I love good music. It makes me happy and occasionally moves me. I will take good music wherever I can find it. (Because I am a citizen of the world and super open-minded.) I will take good music from a Top 40 radio station. I will take good music from the records my parents played when we were growing up. I will take good music from my old boss whom I loathe. Just kidding. I wouldn’t take good music from her. I wouldn’t take a kidney donation from her. Anyway, all I really care about when it comes to music is that it be good. Here’s how I decide whether music is good: I listen to it and see if I like it. If I like it, it is good.
Unfortunately, music carries a lot of baggage. Some types of music are strongly associated with a particular cultural identity. I’m not sure what the reason behind this is, but I am sure that it’s not a good one. If you avoid a certain kind of music because it’s the not the kind of music associated with your particular cultural identity, or because you don’t like the particular cultural identity associated with a certain kind of music, you are going to miss out on some good music. I sort of did that for a while, and I offer my experience as a cautionary tale.
I listen to country music because it is part of my cultural identity. But even I can admit that it is terrible.
When I was in college I dated some girls who were really into indie music. For the uninitiated, “indie” stands for “independent,” meaning it’s not associated with a major record label, although the word has outgrown that original, literal meaning. It’s an amorphous, inexact term, but it’s applied well enough to bands and artists who make a certain kind of music that sounds a certain way. Anyway, being someone who really likes music, I was open to listening to some of the stuff that these girls liked. The problem I had was that I associated this kind of music with some of their friends – friends who all seemed to dress exactly the same way and who seemed to have a vested interest in making sure that other people didn’t discover the music that they loved so much.
These people seemed pretty annoyed when a band they’d liked for years finally hit the big time and got discovered by more casual music fans, but they also seemed pretty annoyed with people who hadn’t heard of the bands they loved to listen to. In fact, they seemed pretty annoyed at most things. The indie crowd didn’t really seem to have much variation in the kind of music they listened to; they weren’t ever going to bop their heads to the latest ear candy from Britney Spears, and they’d stifle the desire to sing along to “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys (I heard or read somewhere that there are two kinds of people in the world: people who admit to absolutely loving “I Want It That Way”, and liars).
One of these girls even sang in a local indie band, and one fine evening I went to see her sing at a house party. She probably should have warned me not to come wearing khakis and a polo shirt. There was one other guy dressed like me, but I’m pretty sure he was doing it ironically. The other accessory I seemed to be missing was a sad, knowing, faraway look in my eyes. After a few experiences like this I pegged all indie music as emaciated people singing songs that were long on melancholy and short on melody – with plenty of strange guitar solos and lots of self-indulgent, experimental boops and beeps and screeches – to a group of people who were all dressed exactly the same and who had a huge chip on the shoulder of their thrift store shirts. Not my scene.
The ensuing years have led me to discover that I was wrong. Really, really wrong (about the music; I still think a lot of hard-core indie music fans are super annoying). Indie music is probably my favorite kind of music. It’s not atonal. It’s not experimental or high concept or self-indulgent, or at least it isn’t necessarily those things. What it is – or what a lot of it is – is really, really good. And contrary to popular opinion, you can like it with adopting the associated cultural identity, allowing you to continue liking other types of music, too! Indeed, one of my favorite things about Melissa is the fact that she likes a lot of good indie stuff while at the same time liking literally the worst music ever made. Case in point: The Christmas mix she made this year was 98% 98 Degrees.
Anyway, I don’t claim to be at the forefront of indie music, or to have an encyclopedic knowledge of it. I just claim to like it. I think there’s a decent chance you’d like it, too, and that’s actually why I wrote this post in the first place: My friend Craig has a blog, You Should Be Listening to This, devoted to helping you discover really good music. Most of it is indie-ish, some of it isn’t, but all of it is good. Craig is out there, kissing a lot of frogs and then introducing you only to the princes. That metaphor is a little unfortunate, but you know what I mean. So go on, give You Should Be Listening to This a visit and a listen.