Monday, September 27, 2010

Pop, Pop, Pop Music (Part One)

It's not unusual for people to associate the music they listen to with certain periods in their lives, or sometimes to reflect on their lives in reference to whatever music they were listening to at the time. It might be a little more obsessive to see your process of maturing or the development of your identity to somehow come part and parcel with the music you listened to, but this is what I do. Recently reflecting on my life and the music I listened to over the course of that life, I started to see how the music I listened to reflected my endeavor to a certain identity and the relief when I found music that better fit my actual personality.

When I started listening to punk rock, around when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, it was the kind of experience that a lot of people have. I felt like I had found music to which I felt I could relate, expressing emotions and communicating ideas I couldn't find anywhere else. Something liberating, something inspiring and exciting. I spent most of high school trying to use my guitar to imitate the sounds and attitudes espoused by bands like Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma, Unwound, the Clash, Nirvana, and on and on and on. My attempts to write angry, jagged, weird songs did not come out quite as convincing as the records I was listening to. I guess the spiteful and melancholic ramblings of the teenage me couldn't even carry much weight with their author.

So this went on for most of high school. Struggling to be abstract, I would take what I knew about music theory and try to contradict it, expecting to come up with something that sounded incredibly cool, as if that's how it worked. And for lyrics I would find inspiration in how miserable I was. Specifically, that was my conscious focus. It would be a few years before I started to understand how much of an impediment a conscious focus like that can be. I would eke out a song or two on a crappy four-track machine every so often and then play them relentlessly, seemingly believing that I would eventually figure out how to make a crappy song great by just playing it over and over again. I'd play the songs, listen to my recordings, listen to records like EVOL and Surfer Rosa and wonder what I was missing.

It wouldn't be too long before I'd just have to get over the difference between who I was and the person I was trying to be when I tried to write those songs. But it would be a little longer before it would make sense to me.