The first cassettes I remember popping into a tape deck as a child were Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl and Madonna’s True Blue. My mom mostly listened to Arabic music from her youth, so I still don’t know why we had those two cassettes lying around in the rack with this thing:
I loved that tape deck. It had auto-reverse. Back then that was “living in the future”. In 5th grade, I started dubbing music from the radio. Funky Cold Medina and the Great White version of Once Bitten Twice Shy will date me if that stereo hasn’t already.
In middle school, I bought my first cassettes with my own money. Appetite For Destruction and GnR Lies. Latch-key living meant I could naughtily count all 13 F-bombs on Appetite while staring, terrified, at Robert William’s robot rape painting that censors relegated to the liner notes, leaving the iconic crucifix with Axl’s skeleton emblazoned on the center as the album cover. All before my mom got home of course.
If my mood is sentimental enough, I can still smell the record store I lived around the corner from. I remember all the scary heavy metal t-shirts. I remember the iron-on images of Twisted Sister and Iron Maiden displayed on the walls. Only when I grew up did I come to realize that the horror imagery was used by both saccharine and actual metal bands alike.
In high school, my tastes turned away from the arena rock tapes I frugally churned from Columbia House and BMG memberships. Now I was using any cash I could scrounge for CDs to feed my new Aiwa boombox and for Alice In Chains tees to signal my brooding angst captured by the dreary album, Dirt. (My half-cousin, 4 years older than me, who is a musician and author was a formative character in my growing love for music. He was full of theories and one that always stuck with me is how you can see each song on Dirt as a different way to die. It might have been astrology when he called Down In A Hole “death by sex” but it’s hard to listen to that album without his metaphors stuck in my head. It’s especially bleak since Layne and Starr both died young in the throes of addiction.)
Today, my taste in music is much more varied than my younger days when I would dump on any music without a sick lead guitarist as “talentless”. I miss the magic of ripping the plastic off a new jewel case, toggling repeat on the stereo, and burying my nose in the lyrics. It was not just novel. It felt dangerous. That’s not because of the music though. Now I know it was because it was freedom. The Walkman or the closed bedroom door didn’t require permission. Even better it was encouraged so I didn’t torture the rest of the house with all that noise.
I suspect the unavoidable chains of childhood led me to music which remains nothing short of wondrous to me. From a stripped-down beat to a symphony, the power to evoke is in my opinion one of life’s greatest gifts. That I can even receive that makes me grateful to be human.
Music discovery is different today. I don’t need to agonize over what album to buy with the limited cash I have. I don’t need to fret (pun very much intended) over wasting my money on a CD that was only going to have like 2 good songs. But without the risk, the reward can also be smaller. Music becomes just another thing we multi-task, not an activity of its own.
I try to resist that. I don’t watch TV shows or movies that much. I prefer music videos. I can be methodical about how I approach a new artist. Sure sometimes I just listen to the most popular songs listed on the artist’s Spotify but if you really want to peel the onion here are some approaches:
- chronologically through albums (see how they evolve)
- setlists (what they want to emphasize)
- critic write-ups (curation method)
- flowcharts (custom experience based on sounds you like)
I remember listening to an interview with Jack White (my thread on it), one of my favorite artists, about the state of music. He mentioned that the lack of gatekeepers has lowered the average quality of published music but also increased the quantity of what’s great. This is exactly what you would expect when the cost of creating and distributing music falls. On a technical note (the puns keep coming), studio time in the analog era was so expensive that the minimum bar for a musician was quite high, but this is counterbalanced today by the sheer volume of artists that you would never have accessed in that era.
I’ll leave you with a fun listicle by the prolific jazz artist and music writer Ted Gioia:
12 Predictions for the Future of Music (Link)
The always terrific Rick Beato did a reaction video addressing each of the 12 points bringing his immense knowledge of the music biz to bear on the predictions. (YouTube)
More Moontower music stuff: