Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Musical DNA

It might be a good idea to own some of my musical biases and influences here. Already, just in the first week of keeping track of the songs in my head, I'm realizing (and not surprised) that growing up as a white, middle class suburban kid in the '70s and '80s is having a big influence on the songs that well up in my consciousness during a given day. I imagine as time goes on, it will become glaringly obvious that the '70s mellow hits burned into my unconscious mind overwhelmingly dominate the daily mental playback loops of opera, hip-hop, and traditional Indonesian Gamelan. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that my brain and indeed my psyche have absorbed an impressive array of musical influences, including, for example, Western classical music, a genre I've never particularly enjoyed nor studied, the composers and composition titles of which I haven't the faintest idea. Be prepared for some surprises, is all I'm sayin'.

Here are some tried-and-true genres that I love, am fascinated with, or am amused and/or plagued by (enjoyment and revulsion are not mutually-exclusive in music appreciation, I've found):

American Radio Pop
I rode in the car a lot with my mom while I was a little tyke, and accordingly, got heavy doses the music she grew up with: traditional pop and jazz-era crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. We also listened to contemporary pop vocalists like Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond to name just a couple. This sort of stuff, the music that was ubiquitous on the radio during my kid years, was a big shaper of my musical tastes and set me up for a tremendous amount of nostalgia for all things '70s.

As I started developing my own tastes in music, I first fell in love with The Beach Boys and then by junior high with The Beatles. And as I'm reflecting on my earliest musical inspirations, I have to acknowledge the huge impact that my experience summer after summer at JCC camp had on my musical DNA. Hebrew songs and prayers (though I've never been religious), folk music (Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Carole King) as well as very silly songs about little green frogs and "Little Rabbit Foo-Foo" and even songs in which prunes take on anthropomorphic qualities abound in the farthest reaches of my psyche. And since I continued to come of age in the '80s, I've always got psychic space for anything synthy, new wavy, hairy, or otherwise period-piece.

Classic Rock
I've been to an embarrassing number of Steve Miller and Grateful Dead concerts in my day. Though this is not my current genre of choice, I still have a deep and abiding (while sometimes ironic) love for the Cock Rock, particularly bands named after geographical locations (see Boston and Kansas to get a feel for the geo-rock).

Dyke Music
My college years coincided exactly with the early career path of the Indigo Girls. I was pretty much obsessed, and I think I've seen them live a dozen or more times. Ditto ani difranco. I burned out on both of these acts pretty thoroughly, but I've still got a soft spot in my mental soundtrack for Amy and Emily, and after about a ten-year break from them, saw them live a couple years ago, and they were still fantastic.

Indie/Alternative Rock
During high school and college, I started tapping into the "college radio" phenomenon of the '80s and then the '90s, which has grown to encompass a huge array of subgenres. This is the genre, speaking very broadly, that persists as the music I listen to most actively. I got big into R.E.M., Talking Heads, 10,000 Maniacs, and Elvis Costello, and then through my twenties, Velvet Underground, Smiths, Aimee Mann, Jonathan Richman.

Most recently some of the bands that move me are Magnetic Fields, Mountain Goats, Stereolab, Electrelane (bitchin' women with amazing layered guitar work, sadly disbanded), and any project featuring Spencer Krug. I'll usually be interested in anything that blends clever, melancholy, melodic, lyric-oriented elements, and is influenced by or created within the traditions of folk, post-punk or post-rock, and eighties electronic sounds.

Clearly this hasn't been an exhaustive list of my influences, but it's as fine a start as there can be for now.

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