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Music For Today

March 8, 2012

I have a confession. I might be making a mountain from a molehill, but it looms like a massive peak in my mind. I feel like it will cause me to be labeled as pretentious or, as is more common, an old woman. It is something that appears superficial but I feel affects my interactions with the world around me, possibly in only a slight way.
My confession is this: I don’t really care for modern music.
Not really a big deal, is it? Perhaps a bit odd, but not a revelation that is likely to cause me to lose friends. I often get strange looks from people. It is very strange for a 24 year-old to profess not only total ignorance of modern music but also disinterest as well. The assumptions are usually the same. I must have lived a sheltered life, possibly raised by religious zealots and cloistered away in some compound somewhere. Maybe I lived a rural life among Luddites whose only use for technology was transporting the cows from one state fair to the next. Maybe I suffer from some type of autism and music just never entered the equation for me. “Are you Amish?” I am asked from time to time. None of these guesses are correct. I may have had a rural upbringing but technology has ensured that national and global trends will infiltrate even the most sparsely populated community.
I wasn’t always this way. I was once very into modern music. As a teenager I dutifully listened to the radio and selected which of the current crop of pop stars appealed the most to me. I liked Jewel a lot. I blush somewhat to say that. I bought a lot of bad CDs during those years. I went to a few concerts in the later years of high school. We drove two hours to see Maroon 5. I screamed along with everyone else. I’m not going to try and claim that I didn’t enjoy it because I did. I would probably go again given the chance. But it wasn’t the music that appealed to me. I don’t know that it ever was back then. It was the collective experience. It was the common ground with strangers. It was that feeling when hundreds of voices unite together in song. I still remember screaming along with everyone to “This Love” and the shiver of electricity that went through me. The connection.
Of course as a teenager, in addition to fitting in, there are reasons for appreciating music. Music becomes a kind of crutch with which you can prop your emotions. Feeling sad? Find a song to match your mood. Ready to party? Pump up the jam, pump it up, pump it up. Feeling teenage angst? Billy Corgan or Kurt Cobain will articulate the emotion for you to the accompaniment of droning guitars and angry beats.
As I got older though, I got bored. Life outside of adolescence does not hinge on what music or TV you like, so you have nothing to prove. The violent swings of emotion I had as a teenager drowning in hormones subsided and the need to prop up my emotions with music no longer existed. I lost interest.
Music hasn’t really changed all that much in the last couple of decades. I know there have been advances in the technology, auto-tune, digital music and the like, but there have been no significant shifts in the musical direction. Just look at the charts from ten years ago as compared to today. Many of the same artists are on both. I’m not a musicologist, but music as a whole seems to have reached a point of stagnation. I don’t know where it started. Perhaps it is the technology that has done it. As the computerization has increased, the need for talent and creativity has decreased. Maybe the proliferation of music as an industry, a global industry, is to blame. Corporations love a formula, a study, a poll, a quantifiable risk. They hold the keys to global exposure and the keys to global suppression. I am not implying that they are withholding ingenuity, only that they are not willing to take a chance on it. There is the possibility that simplicity is to blame, that music has become simple. The grassroots music of the sixties and the seventies, learn three chords and play at the folk festival, learns three chords and join the punk underground, gave rise to a generation of musicians that lack discipline and technical proficiency and are reliant on emerging technology to correct mistakes while at the same time stripping music of flavorful chords that require practice and talent. An example of this, a prime example, and I will be careful about what hallowed ground I tread on here, is “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I am not saying it is not a masterpiece or that those involved in its creation were not talented or creative. But it stands a masterpiece of modern music. The whole song is played with fifths. That is a chord that is not a minor or a major chord; it is neutered. It is a hollow chord. It sums modern music up for me quite well. While it might meet the criteria for my teenage self, a shared experience with others and a perfect song to support an angry teen in a bad mood, it does not possess a soul. It cannot connect with my soul.
In the last year, I have made some discoveries. I have found music that I like. I have found music that has touched my soul. It is not that same shiver I felt in the midst of thundering voices singing along with Adam Levine. It is different. It is a tingle in my soul, a connection with the music and the singer. It is astounding that after nearly a hundred years, that these voices might still connect, that talent is not a slave to time. I only wish I had found them sooner. You may be aware of these people, or you may not. You should be.
The first is The Boswell Sisters. You have probably heard of The Andrews Sisters. This is the group that they wish they could be and the Boswells came at least ten years before. Ella Fitzgerald idolized the Boswells and patterned her own sing on that of Conne Boswell.
Here they are singing “Heebie Jeebies”:

I can’t get enough.
The next is Annette Hanshaw. She was known as “The Personality Girl” and ended a number of her songs with a sweet, “That’s all.” She has recently come back into the public eye after being prominently featured in the film Sita Sings The Blues and more recently a song appearing in the game Bioshock 2.
Here she is singing “You’re The Cream In My Coffee”:

I listened to that everyday for a month.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is Bessie Smith. Known as “The Empress of The Blues” she performed with some of the biggest jazz musicians of the day, including Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden. I think she’s amazing.
Here she is singing “Gimme a Pigfoot”:

“Yeah!”
If you liked these I would encourage you to seek out more work from these great artists. You can find stuff from all three at http://www.archive.org

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2012 7:33 am

    I too am a bird of different songs. I like that old stuff. It’s kind of exciting to go back in time to “discover” powerful music. Have you heard Django Rheinhardt? Amazing guitar.
    Haha, I thought I was the only person alive who is under 95 to ever even hear of Jack Teagarden. Great post. I loved the hell out of it. Thanks.

    • March 8, 2012 7:44 am

      I have heard of Django Reinhardt. He’s fantastic. I still can’t get over the fact that he plays that well with only two fingers. Most can’t with all their digits intact. I couldn’t include all the great artists that I’ve discovered over the last year or two. There are too many and I didn’t even mention Fats Waller. He’ll get a post all his own one day. It makes me sad in a way that they have been forgotten or marginalized, but in another way, I feel privileged. It’s my own secret garden to retreat to or an exclusive club of the initiated. I’m glad to meet another member. Thanks for reading.

  2. March 8, 2012 8:18 am

    I’ve often enjoyed diving into music old, and new but from over seas. My own taste in music varies both on mood and moment, and I’ve found it changes with time. I like clever lyrics which isn’t always in the older music that I’ve heard. That being said (and you might cringe from this) all these songs reminded me of the songs that get played during the game Fallout 3. And I love those songs not just for their sound but for the emotional connection and memory to some really fun events in the game. I really do suggestion you see if you can find the soundtrack for Fallout 3. It might give you a few more artists to look at.

    So as a woman, older than you, I encourage you to ignore what is expected of your tastes in music, entertainment and otherwise. Go with what moves you, no matter when or where it was created. It’s what I’ve done, and while it has led me to some odd choices for others (ever listen to Celtic Heavy Metal?) it’s what has kept me in love with sound.

    • March 9, 2012 12:18 am

      Thanks for reading and the advice. Don’t worry. I didn’t cringe at the connection to Fallout 3. It surprises me that game makers are able to incorporate that kind of music into that kind of game. My only issue would be that people might then say, “Oh. That’s the song from Fallout 3” rather than “That’s Annette Hanshaw.” It is similar to saying of the Beatles’ “Revolution”, “Oh. That’s that Nike song., or of “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Hey, that’s that song from ‘Glee’,” despite the fact that it’s a cover of the 5th Dimension song which is itself a cover of Laura Nyro. Anyway, I’m still glad other people are discovering old music that deserves to be remembered.

      • March 9, 2012 1:06 am

        I can understand you cringing from that. When I played Lord of the Rings Online I had the ability to play the song Mad World by Tears for Fears. This same song had been used for a commercial for Gears of War game. Other players expressed excitement at me playing the song calling it the Gears of War song and that made me twitch a little. 😀

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