My personal music listening history
When I was a kid I listened to a lot of music because it was on a lot in my house and I learned if it wasn’t on to put it on myself. So in the living room upstairs we’d have records on like Tori Amos or The Beatles or Joni Mitchell or sometimes my dad would be feeling particularly nostalgic or something and he’d put on a Frank Zappa or Firesign Theater and tell us about how he’d recite the Firesign Theater sketches with his friends in college. In the basement my brother would be listening to tapes or CDs. He exposed me to all kinds of stuff: The B52s, Wilson Philips (sorry Davin), U2, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Nirvana, Radiohead, Björk, the Breeders, etc. We had tapes in the car, stuff like Indigo Girls and James Taylor and Pink Floyd’s Division Bell (which I super violently hated for some reason, dunno why but this was my only perception of Pink Floyd for a long time and I didn’t hear Dark Side of the Moon even once until I was like 13 and my brother played it on top of The Wizard of Oz in the basement of the second house we lived in in Indiana) and at some point Davin and I had our own Walkmans and so we’d make mixtapes and copy tapes from the library and listen to stuff on headphones while I rolled my eyes at whatever my dad was listening to because I had decided that was what I was supposed to be doing, fuck Emmylou Harris or whatever, I was 10 years old and I was going to listen to this mixtape that had like four songs from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack and Frank Zappa’s “Call Any Vegetable” on it. I still liked to listen to New Moon Shine at night in the car on long rides home though and I have no idea why that was the tape I clung to and not Rites of Passage or Graceland or something I can still listen to without cringing today.
Then at some point our family friends gave Davin and me a tape and through the magic of 90-minute tapes it had Flood on one side and Apollo 18 on the other and I listened to that tape over and over again, memorizing every moment, totally obsessed with They Might Be Giants. But music was a thing that my family brought to me and I was like 10 or whatever so it’s not like I was going out and seeking music, I just found whatever was in the house that I liked. Somewhere in there we got a CD player and I bought the Cranberries’ “No Need to Argue” from Davin to save it from being sold back to a used CD store and I bought “To the Faithful Departed” right before we moved out of our first house in Indiana and my dad got remarried so that in 1996 my CD collection was basically like two Cranberries albums and the original cast recordings for Grease, Will Rogers Follies, and Once Upon a Mattress which were all the musicals I had seen save “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. What I am trying to communicate here is that at this point you would basically assume that there was no hope for me.
It’s also worth noting that at some point I (but really Davin) had the soundtracks to the first two Ninja Turtles movies and they had great stuff by MC Hammer and Technotronic and Ya Kid K and of course of COURSE “Ninja Rap” by Vanilla Ice which is terrible but was so so good. I also really unironically (is this adverb necessary, I was 7) loved “Addams Groove” by MC Hammer and “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters II. But at some point I became that exact midwestern white kid, “I like everything except country and rap”, etc. etc. I’d watch “All That” on Nickelodeon and watch the musical guests at the end but it was always some R&B artist and I was really indignant about that all of a sudden. I’m not sure when that happened but I feel kind of ashamed because I think it was probably a race thing? But despite the fact that I was drifting away from this pop culture thing I would still stay up and listen to the “Top 9 at 9” on the radio because it meant I could stay up until 9:45 or so, as long as I was in bed and ready to go to sleep as soon as it was over. I remember being really frustrated when Joan Osborn (“What if God Were One of Us”) and Alanis Morissette (“Ironic”) ruled the charts for ages and ages and had unseated Presidents of the USA (“Peaches”) but then Ben Folds totally toppled the charts with “Brick” and I was so pumped because I loved that song. “Wonderwall” was another song that was #1 for FOREVER and I listened to it basically every night for a really long time.
Then middle school rolled around and the fact that I was nerdy became a real thing. In elementary school it was like yeah I played a lot of video games and read all the time and my friends and I made up elaborate backstories based on Lego sets that we had but that was just me doing me so it wasn’t no thing you know? (it’s funny if you imagine me saying this as an 11 year old) but in middle school we were nerds so of course we got way into comic books and making our own and playing Magic: the Gathering and kept doing the video game thing and I started getting way into They Might Be Giants, like super obsessed with the band and I started buying their CDs and playing all of their weirdest tracks for my friends and we would just sit next to a boombox and listen to some weird track off of Miscellaneous T, a CD of b-sides (but I didn’t know what a b-side was at the time), a track which will take way too long to explain but basically at one point before there was an internet TMBG had an answering machine set up that you could call into and hear a song and they would put a different song up every once in a while, so one time someone saw the ad and got on a party line with their friend and listened to the song and then they sat on the line and talked about how weird it was for a while with their thick new jersey accents, unaware that they were being recorded all this time, and it was just incredible to hear this released on a CD! We were flipping our lid over this weird shit where there’s a song in which a murderer gets a creepy phone call from someone he killed and then “the ghost of my dance instructor pushed me down into an open grave and as dirt rained down she played a xylophone” WHAT THE HELL but these guys were obviously the weirdest funniest music ever made and it was also all really peppy sounding but about really sad things and that appealed to me. I also started to find other things through random people like my friend stealing his brother’s CDs of Weezer and Ben Folds and we’d sit and listen to those a lot while we played N64. I also continued to at least try basically everything my brother got into at the time like Blur and a bunch of other British bands (he went and saw The Verve right before they broke up and I think this was probably when he discovered The Fall, who is like his big deal band for sure) but TMBG was the One True Band, you know? I also rode the bus to school; I lived pretty far away from where my school was so we were among the first few people to be picked up. I listened to the radio the whole way and it was just regular pop music and I mostly resented everyone for making me listen to it because I wanted to listen to They Might Be Giants but I did kind of have an affinity for Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and Madonna’s “Frozen” that I never would have admitted to anyone.
Then my brother went off to college and I moved to a new town and my computer was in my bedroom and I started hearing stuff about Napster and downloading MP3s and that sounded AWESOME so I proceeded to download single tracks of basically every genre onto my computer over dialup. It was 1999 and you just had to have a poorly ripped copy of “Paranoid Android” to play next to “Aqualung” and this weird version of NiN’s “Closer” which had been combined with the soundtrack to Super Mario (the first mashup I ever heard) and you could even buy a CD burner to put in your computer for like $180 and burn this stuff to a CD! I couldn’t buy one for a while so until then I would put stuff on a bunch of IOMEGA ZIP DISKS and give them to my classmate so he could burn them to CD for me. I started cultivating this weird playlist of MP3s in Winamp and it was just the strangest assortment of albums of TMBG/Ben Folds/Weezer and then a lot of random songs from artists who I had heard of because that was all I could find on Napster (for the longest time I had like three songs by Frank Zappa). In sophomore year of high school I moved to a new house and got Kid A on a whim when I was out with some friends and saw it in Meijer which is kind of like a nicer Walmart that’s only in the Midwest (I realize the convoluted logic going on in your head trying to understand that but just trust me). I knew I liked OK Computer and this looked similar from the cover. We piled back into my friend’s huge van and there were like 8 people most of whom just listened to whatever was playing on the radio at the time and they were like “well let’s listen to this CD you bought” and I was like “um I don’t think that’s a good idea” and they kind of made fun of me until I opened it up and put it on and “Everything in Its Right Place” starts up and they were just all so confused and angry but I was so amazed. As high school went on I stole a few more of my brother’s CDs; he’d bring them home while he was back on breaks from college and I’d raid his CD wallet, ripping anything that looked interesting. That’s how I found out about Neutral Milk Hotel and The Flaming Lips and Gorillaz and Pavement and Spoon and The Strokes and Super Furry Animals and Sigur Ros and The Postal Service. I went to my first couple non-TMBG rock concerts (And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and Stephen Malkmus, both at the Metro, I know, I’m pretty awesome)
My senior year of high school I heard a few things that rekindled an appreciation for hip-hop. Being a nerd, I was already kind of on the MC Frontalot/mc chris train because how can you deny dudes who rap about Penny Arcade and Star Wars and release mp3s for free online? That’s pretty cool, you know? And then I discovered MC Paul Barman and Del tha Funkee Homosapien when someone said they were along the same vein and I did really like the Gorillaz and then I discovered that Dan the Automator and Prince Paul were common elements through all of that so I sought out De La Soul’s “Three Feet High and Rising” and Del’s “Deltron 3030” and that led to the Handsome Boy Modeling School album and a bunch of random mp3s by people from Hieroglyphics Imperium and I just kept spinning that out, all this underground goofy rap. Then my brother brought home Def Jux, Mr. Lif and Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock; Dizzee Rascall and The Streets and I was like “oh okay so I don’t hate rap I just don’t like (insert some horrible racist generalization involving ironic use of the word ‘bling’ and something about shooting people)”. But at some point while driving home late at night from my friend’s house during the summer after my first year of college I heard “All Falls Down” on the radio, and then I heard it the next night, and the next night, and I was like “holy crap what is this” and I got “The College Dropout” and I realized this was basically as mainstream as it came but Kanye West was this genius and he was making me question all my assumptions about hip-hop.
From there on out my musical experience is basically like that of the average young rich white person who cares about music living in 2005-2015. I figured out how to go to a record store, browse the new releases, go home, look up reviews on pitchfork and cokemachineglow, listen to mp3s online, buy albums, argue with people about the merits of a new Björk album or try to get wrapped up in whatever the new thing is of the moment within the “indie” scene. I spent basically all of 2001-2009 listening to albums and talking about the importance of albums and I think that may have had something to do with my rocky(/rockist) re-acceptance of pop music: because to find a new artist was to find an album and listen to that album and so many of these pop albums are spread thin with tons of awful filler, but sometimes those singles are way better in 3 minutes than a serious rock album will ever get over the course of 60. It’s only within the last year or two that I’ve started to collect single songs again, not viewing that as a failure to keep my iTunes collection “pure” in some way, but rather as a tool to be able to actually appreciate someone who’s best listened to as a collection of singles.