Apr 28th, 2008 by Navelgazer
If you’re over 25, and you’re ever feeling nostalgic, or melodramatically emotional, or just bemoaning the overall shittiness of modern music, try out this fun little exercise: Take the night off, open up a bottle of whatever’s your pleasure, open a window if the weather suits it, light up some candles, and just sit around listening to your favorite albums from around age 12-18.
If you’re feeling reminiscent, it’ll bring back all the great memories, like sneaking out, or your silly first crush, or riding in the back of a bikini-top jeep in the middle of the night in the warm summer air, without a care in the world. If you’re feeling depressed and angry, it can hopefully put some things into perspective. Maybe you’ll finally understand what everybody was singing about, those ideas that your pubescent self could only comprehend in the vaguest of terms, or maybe you’ll find that this is the same as how you felt then, and that this, too, will pass. Or maybe you’ll just get a whiff of how silly your problems were in Junior High compared to those of the real world, and at least cheer yourself up a little by laughing at the naïve, younger you. Anything helps.
And if you’re pissing and moaning about the good old days, well, you’re in for a bit of a shock.
Maybe you start out with something like the Gin Blossoms, and you think, “Damn! This hasn’t aged badly at all! Sure, Doug Hopkins has to make a point about how much he drinks in every damn song, but that’s a motif, at least, and fits with the overall song-structure.” Ditties you’d forgotten about completely come back with a rush and you suddenly remember every word! Next you move on to, I dunno, Arrested Development, and you appreciate just how creative and out-of-left-field their instrumentation was, which is something you’d never given a thought to back in your formative years. Still, it itches at the back of your head, “Speech seems like kind of an insufferable prick. I know he’s got a point and all, but still, I really wouldn’t want to hang out with him at a party…” You look at the Chumbawamba in your stack and decide you’ve had enough of the pop-friendly quirky prosthelytizing for now, and move onto the Goo Goo Dolls.
Well, to be fair, John Rzeznik was always a little silly even back in the mid-nineties. His lyrics were never what it was all about, anyway. You wouldn’t take his words any more seriously than Jon Bon Jovi’s, from whom Rzeznik was cloned. You liked the tuneful harmonizing, the plucky guitar on “Name” and the cascading chorus on “Black Balloon.” With hindsight, you can hear that the punk sound and image they so often tried for was polished to more of a studio sheen than you’d give any credit to now, and that the sincerity on other songs was overwrought by half, but you still like it. It makes you smile, and you can see a bit of your friends in ol’ John Rzeznik: half-assed poets with the passion and determination to make you care, which is admirable in its own right. You file it away in the “Guilty Pleasure” folder and don’t give it a second thought.
And now that we’re on guilty pleasures, there’s nothing wrong with popping in a little Candlebox, is there?
STOP RIGHT THERE AND DO NOT PROCEDE ANY FURTHER.
LEAVE THAT PART OF YOUR LIFE ALONE.
Trust me as you always do: you do not want to go there. Dipping into that well is akin to a middle-aged man, now gone to seed, meeting up with his frat-buddies for a night on the town, “just like the old days,” and then, instead of going home to his family after kicking back a few Buds and hitting on some waitress, breaking out the Jager shots. It can only end badly from here.
Of course, it might not be Candlebox that turns the tide from fun to horror. It could be matchbox twenty, or Creed, or Silverchair, or Kris Kross, or even Candlebox (excuse my gap in pop-culture, but I don’t know what hip-hop fans would find embarrassing now, aside from the Fresh Prince. For country fans, I have to imagine the answer would be: all of it or none of it). In any case, once you pop that time-bomb into your iTunes you can’t go back. Suddenly everything you listen to afterwards will be with a dejected ear. Blues Traveler? Done. Dave Matthews Band? Forget about it. You might have loved Oasis one day, in a previous life, but now all you can hear is Liam Gallagher’s nasal whine.
And that’s a shame, because music, more than any other art or entertainment we may indulge in, really has the power to speak to our identity. Movies are generally one-shot deals, and are a crap shoot when you see them. Nobody is judged by the fact that they saw Titanic or The Usual Suspects, and certainly nobody thinks about themselves in those terms. We may follow different television shows, but even that is far more ephemeral, as somebody who watches American Idol isn’t expected to be unfamiliar with Lost. In t.v., genre is a tool for the user to pick what they watch depending on their mood.
Of all these, though (and I’m one to watch movies and t.v. shows over and over ad nauseum) music is the only one which is understood to be meant for repeated consumption. We buy the albums so that we can hear a song however many times we want. We put them in our car on repeat. For film or television, the greatest compliment the consumer can give is, “I’d watch it again!” Can you imagine such a statement being made about a song? At the very least you’d have to lose the exclamation point. And change “watch” to “listen to.” Of course you’ll listen to it again, and not only that, it will go a long way towards defining your viewpoint. Maybe you love punk for the give-a-shit aesthetic and passion, or maybe you hate it for the brashness and yelling. In either case, it will probably say more about yourself and your outlook on life than it will about the quality of whatever you’re listening to. And it does have a lot to do with identity. A Bakersfield fan and an Industrial fan would hopefully find some common ground if they were to meet by chance at some bar somewhere, but they probably wouldn’t form a lasting friendship, because they’re coming from different worlds.
Your teenage years are when you were at your most confused and vulnerable. Like starving slaves in the antebellum south or scurvy sailors at sea, you took whatever you could get to just make it through. Anything was better than nothing when it seemed like no one liked you or understood you. But just as the freed African Americans should not have shamed themselves for what they had to eat, nor the seamen for sucking on limes, nor should you shame yourself for taking some comfort in “Far Behind,” or “3 a.m.,” or, God help you, “Behind Blue Eyes.”
Your circumstances are better now, you’ve got access to better music and the ability to appreciate it better than you could when your palate was desperate. Harking back to those years in the desert just to find the manna moldy doesn’t do you any good.