Why We Listen

I am a self-confessed music junkie. I drive my wife and kids crazy at times. And admittedly, I don’t give myself enough time in silence. My time to reflect is usually filled with music. I am not obsessive to the point where every spare second is filled but it is obsessive enough that a day without music is pretty much an impossibility.

I began to ask myself how I became like this. And while I know people like me, we are certainly not the majority at all. So let me try to describe myself from a musical standpoint and then take a look at my musical history and see if there are clues.

I don’t consider myself a music aficionado. I do consider myself quite eclectic. My music choices are focused on alternative, new rock and indie. I am 48 years old and I never froze in time like so many of my peers. I like bits and pieces from almost any genre. I don’t know of any music that I don’t like at least a song or two from. Opera, country, metal, punk, show tunes, zydeco, pop, rock, hip hop, R&B, gospel, Motown, rockabilly, blues, jazz, new wave, rap, disco, hard rock, dance, house, electronic and whatever other styles I’ve forgotten to add here.

I grew up in Toronto. My childhood music was childish, as it should be. I had older sisters and a brother so I was exposed to Elvis and The Beatles at an early age. My parents loved the old movies with Sinatra and Dean Martin, Doris Day. I heard but paid little attention to the 60’s music but I was aware of it and liked it when I was old enough to care. My tweens/early teens were pop music – yes, red-faced I admit I liked Bay City Rollers. And then I hated them. And then things began to change.

Around the time of disco, I started to notice that the music was all the same crap. I was doing a lot of reading and reading stuff that was considered above my age group. I turned against the mainstream and stared looking back. I started listening to the 60’s music. I got big time into Pink Floyd. I loved The Who, Blue Oyster Cult, The Guess Who. I got into The Beatles more seriously. I loved The Kinks and The Doors. Lou Reed, David Bowie, I could go on for ages but I won’t.

And then it happened. My musical world changed in a day. My sister got Talking Heads 77 for Christmas that year. The song? Psycho Killer. It was strange. Bizarre. Twisted. It had French in it. And it turned my music view on its head. I became obsessed with the song, the album and the band for years.

Here’s Psycho Killer performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test (a great show along with Top of the Pops back in those days):

The years around this time were a lesson in experimentation between punk and new wave. Elvis Costello, The Clash, Joy Division, Sex Pistols, Teenage Head and endless reams for bands that came out around this time. I was more interested in the band histories and influences. I loved seeing all these crazy younguns creating what appeared to be, and was, a whole new era in music.

And then another twist in the road hit around December 1980. 1980 was a big year for me. I graduated from high school. I started listening to this funky little radio station run out of a house in Brampton, Ontario. It was CFNY back then, Edge 102 today. And they have lost their way these days in the corporate jungle that is business radio. But for decades they were my inspiration and education musically. One Alan Cross and his Ongoing History of New Music show was a wonder to me in subsequent years. However, a brain revolution started that day in December. I didn’t know it at the time. But I can look back on that moment. December 9, 1980. A show called The New Music on CityTV. Hosted by Jeanne Becker and J D Roberts (yes, he of CNN’s American Morning), she interviewed Bono in a coffee shop near the el Mocambo where U2 played that night.

I’m not going to pretend that I was there. I’m not even going to pretend it was an epiphany and I knew they’d take the world by storm. I just knew they were different and there was a special passion in what I saw. They showed a 30 second clip of I Will Follow. I paid attention then. Still am.

Here’s a clip of them on ITV from that year (try not to laugh…I dare you!):

In 1980 I was 18 years old and the following years of alternative music were my mainstay. Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Killing Joke, New Order, REM, Bauhaus, Psychedelic Furs, Public Image Limited, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Fall, The Cure and the one band my blew my mind the most…The Smiths.

I would list this is one of the best songs of all time. Perhaps the best song of all time – How Soon Is Now:

A lyric that killed me always – ‘There’s a club if you’d like to go. You could meet someone who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own. And you leave on your own. And you go home and you cry and you want to die’.

That is angst that defined this era of music for so many. And the band was this strange combo of upbeat music and twisted, often sick lyrics. Girlfriend In A Coma is a great example.

As it stands the 80’s was ‘my time’ in music. And unlike so many of my counterparts, I refused to stay still, lost in the same music. My generation sucking on the 60’s, 70’s an 80’s like nothing would ever shift them from the funk. I never understood how people could listen to the same songs for decades without ever introducing anything new.

I went into grunge in the 90’s. Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots. Then Our Lady Peace, the Tragically Hip covered decades and by the time the century ended I was getting that lost feeling. I wasn’t seeing anything that thrilled. I was seeing a corporate culture that was manufacturing music. There was some good stuff but not a whole lot of great. As this decade wore, my interest in indie rock slowly began to grow.

The internet allows us access to so much these days and I am getting better and better at finding what I like. The topper for me in the last year or two was finding Radio Free Cruze http://www.radiofreecruze.com Saves me tons of time and I get so much more from the variety that goes beyond what I’d been able to do.

So here we are. And here’s where I am. I titled this ‘Why We Listen’ not to decipher why people like what they like. More so you understand this is my journey in music and maybe you’ll look at why you listen to what you listen to. We each have an individual path and I hope you look at yours and take a trip through your own history. It’s great to see the roads and the forks that pushed and moved you in the directions you go. Maybe you’ll send your own out so others can see. I’d love that.

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3 Responses to Why We Listen

  1. smirkdirk says:

    This was pretty cool, Dude. Didn’t realize you had a few years on me (just a couple) – next music post I’d love to read is music your kids turned you on to….

  2. Deborah says:

    Wow, I am 47 and you pretty much just described my music history, complete with the Fall! There are a few differences for me, I grew up with classical music and my musical rebellion started with the Beatles, Aerosmith, Boston & Yes, all at once–then disco hit and a boyfriend played “psychokiller” for me and the guy with the locker next to mine introduced me to the psychedelic furs and the clash, XTC, the jam & the English Beat, and then “I will Follow”–wow, between 1980-1981 my life pretty much took a definitive course driven by the music I would follow. And yes, I too have not stopped searching, although, I need the silence sometimes…there can be great music in that.

    • larrylootsteen says:

      I definitely need more of the silence. But great history for you as well. Stunned you had time to read the whole thing and reply so quickly! Thanks for taking the time. I truly appreciate it.

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