There are two kinds of people in the world: music people and non-music people.
Music people are those who revel in any kind of music; they are passionate about what they love and equally passionate about what they hate; often, they have a stylistic preference, but overall their love for the brilliance of music as an art form supersedes any personal beef with genre.
Non-music people, on the other hand, may or may not like music. They are the ones who are just as happy listening to the same few things. To be clear: they are not the opposites of music people. They just don’t have the same intense level of interest. You wouldn’t call them passionate.
My mother and my brother are good examples of this category. My mom, when asked if she could name a band besides the Beatles, could only think of Joni Mitchell. “She’s not a band,” I told my mom, “But name any band. Doesn’t matter who.” It didn’t matter that she was partial to Simon and Garfunkel or felt that the Beach Boys were her particular zeitgeist. When asked the question, she really couldn’t answer.
My brother likes music. He might be able to answer more questions about music than my mother, but at the same time, he likes whatever happens to be in his CD player. There’s no passion for him in it – he just likes it. And he likes it the same as the cd before that and the same as all the cds his friends used to burn for him in junior high. He likes Sugar Ray the same as he likes Weezer the same as he likes the Warp Tour 2002 Compilation. And he’d be perfectly happy listening to those cds forever.
For me, on the other hand, I need music. I feel this strange empty space in my soul when I haven’t had any new music in a while. It’s the same restless feeling I get when I’ve been couped up indoors too long or when I was a kid and really didn’t want to take a test and would be on the brink of almost leaving the entire thing blank in resistance before the voice of rationality kicked in. I had never really articulated this need for music until I went to Scotland, where suddenly all my outlets for music were cut off. I had to find new shortcuts to new music. I couldn’t download or stream the same things, and suddenly I realized, I had had no new music for months. YouTube was useless–I needed the ability to transport my music to my laptop or to a mix or to my MP3 player, etc. I was already lost in a foreign country and I could feel my self sinking into an aesthetic wasteland.
Strangely enough, I don’t really remember how I reconciled that problem. I certainly didn’t start buying cds. And I still listened to stuff just as passionately. But I have the feeling it was my neighbor who saved me. He, being once the diligent English choir boy and who still dabbled like any music lover in search of their fix, was willing to share his music library with me. There was one condition: I had to share mine with him.
I still credit him for the brilliant live jazz albums in my library, the strange eclectic British stuff, and for reminding me about the world of classical music. Having once studied the piano, I suddenly remembered why I had bothered–there was nothing better than Beecham conducting to soothe my nerves. And of course, nothing reminds the Angelino more of the perfect summer than listening to Chico O’Farrell while trying to sunbathe in the tumultuous clouds of Scotland.
Eventually, I went on to host a radio show at the university station. But I had a different niche there. Instead of playing the most recent or most underground indie bands, I was able to revel in sameness of my musical tastes. Being in a foreign country allowed me to wander through albums I had loved years before and yet were new there. I could be predictable in my tastes and simultaneously be novel. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how easily I could have a radio show here. Andrew Bird is kind of an old trick these days, just as he was then.
Now, I’ve run into a new musical problem–I don’t have the same amount of time to devout to my musical studies. Although I let different radio stations linger in the background(thank you kcrw and npr), they are more there to dissipate the silence of my office and to block out the sounds in the hallway. But my inspiration for writing this was a new discovery. While listening to the Take 5 series on NPR (they choose a theme and then choose 5 jazz songs), I found something brilliant. Wolfgang’s Vault. A website devoted to streaming concerts. There, listening to Stan Getz at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival, I remembered why I love music. That clear treble line and the soft sway of drums, I remembered what it was to have that thrill of knowing somehow this was yours. Somehow it was yours to take and make it your own.