Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.
As some of these Better Living Through Music columns have pointed out (and as my nemesis Matt Harnish will certainly call me out for stating), I have become a 29-years-young jaded old man. I type this with a smirk, a winky emoticon rather than smiley or frowny, because I have come to terms with not meeting the expectations of the modern music fan - to actively and physically participate in a community, to be up to date on new releases, et cetera. In my reality, I would often rather listen to Radiohead on my couch than go through the inconveniences necessary to see Radiohead play live. This is because I love music but I do not necessarily love music culture.
Music culture gives us festivals, magazines, package tours, Record Store Days, and even this very blog. While I hesitate to shine any negative light toward the hand that feeds me, or the final hands on that list who sign checks that indirectly feed me, these are not the reasons I love music. They are outlets for expression of this love, but they are not the entire being.
A few years back, my views were nearly opposite. I frequently read reviews of records I knew I'd never listen to, and I watched tour schedules to see which bands were shacking up with each other. It is not that I no longer care about these things, I just find the necessary effort exhausting. My prior cultural obsession helped shape my tastes, and perhaps I now reap the reward of actually listening to and enjoying the music I spent years finding.
Stepping back, I see some facets of music culture as productive and some as downright silly. I also view some as destructive, particularly genre-based stigma. Over the past few years, I started appreciating heavier music. I love the newest Converge record,and have actually been inspired by it as a musician and person. But if Converge played in St. Louis, I probably would not go because of my frustrations with "hardcore dancing" and similar behavior that goes along with the music. This is not Converge's fault, and I don't even think it's the fault of the fans of the band who partake. It is just a cultural divide that drives a wedge between my enjoyment of an artist and my ability to express that enjoyment in a real world sense.
Genre-based stigma may be the most prevalent negative aspect of musical culture and the hardest habit to break. If somebody hates the culture of electronic music, I am going to have a very difficult time getting him/her/it to listen to Aphex Twin. Similarly, the Insane Clown Posse might have some amazing songs; I would never know because the culture around the group is too offputting for me to even know what the band actually sounds like. It also leads me to make cultural assumptions; I can guess what ICP does based on information I have gathered. I cannot imagine I'm too far from the truth.
An aspect that seems silly is the hunt for obscurity, which I have written about before but still think of constantly. There seems to be a phase in a music fan's life when it seems like the coolest thing you can do is listen to music nobody else cares about; music culture tends to reward this behavior. Now I am at the point where I enjoy obscure music but am self-conscious about it because I have internalized my love so deeply that it seems inappropriate to share, coupled with the fear of my tastes coming off as culturally based rather than personal. I cannot wait to arrive on the other side, where I no longer have to consciously not care and I can just be. I am going to listen to the weirdest shit when I am an old man. I cannot wait for grandchildren to ask what their grandpa used to listen to and I can put on a Grand Ulena record. I wish the moral was as clean as the "We eat what we like" Apple Jacks commercials, but this is not the case. It is nearly impossible to participate in music today and not align with the culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can alter our perceptions and impose limitations from outside forces. In reality, music culture frequently helps us to get from one record we love to the next more efficiently. It holds our hand through the jungle. The trick is leaving it behind when the safari is over.
Next time you attend a show or download a record or write a guitar riff or read a post on your local alt-weekly's blog, ask yourself the following series of questions: Why am I doing this? Is there a greater motivation to what I am doing? Is this motivation positive? Am I doing this because I think I should be doing this? Am I doing this because I think I should not be doing this? Do I care? Should I care? What would Bono do? Why should I care what Bono would do?
If the answers are difficult, good. If not, even better because you have advanced. Don't listen to the Frank Ocean record just because you think you're supposed to. Listen to it because you think you might like it. If you do like it, continue listening to it and do not immediately leap to the next record that your culture tells you to like. Enjoy the fruits of the search. And don't feel bad if you don't like it, don't waste your time listening more than twice just to feel like a participant. Don't let music culture dictate your musical life.
See also: -Ten Bands You Never Would Have Thought Used to Be Good -The Ten Biggest Concert Buzzkills: An Illustrated Guide -The 15 Most Ridiculous Band Promo Photos Ever -The Ten Worst Music Tattoos Ever