

I still do a fair bit of sneering, but as that beat, that endless beat, goes on, I'm still chasing it.

Still, right now my favourite song in the world is Underworld's Born Slippy remix for the new Trainspotting film, which isn't straying too far from established tastes, but is so good because it is slightly terrifying in the way it captures what it sounds like to get old.

My favourite entertainments are always narrative-based, but music can make you feel things that words and a plot can never capture, and can take you back in time and space to the places where it really matters. That never fades out, no matter how old you get.

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