“It’s just so sad.”
I glanced over at Elle as we wandered through Barnes & Noble, waiting for Rachel to draw pictures for some advertising assignment. We both were carrying stacks of books – me: romance in pretty pastel covers, her: poetry in black jackets. The late nights of undergrad - I ache with nostalgia sometimes.
“What’s so sad?” I asked absently as I walked toward the best-sellers rack of the music section.
“You have all these categories,” she started to rant. “Classical, Jazz, even Country!” She was gesturing wildly toward the signs perched atop the shelves and starting to get loud. Having known her for 3 years at this point, I simply smiled and looked around apologetically – she didn’t embarrass me as much as she once had, but I was still conscious of the reactions to her speaking volume.
“And…?” I said, eyebrows raised, waiting for some spark of the profound or absurd. I never knew which.
“Well, the biggest section is Popular.” She said, motioning to the signs that dotted the area in which I stood. “That’s not a type of music! When someone says ‘What kind of music do you like?’ do you really want to say ‘I only like stuff that everyone else likes.’?”
“It’s not a way to describe music! Popular could change over time. And really? Is Britney Spears all that popular? Do people really like her or do they buy her music because they think it must have value because other people like it?!”
“Well, I like popular music.” I responded easily, used to arguments with her. “If enough people like it, there might be something worth listening to. Plus, it’s what you hear on the radio – it’s on for moments I want to remember. You know?”
“I guess.” She said, frowning as she looked between me and the music, thinking, I’m sure, that I represented the downfall of our generation. Educated, smart and sincere, but trapped into thinking like everyone else.
The truth is, I’m not really all that into music. I like it, but it’s on a much more general level than some people I know. As I was filling up my iPod, I realized that most of the music would be classified as popular. Or at least popular at the time I bought it.
I went through a brief country phase in high school. I stopped and switched back when I had to pull over one day coming home from work. I was crying too hard over some overly touching lyrics in a haunting melody. I don’t need to be that sad over music – I see it as providing background noise in most situations, and don't enjoy having an emotional crisis when I’m trying to navigate long country roads.
So I carefully selected songs from those CDs when importing music to Chandler. In all fairness, it’s good stuff. But its value to me is that it evokes high school memories – bringing back vivid images of who I was, how I thought, what I wanted in life. But nothing that might make me sob when trying to write code or filling out forms was included.
The point is that I don’t think I could list performers I like without most people at least recognizing the names. However, it’s my habit to assume that everyone is like the small crowd of people with whom I discuss music. Now that I’m living in a part of the States where country music enjoys considerable popularity, I decided to delve into it once again.
My opinion? Eh. Some of it is great – I’m particularly fond of Josh Turner and will probably buy his album upon its release later this month. I turn other songs off – they just don’t work for me.
But the stuff I love is in the bluegrass genre. So if I were to recommend music, which is something I’m not at all qualified to do and probably won’t approach again, I’d say my new favorite is Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. I watched Grand Ole Opry Live last week (see how I’m trying to fit in!) and was charmed. So I ordered the CD (not available on iTunes to my knowledge) and am now listening to Brand New Strings on repeat. And loving every moment of it.
I’ll put it proudly in with my Edwin McCain, Matchbox 20, and Sarah McLachlan. But for now, in my moderate quest to conform – to have something in common with those people I encounter at work, church and shops – I found something I really like. So as I listen in awe, I’m pleased. Being here – doing something quite similar to what I did in grad school, making slow professional progress – I’m experiencing people, music and situations I wouldn’t have otherwise.
So, seriously – try to check out Brand New Strings. Oh, and let me know if there’s something else I’m missing. I’m still figuring out that while what’s popular might be good, the less mainstream music, like the people that might be overlooked, can be completely charming, delightful and tragic to miss.