Friday, October 12, 2007

Exposing my..

soul to all. There's nothing going on here at work. Nada. So I'm gonna tell a little story bout myself and I hope to get some responses of similar fashion. Sometime, whenever, just write about your experience in reference to:

Music. Bryan's post got me thinking about music and how people come upon their musical identity. Why do some people listen to purely country music and think that hip hop can't even be considered music? What influences a person to start listening to their type of music. How do people know what "everything" is when they say they listen to "everything"?

Here's my back ground. I grew up with my mom playing piano for me and my two brothers. That was great entertainment. We'd dance around while she would play Gershwin, Bach, Chopin, and many others that I can't remember now. That tied in well with Bugs Bunny cartoons since the background music was usually played by orchestras and sounded like classical music. Then when I got old enough, 2nd grade, I started taking piano lessons. About the same time, my big brother, who's older than me by 3 years, started listening to pop music. This is me bearing my soul just so everyone know's where I'm coming from. My early favorite songs were all the hits from the early 80s: from Pink Cadillac, by Natalie Cole, to Duran Duran. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade were all pop hits for me, courtesy of me blindly following my older brother. My first tape was Michael Jackson's Bad. So yes, it was that bad.

In 5th grade, my friends changed a little. I started hanging out with kids who had long hair. I, myself started to grow a flop since that is what skaters did, and I was now officially a skateboarder.

I started listening to early Metallica, Megadeath, and found my new TV love: Headbangers Ball. Every Saturday night I was up till all hours of the night just reveling in the massive sounding aggressive music. At first I hated the glam-rock, but after seeing how many women loved their music, which at that time of life started to become really important, I changed my mind. So that was 5th through 7th grade. My tastes in rock did eventually morph to a more funky sound. Primus, Suicidal Tendencies, and other bass guitar heavy rock started to mold my listening preferences. I started playing bass in orchestra in 6th grade along with my piano lessons, so I wanted to hear music that had lots of bass in it. Anthrax had some great bass lines and had some decent messages in their music. It wasn't dark like the death metal, but it wasn't glitz and glam of the hair bands. They eventually did "Bring the Noise" with Public Enemy. That was pretty much it afterwards.

In Jr. High, my school was pretty ghetto. So since most of the girls liked hip hop and RnB, guess what I started liking? Yes ganster rap was in full effect at that time and being that I came from the extreme of rock with speed metal, I had to go to the extreme with rap. It's fun to, every now and then, break out the old Spice 1, Comptons Most Wanted, or South Central Cartel cds. Yes, they were all real rappers. I grew tired of the severely modified songs they put out on the radio though. I guess playing just beeps every other word isn't great music, huh? Eventually my tastes grew up a little and I wanted to find hip hop that was fun, not gangster. That was a challenge, but when I found great artists, I bought everything I could from them. A Tribe Called Quest is probably my favorite group ever. Most people will never know of College Boys, Masta Ace, Rahzel, or any of the other positive hip hop acts that were once out there. Luckily, people like Common (who, when I first heard him in '94, was Common Sense), Wyclef Jean, Digital Underground, Outkast, and a few others could break into the limelight and show that hip hop doesn't all have to be about guns and money.

So hip hop and RnB was my music of choice until college. I went to school in Kearney, NE and was deftly afraid that my roommate was going to be some Country loving, rap hating hick. My first conversation with my freshman year roommate was funny because this very topic came up. He was just like me!! He hated country and loved rap. Granted it was only West coast stuff for him. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and others like that. So we shared our versions of good hip hop and grew from it. He learned about Wu-Tang Clan from me, and I learned that Ice-Cube became somewhat of a militant version of Public Enemy. It was great.

Also at that time I decided I was going to major in music. This meant I could link all those years of playing classical music on the piano and bass in orchestra to the theory behind music. This made pop and rock music really boring to me. I began to recognize when rock musicians really knew music or if they were just playing power chords and getting rich off of catchy choruses. I started really getting into "modern" classical music. Stuff from the Romantic era to this century (1815 - 2000) . Later Beethoven had some great angsty sounds, Prokofiev and Shostakovich had been through the world wars so their music was heavily influenced by pain. The sound of classical became more and more strident until things became experimental. Listen: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecki Some of the really modern stuff is just random like Cage's 4'33" which is a guy sitting at a piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The idea is that the "music" is all the ambient noise of the theater and that there is really no true silence until death. In other classes I learned about world music and found that there's a lot of different sounds out there to experience. So when people say, "Oh I listen to everything," I feel like asking, "So what is your favorite Gamelan orchestra?"

Nowadays, good music is hard to find for me. And it's not because my favorite band grew up and got old, it's because I'm looking for something totally new to me. Not another rock band that sounds something like blank, mixed with a little blank. Just something completely different. Good hip hop to me has to use different sounds and beats to catch my interest. Missy Elliot with Timbaland is a good example of this. Every couple years, Timbaland reinvents his sound and others play catch up. Pharrell with Star Trak music had a whole new soundscape that many pop artists paid him to create for them. Most of the new stuff is just bland. I understand how people like new rap, which all sounds the same to me, because I went through that when I was first discovering hip hop.

On the rock side of things, Coheed and Cambria was the last band that I really got excited about and they're kind of underground. They have real musical talent and I had never heard of a story going throughout entire albums, sometimes called Progressive Rock. I understand now that Pink Floyd did this and so did a few others. I've tried and tried to get into most classic rock and I just can't do it. That includes heavier rock, hippie rock, folksy stuff, etc. The lead singers voice has a big part in this. If I don't like the singers voice, I'm never going to get into their music. Most of the major players of classic rock just don't work for me. The Beatles, The Who, AC/DC, Bob Dylan (so yes Bryan, when you did play Dylan, I was offended...(just kidding)), Led Zeppelin, etc. are all ingrained in the musical fabric of rock, but it's just not something I like to hear. I say this about country, mariachi music, and many other kinds of music: I respect the musicians and what they can do, it just doesn't sound good to me. I'm sure this is the same way most people feel about hip hop and pop music. Except about the being musically talented part.

Most new stuff I find interesting is usually electronic. Postal Service, Dntel, Royksopp, Sigur Roos, Eberhard Weber, Gary Burton, and all kinds of weird ambient music is just "new" music to my ears. I like variation. Something could have a wailing guitar, violins in the background, and a crazy phat bass beat and I'd be a happy camper. Especially if I liked the lead singers voice and the lyrics made sense or told a story. Or even if there wasn't a singer, music can be just as good. A classical bassist named Edgar Meyer created his own sound. He was influenced by jazz and bluegrass so he wrote his own music that is just different. I love stuff like that.

So now you know what I listen to. I have 400 cds of classical, rock, techno, pop, hip hop, RnB, world, showtunes, videogame music, anime soundtrack music, movie soundtrack music, etc. If I had all kinds of money, I'd need many terabytes of hard-drive space to download music from the internets. That's what was so great about the hayday of Napster. You could easily find new music for free. Not just sample it, but have it. It was always fun to look at peoples playlists when you found a song you wanted to download from them. Needless to say, I usually found a few people like me who had similar random tastes in music like I do.

So....that's all I gotta say bout that. Let me know either a short or long version of your musical history on a reply here, or on your own blog. Expose yourself. It feels good.


bryan said...

When I saw the title of this entry, I thought you were going to show us pictures of your balls. "This? This is the evidence? They're balls!"

Anyway ... I'll start from the beginning, too. Seems like the most logical place. This is going to be long. We listened to a lot of whatever the local station played when I was a kid. That means early-1980s country -- Alabama and such. Not bad stuff, just not great. There was a show that started a little after the 6 o'clock local news segment called 'Movin' On Country.' And when it rained, or if there was a storm moving in, they always played Eddie Rabbitt's "I Love A Rainy Night." Always. I still smile when I hear that song.

But moving along ... first grade -- piano lessons. I'm pretty sure (OK, somewhat sure) I never vocalized a desire to take piano lessons. As in, I never said, "I'd like to play the piano." I think it went more like, "Wanna play the piano?" Silence. "OK, we'll meet with your teacher on Monday." So I played piano. Lots of recitals I didn't want to do, duets I didn't want to be a part of. I never practiced, but apparently I was pretty good. And I think I knew that, too. I spent maybe an hour a week practicing, and seemed to get by just fine. I played until the end of 8th grade.

During those elementary school years, I recall listening to Billy Joel-type music on vactations. I think. I was too worried about not throwing up. Yeah, I was that kid. We had a 1972 Chevelle that was the primary car for almost 20 years. The AC was questionable (we carried a box of fuses because they blew frequently), so it was always hot in there. I didn't survive very well.

Back to music, though. Fourth grade -- time to pick an instrument for band. I don't think I ever doubted I'd be in band. That probably came from being good on the piano -- I just assumed I'd play something. For one reason or another, I chose percussion. I'm not sure what that reason was -- that was 20 years ago. But I liked it, a lot. I was pretty good at percussion, too. I usually played snare drum in band, though a cool timpani part came my way every so often, too. I enjoyed concerts, but not the solo contests. I think it was the idea of my worth as a musician being judged on a scale of 1-100. Something like that, maybe. Oh, and on the radio I listened to Bon Jovi and U2. Lots of great stuff came out in 1986-87. Guns N Roses was WAY too edgy then, though. At least in north-central Iowa.

We'll skip a year or two. Eighth grade. After two years of marching band -- which I loved -- jazz band rolled around. I was called into the directors office and handed a bass guitar, a small Peavey amp, a folder of music and a 'how to play bass guitar' book. Ummm ... OK. I thought it was pretty bad-ass at first. I mean, nobody else in the school had anything like that. Of course, I had no clue how to play the damn thing. And I had to teach myself, which wasn't all that cool. There are probably few things worse than an eighth grader trying to teach himself how to play bass. Plunk plunk buzz, plunk thud. Yikes. When I finally learned enough to play a barely passable walking bass line, it was time for the jazz band concert. Cool. But after tuning up and everything, I set my bass down on its back on the floor backstage. That made the tuning pegs turn a little bit after a while, so my top two strings (D and G) were VERY out of tune. So, yeah. I just turned it down when I realized it was jacked up. It's probably for the best, anyway. I just went home and listened to "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" and cried myself to sleep. And also Poison. Llllloooooser.

High school time. Snare drum for marching band as a freshman. That was rare, I guess. Cool. I spent the summer beating the hell out of my snare drum, so much so that I had every part memorized by the time camp started. Yeah, band camp. It's true, but I saw nobody put a flute anywhere out of the ordinary. I had a lot of fun and was on par with the juniors and seniors, at least musically. Socially, obviously, I was a wreck. But it was nice being recognized for your abilities by talented people. And then they made me play upright bass for concert band. I'm not sure why. I guess it was because I played bass guitar. But I HATED it. HATED it. And, again, I wasn't asked to play it. They just handed it to me. We had a fairly large (100 kids) band for a smallish high school, so there was NO chance I could be heard, no matter the song. So, yeah ... didn't like that at all. It was a tough thing going from a needed member of a tight ensemble to rolling solo off to the side. Had I failed to show up for about a week, nobody would have noticed.

I discovered Queen and Rush that year. My casette collection grew as rapidly as it could, considering I had no money and no job.

I spent the summer ripping it up on my snare drum again, ready for marching band. I mentioned that I liked it, right? We were pretty good, but not nearly so as the year before. And then I faced another year of the fuckin' upright bass. I hated that thing. I hated the lessons, which exposed my lack of knowledge and skill. I dreaded going and I felt worse when I left. So I quit. I wrote the director a note that said, essentially, "you never asked me if I wanted to play upright bass. You told me. So I'm telling you what I'm doing starting next semester: I'm playing drums. I'm not changing my mind, so don't ask me." Heady stuff for a sophomore, no? When the next semester started, I walked back over to the percussion section and that was that. Life suddenly got better again. And somewhere along the way that year, Nirvana blew my mind. I also started a band with three other guys, so that was pretty awesome. We were not good. I sang and played bass, which was basically like choosing the lesser of four evils. Musically we were OK, but we all had way too much other stuff going on to play a lot. It lasted about two years.

Things got weird my junior year. I mentioned my distaste for solo contests, right? So I decided not to go. It wasn't required, so I just said no. I don't think anybody ever said that before, because the director didn't really say much, other than, 'Oh ... OK.' So I had a good year. Stress-free from the music standpoint. I went to band, loved what we were playing and got better. Cool. At some point in there, I decided to play trumpet. That was cool for a while, because I was given an old trumpet and some fingering charts. I learned enough to probably pass as a sixth grader. I could still play it if I needed to.

By the time I was a senior, my focus shifted from music -- which I was good at -- to athletics -- which I was suddenly good at. I was a major late bloomer, so my desire to play sports was now matched by the ability. Lots of fun there. It also fostered a growing divide in how I wanted to spend my time. Sports, friends, girlfriend and job faced off against playing the snare drum part I already knew over and over and over. I went to maybe two of the 'required' weekly lessons all year, opted out of the solo contest again and skipped the spring trip (it was only Des Moines) in favor of a track meet.

And then I quit altogether. It was a strange thing. There was a pretty big meet in early May that fell on the same day as the state concert band contest. Normally, I'm up for that contest -- we had a very, very good band. I'm actually proud to say that I was a part of it. That may reveal depths of nerdiness to some, but Mike will get it. When the music for that contest was handed out about two months prior, I noticed all of my parts were doubled. As in, I wasn't the only one playing them. Seemed a bit uneccessary to have two people on the same snare line, but I didn't say anything. About a week before said contest, I was called into the principal's office two periods after band. The athletic director, guidance counselor and track coach were there. It was a little nuts. They asked me how band was going, I said OK, but it felt like I wasn't needed. They asked me if I wanted out. Umm ... OK. So starting right there, I was out. It was strange. I didn't miss feeling unneeded, but I did enjoy playing. I realize that more now than I did then. My friends said it was strange not having me there. It was strange not being there, too. And I was disappointed to miss the seniors' last day -- where we got to choose any piece of music from the previous four years. They picked my favorite one. I'm still bummed about that.

So ... that was long and rambly. In terms of what I listen to, I aim for musicians who can actually play their instruments. Words are important, but technical skills do impress me. Rush is the prime example. Their abilities on their instruments are near the top.

I tend to stay away from anything repetitive, which takes out a lot of hip-hop, as Mike said. Today's radio country is total crap, mostly because the majority of the performers can't play and don't write anything. I think that's why I can't stand American Idol, either. You're not a musician if you can't play. You're a karaoke singer who leaves Cletus' Rib Shack and somehow ends up on TV.

I'm done now. I likely explained nothing, but I'm not going back on it now.

Oh, and I can play guitar, too.

munsoned said...

Dude! I was that kid in the car too! My older brother hated it, because we'd always have to pull over to let me throw-up when we had our family trips in the Mountains. Dramamine was my friend. And yes, Primus on my walkman got me through many car trips.

So you hate the instrument that I got my degree in. Imagine having a solo on the upright bass. 45 minutes of that was my senior thesis in college. Great stuff.

I was in a half band once. It was me on bass in the 10th grade, and 2 junior high friends on guitar and drums. We played really well, but had no lead singer. You know those cheesy talent shows at school. We did one for the Jr. High and our act was last after all the lame ones. They'd drop the curtain and our custom stage lights would go up as we started with our cover of "Enter the Sandman." The girls went NUTS!!! That had a slight influence on my sticking with being a musician.

Good stuff Bryan.

bryan said...

Nah, I don't hate the bass. I think I hated not having a say in whether or not I played it. I don't hate any instrument, really. When played by the right musician, anything can sound wonderful. Including, but not limited to, a tuba.

And we never pulled over. I had a coffee can with a lid. Seriously.

We played enter Sandman, too. I never sang it because it trashed my voice for the rest of the show. The bass lines for most of Metallica's black CD may be the easiest in recorded music history. Even I could play them, and I was a hack.

But if you really want to get the chicks, you have to play Clapton's Wonderful Tonight. I would never believe it if it hadn't happened.

Peter said...

I don't have time to read Bryan's post at the moment and I do nor really care because this post is to glorify Munson. So back off a-hole. Just kidding Bryan, I'm just on a slow computer.

Music aside and music applied Mike,

You are a very colorful person for sure. I think that you are the true epitome of a good midwesterner. I think you are a great guy and always will. I truly hope that you don't take all the kidding personally, but if you did/do, just know that I don't think much of many people in this world and you are a truly good person.

You have so many great attributes that you have already put to use. Not many people are honest hard workers with such a good sense of empathy towards others. Take pride in your open-mindedness. That is not something many people are blessed with.

People rarely hear what they deserve to hear in life. The world wouldn't be in such a shitty dismay if it was filled with more people like you.

Your Broskie,


Peter said...

P.S. I find this post quite ironic. Today, I was just thinking back on my early childhood and my likes in music up until now. I will share those later. Also, the new neighbor I met yesterday is the female version of Munson. My dad said that she seemed like a very good person- which is an odd thing for my father to say about someone right off the bat. Different versions of Mike Munsons are covering the earth at a rapid pace. Goodbye global warming, hello world funk and peace.