One of the great things about getting older--other, than, ya know, being closer to death--is that you stop worrying about being "cool." "Cool" is a young person's game. It's the ultimate irony, really, because, once you get into the older person's club, you start learning a different truth: The only thing less cool than an adult trying to be cool is a young person --who, by definition, hasn't lived as long as the rest of us-- trying to tell you what's cool. (It's okay, though. Part of being a kid and then a teen and then young adult is redefining the world for yourself.) The secret truth is that not only are we cooler than you, but we actually don't even give a shit, which of course just makes us that much more cool. Truthfully, we just have more important stuff to worry about now. Like family, and bills, and, err, doing Heroic instances at Level 80. You know: grownup stuff.
I kind of never know what to say when someone in their teens or 20s is "amazed" that I listen to "cool" music. My inner response is something like, "Actually, I'm more amazed that you do." Because, at least in my own personal experience, I've discovered that my musical listening palette has only grown and broadened over the years, precisely because I got old enough to stop giving a shit what it said about me that I was listening to any particular piece of music. Also, some of the music you're amazed that I'm listening to was actually recorded by folks either my age or way older. Like Nirvana. "Wow, Jeff, you know who they are?" Well, yeah, dumbfuck. That's my peer group, not yours.
But, again, that's fine. You young people are stupid. We knew this already. No need to belabor the point. The point of THIS post is really to acknowledge how fun it has been for me, of late, to get over my own youthful stupidity about music, and embrace (or re-embrace) music that in my earlier life I rejected for reasons that mystify me now. Because, now that I listen, I can only conclude that the problem wasn't the music--it was me.
The thing is, I've always been a voracious listener and consumer of music. Some people are just like that. I'm one of them. I love music and admire and envy musicians. And, yeah, sure, I've played different instruments over the years--most notably trumpet for 10 and electric bass for about 4)--but the sad truth, which I'm okay with, is that I'm not a musician. I can be told what to play, and play it decently enough, sometimes, to not scare animals away, but I'm just a hack, without the necessary wiring to think and create and express myself on my own. (Which is why the bass was so perfect for me for awhile. Because as long as I could keep a beat and stay rhythmically in sync with the drummer, I could pretty much just hammer on the tonics and the 5ths all day and be unobtrusively serviceable. Not that I'm dissing real bass players. I still worship at the church of Mike Watt, Les Claypool, Paul McCartney, John Entwhistle, and the rest.)
"Let's see...so one up from E should be...F?"
So, yeah. Not a musician. Just a lover of music. My ears have always been open to new sounds, but, in earlier years, I let that dumb game of trying to be "cool" distort my perception, or deny my own feelings. That is: While my ears knew deep down from the first listen that, say, Electric Light Orchestra's Mr. Blue Sky was some kind of scrumptious pop masterpiece, my self-identification forced me to deny it, to scoff at it. I blame punk for a lot of this. I was 16 years old when punk and new wave broke out in force in 1977, and as a dorky teen with self-image and confidence problems, I was ready for this music. I was ready to embrace something that didn't appeal to the jocks and "normal" people. I wanted to define myself as "different", as cool in my own way, and here was an entire new musical genre dedicated to this very proposition, being made by people who looked just like me. The first time I ever saw Elvis Costello in my life was when he made his infamous first appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1977--infamous because after playing a few bars of what he was "supposed" to play, "Less Than Zero"--he spontaneously shut the band down and had them launch, instead, into "Radio Radio," a ferocious jab at the American broadcast industry that pissed off the SNL producers so badly that he was banned from the show for 12 years:
It turns out that that SNL appearance was a defining moment in my life. Skinny, awkward, bespectacled, Elvis Costello became a rock hero for, to use a dreaded cliche, "the rest of us." He wasn't a blond Viking god like Robert Plant or Roger Daltrey. He didn't sing about his conquests with girls because it looked like he probably hadn't been on one date yet. In fact, I could relate to this! So the very next morning, I rode my bike over to Music Plus on Van Nuys Blvd, and plopped down $3.99 for my copy of Elvis' just released debut album, My Aim is True--and the rest, to use another cliche, is history. (BTW, just last year I had one of the greatest musical experiences of my life: Going with my pal Dan to see Elvis at a small club, reunited with the band he made this record with, playing the entire My Aim Is True record, in sequence.)
ANYWAY: My musical course was now set. Punk and "new wave" were in; everything else was now discredited, irrelevant, embarrassing. My new musical heroes were David Byrne, Andy Partridge, Exene, D. Boon, Steve Wynn--anyone embracing the new aesthetic and rejecting the shit 70s. And, ya know, we weren't entirely wrong. Most of that music holds up mightily today, and I still love it, and I still totally feel like this kind of "counter-revolution" in RAWK was necessary at the time. The problem was--at least in my case--I took it too far. Because what I didn't understand at the time--because I was a teen still struggling to understand what "cool" was--is that good music is just good music, and what's "good" is whatever your ears approve of. That "cool" isn't owned by one genre. Obvious, yeah? But try telling that to an insecure teen with identity issues.
So what I did was this: I purged my record collection. I sold, for way too cheap, any vinyl records that didn't fit into my new identity: Led Zeppelin, Earth Wind and Fire, Aerosmith, ELO, Elton John, Queen, and on and on. And it's such a freakin' shame, because, come on! Led Zeppelin! Earth Wind and Fire! Aerosmith! ELO! Elton motherfrakkin' John! This stuff was GOLD. Cheesy at times, overwrought at times, full of itself at times--oh yes. But such wondrous ear candy. Such beautiful nonsense. And if I can't go back and actually reclaim that original Physical Graffiti gatefold record without paying a fortune now, I can at least appreciate it anew for the massive slab of monstrous awesomeness that it is, with no apologies.
I can proudly blast Tiny Dancer, comfortable in the knowledge that, yes, Elton John, no matter how "uncool" he seemed to me back when I worried about such things, wrote some lovely little pop masterpieces, and that that's okay.
All of which may be no news to you. You may, in fact, not have any such blinders or biases of your own. If so, I salute you. It's actually one thing I do admire about you younger peoples: you seem much more open-minded, in general, about music than we ever did. I look at my 15-year-old daughter's ipod and I see, among many others, Abba, AC/DC, Band of Horses, Belle and Sebastian, Grant-Lee Phillips, Damian Marley, MIA, PJ Harvey, Santogold, Talking Heads--that's good stuff!
I think the point of this long ramble is simply to say: Keep your ears open. Because you never know where that next great sound is going to come from. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to like what you like. It's just stupid. And life is too short. And the next time you feel like belting out "Dancing Queen" in public? Do it. If anyone gives you grief, go ahead and punch them in the face. And tell them that Jeff Green says hello.