Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some Random Thoughts On Music

I noticed that music was coming up in a lot of things I was doing lately, so I decided to make this post all about a few of my thoughts on the thing that all of us have in our lives in some form but tend to take for granted, music.

As those who know me well are already aware of, I don't go anywhere without my headphones and either old-school cassette-playing personal radio or my iPod, or sometimes both. And if I feel like really zoning out on a given day, then those sitting on the same train or bus as me will have to be serenaded by whatever I'm in the mood to listen to. I'm a very considerate person in most other situations, but for some reason I'm not willing to listen to anyone who tries to tell me to turn down my headphones. My deal is, honestly, what could the decibel level possibly be for those sitting near me as I listen to headphones? It's not that much of a disturbance. Do I get annoyed when I have my headphones off and someone else is listening to a song so loudly that I can hear it? Only if I don't like the song. And I would never ask someone to turn their personal headphones down just because I don't like the song. I think that's unbelievably rude. And if I like the song, I'd never think of asking the person to turn it down. So I think it's all about my choice of music and the people who don't like my choice of music. In my life, I can remember 3 definite (and maybe a few more) times where I've been asked to turn down my headphones. The music was always hip-hop. The people were always older white people. And the next time, I have a good mind to respond to that request with a middle finger.

A running theme between me and my roommate "Jacob" is how many horrible songs he can guess is on my iPod, because it's basically filled with songs that hardly anyone else liked or heard of when they were out. I'm up to 217 songs on my iPod now, and I swear all except maybe 30 are from before 1990. I didn't mean to yell out one of the songs for him, but I was feeling good Saturday night walking home from the train, and before I got to my front door I let out a yell while rocking out to "Welcome To The Jungle" that would have made Axl Rose proud...I mean barf. Would've made Axl Rose barf. Anywho, Jacob was sitting in the living room as he usually is, and my yell came right outside the window, so when I got in he let me know that he could hear me. Honestly, I didn't know I was quite that loud. So now he knows that I have Guns & Roses on my iPod. That's not nearly as embarrassing as some of the other shit on there, but it's still pretty bad.

Talking about Guns & Roses reminds me of a story from grade school. (REAL NAME ALERT #1) In 7th grade, at Ogden Elementary in downtown Chicago, where a lot of rich, white kids went to school, I was having a lot of trouble fitting in, as usual. There was a fat white chick named Kathy Vajda who was assigned to sit next to me, and she and her friends were so into Guns & Roses that it was almost scary, but we found a way over several days to have conversations about other things and kinda entertain each other. Then I made the fatal mistake of thinking that we may actually be friends, and I casually asked her one day, "So, what are you doing for lunch?" The look on her face was absolutely priceless. She turned completely pale, her eyes bugged out, and she turned away from me without answering the question. It's funny now how freaked out she was over the concept of going to lunch with me, but at the time it really hurt, not because I wanted her or anything, but because I thought we were friendly enough that she wouldn't be ashamed to step out in public with me and grab a burger. Boy, was I dead wrong. I never spoke to her again.

Hey, I like dropping real names. Maybe Kathy will Google herself and my blog will come up, and she can read about what a cunt she used to be. So I'll do it again. (REAL NAME ALERT #2) So another song on my iPod is "Let The Music Play" by Shannon, a radio and club hit from the early 80s, and I have an early and intimate history with that song. In 2nd grade at Skinner Classical School, the strongest crush I had in my life up to that point was on a black, fair-skinned, Jheri-curled 6th-grader named Margaret Stallworth, but of course, I'm just a short, annoying 2nd-grader, so she wanted nothing to do with me. It's not like I was really trying any moves at that age, but I just wanted to be near her. Somehow, I was able to find out that she really loved the song "Let The Music Play," so I went home and camped out on the radio station most likely to play the song, then I used my portable $20 mini-boombox to tape the song (or at least part of it) for her. I had to Scotch-tape the back of my cassette player closed in order to hold the batteries in, because I had lost the piece that holds down the batteries, and I had to be careful not to tilt it forward because I had lost the front piece that holds the cassette in. But I managed to get the poor tattered thing on the school bus and play the song for Margaret, and she was so touched by the effort that she kissed me on the cheek. Proudest. Day. Of. My. Life. At least at that point in my life. And still to this day, every time I hear that song, I think of Margaret and how sweet I was on her and whether she turned out as hot as I imagine she did. So, if you've read this blog from its infancy and you know about all the silly shit I've done trying to please women who don't deserve me, there's the moment that the desire to make a woman happy was instilled inside me.

It really is amazing how a song can take you back to something that you normally wouldn't think of. I haven't been to the strip club with "Drew" and his brother and friends in years, but I recently downloaded a couple of songs that reminded me of those trips: "The Thong Song" by Sisqo and "It Feels So Good" by Sonique. Both were prominently featured during certain sets at the Admiral Theatre back in the day, and both songs conjure up the dimly lit club with its personality-deprived, soulless dancers charging $10 for air dances where you can't make contact with them. And yet, those were fun times. Just hanging out with the guys all night was fun, and just sitting in a place with dozens of naked women walking around was, of course, a blast. Some of those dancers found a way to distinguish themselves and work hard to give the paying customer a great experience, so it's not fair for me to call them all soulless and personality-deprived. I'm sure those few dancers and those songs are the only reasons that I miss the strip club, because I don't miss spending money that I didn't have and still not having any pussy at the end of the night.

My media class has been having spirited debates about music, specifically hip-hop and the messages sent by the music. One guy, who never shuts up and can't be older than 19 or 20, had the nerve to blame his bad behavior on hip-hop, saying that when he calls a woman out of her name it's because that's the only way he knows how to relate to them. I've heard some ignorant statements before, but that one's near the top. I had to gently argue with my teacher one day when he insisted that the old white men who run all the companies that distribute media (TV, movies, music, etc.) would not publish music that disrupts the status quo, such as if hip-hop decided to put out messages empowering black people to get out of the ghetto and educate themselves instead of the usual "pimps up, hoes down, shoot everybody" mentality. I don't think those old white people give a damn what message is put out there, so long as it moves units out of the warehouses. All two people that read this blog, you can debate this if my memory is serving me wrong, but this is the point I made: In 1990, the #1 rap albums were by M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice, and there's absolutely nothing hardcore and gangsta about that. The gangsta rap theme as a pop culture phenomenon, in my opinion, began in 1991, when, without ANY advertising or commercial endorsement (because of the language and violent imagery), the #1 album of that summer was N.W.A.'s "Efil4zaggin." They had to print "Niggaz4life" in reverse so as to try to avoid getting banned from all the record stores, and yet still it was flying off the shelves. "Nuttin' But A G Thang" came from Snoop and Dre about a year later, and the rest is history. But it's not that white people wanted to publish gangsta rap in order to dumb down the black race. It's that gangsta rap started selling like hotcakes (and, famously, not just to black folks, but white suburbia as well), and all the record companies had to follow the trend or else risk being left with their dicks in the dust, so to speak. Then we had to debate whether to ban rap lyrics or not in class, and that was easy--you can't take certain words and pronounce them evil and ban them. Words don't mean shit unless you want to make them mean something. And words don't make people shoot other people, bad parenting and/or mental illness make people shoot other people.

Finally, I was excited to read that Mariah Carey has another #1 hit on her hands, with a song called "Touch My Body." Anyone who knows me is aware how I feel about Mariah Carey. Not only is she smoking hot, especially with that 40 pounds she's put on since her debut in 1990, but I love her voice, even with all the verbal acrobatics that don't necessarily add to her songs. The thing is, I've never heard her new song. I don't listen to music on the radio anymore. That's how bad it's gotten. It started with my general avoidance of the radio after the "Karen" episode four years ago, because of all the songs out back then that reminded me of her, and my desire to listen to today's music continued to erode from there. The breaking point was when I had the chance to listen to American Top 40 on a lazy Sunday morning two summers ago and was hit with the fact that one of the top 10 songs in this country was being "sung" by Hulk Hogan's daughter, and another by Paris Hilton. In that moment, mentally I turned around and walked out of the pop music room, shaking my head and wondering if I would ever come back. So far, the answer is a resounding no.

1 comment:

GrizzBabe said...

There's plenty of non-gansta rap that gets recorded (The Roots, Dead Prez, etc), but we don't get to hear it because of, I believe, big media conglomerates and their evil playlists. If no one gets to hear those songs, how will a demand be generated for them? The music industry sticks with the formulas that have been proven to work in the past. As a result, we get stuck with the same old shit. For some reason, record executives think that ALL we want to hear is gangsta rap when, in reality, I'd like to hear more of a mixture.

And I never knew you had the hots for Mariah Carey.