Monday, October 11, 2010

Pop, Pop, Pop Music (Part Three)

I had been trying to write my own songs since before I had started high school, and the output had been as good as one might suspect. I was certainly not going to be in a new Squirrel Bait, Deep Wound, or Old Skull. It wasn't until around the time I turned seventeen that I started to understand how much more easily just plain pop music came to me when I gave up on the punk rock pretense.

Entering college, I had a high-speed Internet connection for the first time in my life. I took the opportunity to explore some music of which I was vaguely aware, but had never given a proper chance. I started downloading music by Tiger Trap, Heavenly, Dressy Bessy, and so on. I also began to listen to the song “Throw Aggi From the Bridge” by Black Tambourine constantly. Finding this music was incredible. It was so much more to me than the punk bands that soundtracked high school. This music energized me, blew my mind. The lyrics could be campy, fun, and irreverent but also deep, philosophical, and sometimes dark. But, no matter what, the music always had enthusiasm; a sort of unfuckwithable compulsion to play whatever song they were playing and move on to the next to have as much fun as possible in dozens of different ways and contexts as possible.

It was such a different kind of feeling finding these bands. Listening to Black Tambourine, Tiger Trap, and Small Factory was like a full-body elation. I felt a connection with these bands I never really had with regular punk rock. It was like listening to pure, unmitigated enthusiasm. Possibly the most important lesson I learned after finding this music was the way in which I had been expecting my identity to conform to the identity I wanted to get from old records and the characters that produced them. What I really needed was music that fit with who I am. The experience of synchronicity between the organic, sincere identity I possessed whether I liked it or not with music that seemed to me to come out of nowhere was almost overwhelming.

This was much more freeing for me than punk rock had ever been. I could feel the difference very quickly in how I was writing music. Now I can write almost whenever I want about whatever topic I want. While I'm still constantly finding new bands and writers to be objects of my jealousy, like Rocketship or the Fizzbombs, I'm also considerably more comfortable in my own skin as far as my writerly ambitions go.

But even more than that, the short-sighted perception of my music collection somehow providing the form and structure of my very being left me constantly trying to match what I thought I wanted to be, and made it more difficult for me to mature and grow up like a normal person. Finding music to complement who I am as opposed to music to use as some sort of scripture for how I should be allowed me to focus on other things. College was a lot of catching up, maturity-wise (although I don't think that's unusual for anyone).

What a fantastic soundtrack, though.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pop, Pop, Pop Music (Part 2)

My history with music is a probably not uncommon one, where the music I was listening to was supposed to somehow be hugely relevant to my identity. So relevant, that I closed my mind (or at least tried to close it) to almost anything else and ignored developing my personality in other important ways if it didn't come up on a Clash record. But somehow it never really seemed to take. The closest I could get to an idea of what I was like was to write my own music and listen to recordings, comparing them to what I was listening to.

Over the course of high school, I sat in my room listening to old Killed By Death compilations and ordering CD-Rs from Hyped to Death records, reading books on punk rock and looking for whatever bands I could find on the Internet. And I tried in vain to write my own songs to match the ones that I thought were so cool. Listening to my old recordings recently, I was actually kind of impressed that the songs weren't quite as bad as I remembered. But it was definitely an awkward take on the music I was listening to, what is now obviously a mixture of the music I was listening to and the music I wanted to hear but couldn't find.

All this time, I had one CD by the Ramones: Ramones Mania. I somehow never really got into them, despite my fascination with punk rock. After seeing the movie End of the Century, I picked up their first seven records and listened to them obsessively. Around the same time, I had been listening to the band Neutral Milk Hotel. These two bands were probably close to the only things I listened to for my last two years of high school. I went from learning Ramones songs to learning the Neutral Milk Hotel songs. At the time, I thought the two bands sounded about as distant from one another as possible. The discovery that the music for all of the songs by both bands were largely the same was an important one for me, and would have an enormous influence on the way that I listened to and understood music.

I spent a year writing songs, now trying to combine my fondness for the tempos and melodies of the Ramones and Neutral Milk Hotel, rather than copy the oblique pseudo-intellectualism of bands like Sonic Youth. It was like I had found the state of mind I should've been in all along. But I didn't have a lot of frame of reference. There weren't a lot of bands I knew about at the time who made this kind of music. I had a couple records by the Apples in Stereo and Teenage Fanclub, but it wasn't the same. I had a Beat Happening CD, but I wasn't crazy about it. As far as the kind of music I was making, I was just deafly speeding into what was new territory for me, figuring out how much you can do with three chords, spare time, and no idea what you're doing.