Posted in Of Musicals

Of Having A Music Identity Crisis

Bob Dylan and The Beatles : Obviously Photoshopped

I am feeling strange talking about this. It’s like going to the doctor about a weird ailment in a part of the body no one talks about, other than in the context of a joke to encourage adult camaraderie. You can say what you like about the pimples on my face, but we can’t ever refer to….

Now, just to be clear, I don’t actually have anything going on, covert or not, that needs a doctor’s appointment. I do have a tooth issue going on for months, but who has ever felt shame talking about their teeth? No, what I am going through, and it must have been about a year (strangely, coinciding with the duration of my tooth issue), is a music identity crisis. I can’t decide what I want to listen to.

Yes, I can’t decide what I want to listen to.

Yes, I can’t decide what I want to listen to, and I could keep on writing that confession sentence for the length of this blog post and you wouldn’t need repetition to feel concern and ask me, “What has happened to you, Amrita? How are you surviving?”

Usually, I go about a genre or an artist like this: I don’t always discover them. I sort of know about them because my eyes and ears are always peeled for any information relating to music. But, I get into them when the stars align, and by getting into I mean, listen to everything, watch everything, read everything, read+watch+listen relating to everything, get bored and move on. If I never get bored, then they have found a place in the Hall of Fame located in my head.

So you see, it’s a dual-paced thing. There’s some casual dabbling around, and phases going on simultaneously, with also a third strand of dependability on solid favourites. Now, most of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will say, yeah Amrita, we know what your listening life is like: defending 80s artists people destroyed in the 90s but no one should feel sorry for them because they made a lot of money at the time. And Kate Bush.

Kate Bush

Now, that is true, but that is also 20% of the situation. I don’t use the word eclectic, because I don’t want to be one of those obnoxious music connoisseurs who judge you on your preference because it doesn’t match theirs. I also hate to use the word connoisseurs to describe them (though most of them would not have a problem with that), but they sell themselves off as experts because they’ve dabbled a lot, spread themselves widely, surveyed the seven seas with Google Maps and they think that is enough qualification to say what’s best. You can see I have a rather big chip on my shoulder about this.

The easiest attack on them, while we’re on this tangent here, is to say they’re not real musicians. They listen to their vinyl records in the living room with an acoustic guitar aesthetically placed, and serving mainly, as decoration. (I’m not criticising you if you a) listen to vinyl and b) have a guitar. As long as you don’t c) judge people on their taste, we’re cool.) Most real musicians, in fact, have quite limited interests, and perhaps that helps their musicianship. We’re always surprised if they profess to like someone from a different genre, but I can vaguely surmise that real musicians aren’t too concerned with whether they’re listening to a lot of different stuff or not.

And so aren’t most people. They’re happy listening to the Top 40, or the radio, or music they listened to as teenagers. There are contrasting studies that suggest music that you listen to at age thirteen OR music that you listen to in your late teens and early twenties is the music you prefer. Now, that puts me in a difficult position because music I listened to as a thirteen-year-old was very varied but also, mostly crap. And music I listened to in my late teens and early twenties was almost exclusively cool, but I’m not sure if I would like to stick to only that for the rest of my life. You don’t read five books and say, ‘Yeah, that is all that I’m ever going to read, again and again and again.’ You want fresh ideas, fresh sounds, things that challenge you, things that surprisingly fit with what you want for the moment.

Like they say about relationships, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.

I’ve tried everything. And you’d be surprised at the results. I played Beatles baby albums for my nephew. He didn’t get on with them (might have something to do with either being hungry or sleepy. Shouldn’t be anything to do with The Beatles.) but I have started to listen to them, no baby in sight. Rockabye Baby!’s “In My Life” is particularly brilliant. Just put them on, do some adult colouring books, and there you have a lovely, stress-busting session just before going to sleep. And way better that putting on generic ‘Music for Relaxation/Meditation/Sleep’ etc. I like Bach’s Preludes, especially on the cello, but I’d rather listen to Macca’s “Golden Slumbers” baby-album-style.

And the other artist I’ve been listening to is, drum roll please, Troye Sivan. My 30+ year old reading audience is mostly going, ‘Who?’ He’s my latest venture into contemporary pop, one of those dabbles that is slowly transitioning into a phase. I discovered him through his video for “Bloom” and if you watch it, you’ll understand why I like him:

And it’s not just because of all the androgyny and sincere vulnerability and perfect choruses, and competent pre-choruses. Sivan just has some cracking tunes like the one below which, among a sea of collabs that are often so full of striking images and ideas, is simple and effective, two traits that make a classic:

But, these are the only crests. Everything else I’ve tried are troughs. I go back to the solids, of course, for I do need to sustain myself. I’m not going to be King Lear, shirking salt. But, don’t you just want to try new cuisines? Or different flavours of the same thing?

But, who do you turn to? I stopped watching TV after I left school, so I no longer have something like VH1 to seek inspiration from. I could turn on the radio, but Sivan-like accidents don’t always happen. Everyday, I go through my catalogue of artists and genres I know of through space and time, trying to hit upon what I’m feeling. Today, as I had a half-hour of chores to do, I thought to myself, “Hmm, I want guitar, but not someone who’s trying too hard to prove themselves, or not someone who’s too much of their period…” until I zeroed in on Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? I’ve listened to this and his other albums several times over the years, but it has never been a bonafide phase. But who knows? This could be the start of something.

So, you see, music itself is not the problem. And we can’t trust my moods and feelings either. I’ve lately felt as though I’m “sinking” by which name and mood there is a Cure song, but usually I like to listen to the opposite of what I feel. Currently, I need something with life. And when there’s too much of that, I feel the need to listen to something that’s sobering. Often I’m scared of listening to something I might really love when I’m not feeling up to it. And especially listening to something I really love, because it might possibly have no impact. I’ve even put on ‘Music for Relaxation’ because I couldn’t bring myself to listen to David Bowie.

And you wonder why I call this an identity crisis?

What music makes up your identity? What music would you recommend me to get out of this funk?


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

6 thoughts on “Of Having A Music Identity Crisis

  1. Excellent, excellent post! As usual so much to digest, so little time for me right now to dive in deeper, but I was so excited to see this post from you just now. I think I discussed with you before the musical snobbery that exists, and I definitely plead guilty to that. In some ways I still do, but its been dramatically reduced to people that seem to only listen to what is spoon fed to them on the radio or Tv. Which means whatever pop song is on top right now. And I really don’t hate pop when viewed as an individual song. I ‘get’ why it is a hit, I ‘get’ why people want to dance to it. Its the over promotion that ultimately gets to me. When you are made to feel strange if you sit in your room with vinyl records strumming your guitar listening to Dylan, the Stones, or kora music from West Africa!

    Yes, I recognize the person you describe lol. To me the ultimate radio station would play literally, everything…and that pop song by Troye Sivan would sit right next to the Toumani Diabate track followed by Johnny Cash, and then Metallica. Its all valid to me that way if you see my point. I actually have heard of Troye Sivan and promise to listen to the tracks you posted on my lunch break. I actually still find that magazines (be they online or print) are great resources for discovering new types of music. Sometimes I just take a chance on something I heard. Also because I’m changing my life around with the impending divorce, I have made a habit of going to the record store and treating myself to an album about once a week now. The fact that the new vinyl usually come with a digital download link means its been the best of both worlds!

    So in that light, I really recommend three new purchases. Not new artists to my ears, but newly released records-First is Glen Hansard’s newest-Between Two Shores. Really great collection of songs and not so downbeat as he has been previously. Next is St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ new one called Young Sick Camellia. The lyrics are very obtuse, and the music a bit of a departure but still funky. Richard Thompson’s newest 13 Rivers is one of his best in years. He’s never made a bad album, but I am enjoying this one more than any recent one. See if you can find the song Oh Cinderella. Lastly is a group I wrote about a short time ago-Jules & The Jinks. This might be more of a YouTube thing for you to listen to, but man can this woman sing. She’s a powerhouse. I’m a huge fan. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Robert! First off, you know I wasn’t referring to you when I spoke about the connoisseur. You talk about a wide range of artists in your blog, and it is clear that you’ve actually paid deep attention to them. Just the other day I was reading an article on the Booker prize in a reputed newspaper, and the way the journalist described one of the books in the shortlist, it was clear she hadn’t even read the first chapter! My argument for anytime anyone dismisses something someone else likes is to be able to knowledgeably back it up. Show that you’ve taken the time to invest in and consider it, and then say it’s not good. If it’s just personal preference, that is a whole different thing.
      I forget the YouTuber who talked about this, but he said that a respected critic negatively reviewed an album by saying it’s for “thirteen-year-olds”. Well, duh. Most new releases are targeted to that demographic, and has been the case since the 1950s and the ’45 format.
      I understand what you said about the heavy rotation system. I used to feel the same when I followed the radio and TV music channels regularly. Now, because of YouTube, I see how many million views the new singles receive. I was surprised why Troye Sivan’s numbers were so low, considering how good his music is. It’s very much contemporary electropop, but it doesn’t give you a headache, if you know what I mean. If I had produced it, I would have changed things here and there to make it age well, but it’s got real meat, and I hope only better albums are there in the future, though I don’t know if they’ll continue to capture the freshness of youth as this one. Youth’s a stuff will not endure, as Shakespeare wrote.

      1. Oh of course I knew that, I was only teasing! Yes I do pay attention and in fact now that I’m on my own, I have gotten back into the habit of reading along with the lyrics from the liner notes, and who played what instrument. It goes way back to my first days of listening to music when I didn’t know so much about it. 20 year old me would be like ‘Oh so and so played harmonium on that song….what the heck is a harmonium anyway? Wait the song mentioned the artist Yves Tanguy…I just read about him last year in art class’. That sort of thing.

        Which can also explain as you say how you decide you like or dislike something. It isn’t just musical snobbery when you say those synth horns sound really bad in 2018, or the drum machine has to go! It comes with context and understanding.

        I’m reading a really interesting book by Mark Kurlansky about the Martha and the Vandellas song Dancin’ In The Street. Viewed through a historical lens, it was the critical song for the civil rights movement in 1964. It said so much without directly saying it. And speaking of demographics it goes to show how a hit song can be a hit and also somewhat subversive for those in the know.

        The heavy rotation system really is an issue. Oysterband a number of years ago said what they would like is not a number 1 hit, but maybe something that gets into the top 10, just to raise the profile a bit. And I knew exactly what they meant by that. The machine is good for a lot of people, but it comes with a degree of losing your control over it. So I’m intrigued to hear Troye’s music.

      2. I think if sincere intention and effort has gone into it, it shows. Maybe not in terms of popularity or awards, but a cult classic or something of enduring popularity is also determined by something inherently unique and valuable about them. Music is, like anything else, a business, so you can’t be too hard on producers or record company executives or djs to want to give you something fresh, at least for a minute. But, there’s more than enough for anybody out there, and it all comes down to how much you’re willing to go on an adventure to find it.

  2. I wasn’t familiar with Sivan before this post but I like that description of sincere vulnerability. That description likely fits my 2 favourite new-ish artists (The Arkells and Frank Turner) nicely as well, which may be why I’m so fond of them!

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Geoff! I did listen to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports recently, which I read about in your blog a while back. Enjoyed it, but it still isn’t what I’ve been looking for, which is music I can ignore!

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