I remember when being a music fan was simple. On the way to0 school, riding with Chris on his Debonair bus (that was the name of the company), we’d listen to 95.8 Capital FM, London’s biggest pop radio station. I remember the bus rides most for other things – sitting at the back as Chris raced over speed bumps, sending us flying into the air; vomiting up a largely undigested cheese sandwich (a poor choice for breakfast; I smelled of extra sharp cheddar all day); Chris’s pink heartburn medicine; stopping at the corner shop for ice creams and Chomp bars (check out Candy maven Rosa’s review), which cost just 10 pence back then; the “10p a chomp, 5p a lick” jokes that ensued after the purchase of said Chomp bars. You know, childhood tomfoolery.
But back to the music: I heard songs on the radio, saw them played on Top of the Pops, and, occasionally, bought albums. This method led to a few wonderful purchases (REM”s Automatic for the People, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, lots of Meatloaf), but also produced its fair share of embarrassments (some of the Meatloaf – I would later throw a CD out of my window after being “caught” owning it by some friends). Later, when my brother Henry started reading Kerrang!, everything became more complex. There were huge successes that the magazine brought to my attention (Pitchshifter, Rancid, NOFX) as well as utter garbage (Insane Clown Posse, Cradle of Filth, Clawfinger). Most importantly, I’d start to branch out. They’d attach free CDs to the cover every now and then, so I could listen to a song then buy an album. But still, each new album was basically a leap of faith. As I picked at the corner of the cellophane wrapper, I often had no idea what to expect.
Now, too often, by the time I have the album in my hands (now largely a figurative expression, since I download most purchases), it’s already a done deal. I know I like the album, or at least certain songs, already.
My current habits of finding new music go something like this:
1. Talk to someone whose musical taste I respect (my brother Henry, coworker friends Becky, Paul, Tina, and Dave, college friend Diana, maybe others. Can you tell I am just using these parenthetical comments to give shout outs? If I mention you, do you feel more obliged to subscribe to my blog?).
2. Listen the the band online through myspace, playlist.com, and the band’s website.
3. Become obsessed with a song or two.
4. Absorb said song(s) over the course of several weeks.
5. If not yet bored, buy their album, usually by download from Amazon.
6. Latch onto the song(s) that got me interested in the first place.
7. Put selected song(s) onto iPod.
8. Try to force others to listen, too. See above list for who has to deal with this step the most.
9. Check to see if the band is coming to Phoenix, then get disappointed when learning the band has boycotted the entire state for political reasons.
10. Forget about the band, their album, their website, and their existence for a while.
I was happy to buck that trend recently with Josh Ritter’s new album. I saw it in Starbucks on my way to work, bought it, and listened, without the incessant previews and snippets I rely on so much. By the time I reached work, I didn’t want to stop driving. For the first time in a a few years, I hadn’t bothered to research an album before purchasing.
I used to listen very carefully. I know the conversational snippets from “Back Porch” by Presidents of the United States of America. I can’t listen to Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” without transitioning into “Undone (The Sweater Song)” out of habit. Boom. Ba dap. Bap. Ba dap bap babadap. That sort of thing. With Josh Ritter’s new album, I was finally revisiting that style of listening.
But that style is dying out. In case you don’t know, I teach sixth-grade English. Before and after school, when students are hanging out, which usually involves telling boring stories as if they were earth-shatteringly exciting, I enjoy playing music. Yes, I’ve become an adult, which means my taste in music is better than theirs, they are missing out, and it’s my responsibility to mend their ways. So I put on a song. Recently, it was OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass.” Literally, 10 seconds in, the students got antsy. “Play something else!” “Do you have Taylor Swift?” “Mr. Cordes, play Santigold!”
I’ve become the same, just to a lesser extent. I rarely take the same risks when buying music. Josh Ritter’s album served as my wake up call. I urge you to do the same. Pick up an album you have been curious about, or that just looks good. Some things we should test out first: cars, fine art, shoes, Slapchops. For others, we should take a leap.