Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A very imaginary concert

Someone who doesn't know me very well might assume I don't really care for music. I don't often go to concerts. I rarely talk about music. Unless you stand outside my door and listen in to what I'm doing in my room (please don't), you won't know that I play music practically every moment that I'm not busy doing something that requires thinking (e.g. unlike now when I'm writing my blog).

Yes, I do wear my iPod earbuds everywhere. And yes, I supposedly have over 75 favorite musical acts listed on my Facebook.

Okay, so maybe it isn't a secret that I like music.

But in the past few years I've definitely had my limited knowledge of modern music thrown into my face. Because of the spawn of hipster culture at my school and in the world at large, there is this tendency to believe that listening to unique things - unique, in the sense, that everyone who calls themselves "unique" listens to it, not that it's actually unique - makes you a more interesting person. If you cannot claim a passing knowledge of at least 200 different "underground" bands then you get a scowl or a raised eyebrow.

One of my closest friends at college - who will probably hate that I am writing about her right now, so I won't use her name - is incredibly interested in current music. This is so true in fact, that much of her work study money goes towards the cost of concert tickets. And much of her time is spent interviewing musical acts or writing about them.

But as we've talked about music over our two year friendship, we've never agreed on much of anything at all. She admits to not having as strong a knowledge for music that is more than a few decades old. I admit to carrying most of my knowledge of music from before the 1970s.

The disconnect is evident between us, but a lot of times it's hard to clarify my situation with people who just assume that if I haven't heard the newest Black Keys single, that I'm some sort of musical heathen.

Which is so wrong.

When I was growing up, I was obsessed with music. At three years old I won a singing competition with my beautiful rendition of "It's a Small World" (a win for adorableness, not talent). The ambition of my youth was to become a professional singer. My dad and I wrote songs together for my school's annual arts competition. I dressed up as a pop star for Halloween.

And though I had several stages in my development of musical taste, ambivalence to the medium was never one of those stages.

So just to set the misconception to rest, I'd like to share with you my line-up for the perfect concert. This includes "current" acts, older acts and some deceased acts.

And it's all me. Plus a few years of alternating opinions and developing musical taste.

1. Green Day

It's been a few years since I listened to Green Day religiously, but even now when I go back and hear their repertoire I'm amazed at how strongly I feel for it. It's the kind of music that makes you want to shut yourself in your room and just jump around and head bang for hours. Songs from their album Insomniac have wailing electric guitars and a practically screaming Billie Joe, but they are shuffled in with beautiful melodies like "Macy's Day Parade" on Warning or "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" on Nimrod.

There is so much depth to this band that people, especially those on the periphery in 2004 who claimed that American Idiot was a piece of trash, fail to recognize. They have the attitude of a group of college kids in a rock band, but the depth and musical skill set that some mature bands could never dream of having.

2. Fountains of Wayne

Stop asking me if they have any other songs besides "Stacy's Mom." Fountains of Wayne have come out with four studio albums since they formed in 1995. Just because they haven't had monumental success with all of their singles doesn't make them a one hit wonder.

This band has created some of the most interesting rock music that I've ever set my ears on. There's something almost British Invasion-y about their sound, but it's also firmly set in a sort of beach cruising/grunge rocking era. It's a sound all their own. And aside from that, their members have contributed to some other projects and bands including a song that was sung by...

3. The Jonas Brothers

Call me a loser for this, but in 2006 I went out of my way to get my dad to take me to Borders so I could purchase a copy of the Jonas Brothers' first album, It's About Time. In the car ride home, I qualified my purchase, saying "It's just a guilty pleasure." My dad told me I should never be guilty about what music I listen to.

And he was right. And I'm not anymore. I am the proudest fan when I listen to songs from their second, self-titled album like "Still in Love With You" and "Hollywood" and remember what wonderful times I had helping my favorite band at the time (and to some extent now) get to the top. Their music is good, wholesome fun and for those who judge it based on its reputation, then perhaps they don't listen to music for music's sake in the first place. Image isn't everything.

4. The Supremes

I don't have much to say about The Supremes except that I feel so strongly about the girl power message and the beautiful delicate vocals of Diana Ross. You really can't get better than listening to some Motown on a Friday night. Or a Saturday morning. Or a Wednesday afternoon. Anytime, really.

5. Billy Joel

Though I have only scraped the surface of Billy Joel's music, I've always wished I could have attended one of his concerts with my dad. After seeing a few live performances of his online, there's no doubt that he puts on an energetic show. And of course his music is stellar.

Anyone who doesn't appreciate Billy Joel's music simply doesn't have a soul. He has written some of the most powerful ballads and hummable pop tunes of the past few decades. It's the sort of stuff that will outlast even the most popular bands today. In just over a decade, would you rather be 30 years old and listening to Lady Gaga? Or 30 years old and listening to Billy Joel? I know what I'd pick.

6. Ella Fitzgerald

I don't know what it was that tipped me over the edge with Ella. Maybe it was her rendition of "I Can't Get Started" as Sookie walked down the aisle in Gilmore Girls. Maybe it was "Bewitched." Actually, no.

I think the moment that I realized I loved Ella Fitzgerald was when I was listening to her sing "Sleigh Ride." When I heard that song and connected the voice to the name, there was no looking back. I had a permanent favorite holiday song. I had a permanent favorite female vocalist.

There is nothing so soothing as listening to Ella Fitzgerald croon to absolutely any tune. If only there were voices like hers today to make even the worst songs sound wonderful.

7. Edith Piaf

Admittedly, I didn't know much about Edith Piaf before watching the film La Vie en Rose, but after that I couldn't not know much about her. Edith has such an elegant and fascinating voice with a healthy and unique vibrato that is countered by none.

It's so strong a voice, in fact, that I have trouble writing about her in the past tense. She is not alive anymore, unfortunately, but her memory lives on through the powerful music she performed. The song "Mon Dieu" does little less than bring me to tears. Music alone can be the bearer of that emotion, but with Edith it was her voice and her songs that made her such a memorable performer.

8. The Beatles

Is there anything left to be said about the Beatles? I feel as though the thousands of books written about them, the endless commentaries by distant collaborators and friends, the enthusiastic ramblings by fans and the music by the Beatles themselves speak to everything that ever needed to be said.

Still, I have something to say. The Beatles are a phenomenon not simply because they were such a popular act, but because they had such musical versatility and unrivaled talent to carry them through several different stages of their career, all within a decade.

I can't listen to anything written by Paul McCartney or John Lennon without feeling their voices. Songs from the various stages in the Beatles' career are such a reflection on the hearts of these two men, that any fan could only wish to see them on stage together in an environment that would actually allow them to express themselves without the screaming, without the bad audio of Shea Stadium, without the risk of being mauled by crazed fans.

By the time the Beatles were discovering a new era in their sound, they had already retired from the stage. We will never get those years back and we will never again see them perform together. Yet they finish up my list of acts young and old, alive and gone that I wish I could see.

Feel free to contest my line-up if you will. Or purport that I have no taste or affinity for music. Place yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum and suggest that you have infallible taste. But realize that these are performers that I have grown up loving. Once I found their music, I never let go.

Can you say the same for every band you're listening to right now?

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