Dusty Crates and Golden Streams
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The Joys of Pushing Beyond the Comfort Zone
MAYBE this is another case of nostalgia…
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or me reminiscing about when music came into my life. In fact, I want to also combine a couple of disparate subjects: preserving memories and guilty pleasures. I shall come to the second in a bit but, recently, I have been getting a bit worried. One of the reasons I am so passionate about music is my childhood: so many happy times when, in some form or the other, music played a pivotal role. Whether it was my earliest musical memories when I was in primary school or new discoveries as I progressed through to high-school. One thing is for sure: these recollections and experiences are among the most important and cherished. Some of these memories are getting blurry and I wonder, very soon, whether a lot of them will be gone. Of course, so much of my childhood has disappeared from mind but there is something hugely important and relevant about music-related ones – I feel they are starting to slip away. I bring up this subject because it was the music I was exposed to growing up that has led to my current desire to drink in as much as possible. Back then, I was collecting albums, singles and trying to digest as much music as possible. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, everything from Pop, Britpop; Grunge Hip-Hop and Folk was in my life. I was lucky enough to have music play a massive role from a very early age – my parents’ records definitely lit a spark and kindled a desire.
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I know the happy memories of music will die out and it is not really the loss of childhood that worries me most: more than the visions and people in my mind, it is the songs and sounds that I will miss the most. Thinking about this inevitable state of affairs has made me look at the music I listen to now and wonder whether I am being as broad and explorative as I could be. A while ago, I asked whether there is such thing as a guilty pleasure. We often use those words in inverted commas because, I guess, it is subjective as to what constitutes a guilty pleasure. Sure, there is bad music – I don’t think that is subjective: most of us can agree on stuff that is pretty awful – but I do not feel anyone should be judged and condemned for liking certain artists. As I am typing this, I am listening to The Look by Roxette. I am not sure what led me to them but I fell down a bit of a Swedish Pop hole and went from Ace of Base to The Cardigans – ending up at the feet of Roxette. Some people might call bands like that uncool and a bit of a guilty pleasure. I also have a fond spot for some of the 1980s/1990s Pop that might be considered a bit naff (including Belinda Carlisle) but I think so many of us get caught in a loop.
I think streaming services are great when it comes to giving us access to all kinds of music. That is perhaps the biggest revolution of modern music: the opening of doors and channels not only exposes so much great music from the past, for a low cost, but allows new artists to have their voice heard. That is not to say that we are only listening to digital music. It has been announced vinyl sales are outstripping that of C.D.s for the first time since 1986. So much of my eclectic upbringing when it came to music can be linked to physical formats. I had this tangible and tactile relationship with music and I wonder, with so much music in streaming rather than in record shops, are we all as curious and boundary-pushing as we should be?! One of the issues with sites like Spotify and YouTube are the recommendations. They will give us playlists and suggestions based on our listening figures but, often, these songs are too close to the ones we are listening to and, inevitably, it means our palettes are not as broad as they should be. Record shops are still there – although a lot are closing down – to satisfy those who love vinyl but I have this continued worry streaming services are struggling to give people a balance of sounds and possibilities.
IN THIS PHOTO: Ella Mai/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I am lucky I listen to a station like BBC Radio 6 Music but, even then, they are confined in terms of songs and genres – one will not find a lot of modern Pop/Country, for instance or classic tracks that might be covered by BBC Radio 1 and 2 respectively. It is a great surprise stumbling on a song you have not heard for years, but I think that is actually a problem with the modern age. There are some terrific podcasts and radio broadcasts that help guide us to uncovered gems and classic cuts. I think a lot of our tastes revolve around what we have heard before and slight extensions on that. It sort of gets me thinking back to my point about so-called ‘guilty pleasures’. Do we turn our noses up at entire genres and radio stations, assuming they will have nothing that floats our boast?! I am not a huge fan of mainstream Pop but I have found myself surprised and fulfilled by artists like Ella Mai and Carly Rae Jepsen. I have not listened to a lot of Country music for a while bit, again, I have stumbled upon podcasts and shows that have opened my eyes. It is strangely pleasing getting into our grooves and listening to music that makes us feel comfortable and happy. I get that. I do feel we struggle to keep on top of everything and, as such, tend to keep our focus quite narrow. I know a lot of people who are very ambitious and will scour record shops and playlists for the best new music and those older albums that we should be listening to more.
One cannot embrace everything – not all music is equal and valid – but I do think we all get sort of comfortable and cosy with what we know and that is that. Maybe it is just me. It is difficult to drink in every drop of great new music and nodding to the best and coolest from the past. I was listening to BBC Radio 6 Music’s Shola Aleje present a two-hour slot on Totally Wired Radio last night (from 8-10 p.m.) and was blown away. Not only is she younger than me – and has a deeper passion that I for music – but her taste and knowledge was extraordinary. Listening to the show and I was reconnecting with artists and songs that I had neglected and allowed to collect dust. I am now resolved to be a lot less stubborn and more adventurous. I am broader and hungrier than most because, as a music lover and journalist, I am always listening to new music from all over the sonic map and keep my dial locked to the best radio station around. I guess even radio stations are limited and can get caught in traps…playing the same songs from the same artists or overlooking certain genres. How often do we hear album tracks from legendary artists rather than singles? Are stations too bound by figures and demographics that means, a lot of the time, we need to retune and skip through stations to get a wider education? I think radio is invaluable – and I am indebted to and adoring of BBC Radio 6 Music – but I think we all need to resolve to expand our collections and be a bit braver.
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Maybe some hip, young thing scratches their Hoxton facial hair with imperious disregard when people like me listen to some of the artists we grew up on – how would they take to folk like Traveling Wilburys and Steely Dan?! A lot of older listeners tend to be dismissive of younger artists and we can get into this tribal mind-state. The most rewarding musical experiences come from stepping beyond my boundaries and opening my arms to something new; listening to modern Pop or trying an artist from the past that I have been relatively distant from until now. This all circles back to my opening concern regarding memory and its fragility. What I would pay someone to invent a device that bottled all of my memories; ones I could arrange to ensure that I never forget when music came into my life and those times when various artists scored some truly wonderful and transcendent times. I still fondly recall a school chum getting on a year when I was in Mr. Bailey’s class and he blasted The Shamen’s Eberneezer Goode out to the class (this was the early-1990s and state schools were pretty relaxed!). I cherish after-school hang-outs with friends and times when we put on a cassette or C.D. and just submitted to the power of music. I hold dear moments when I used to take the bus to my local town and buy the latest single from whomever was expected to ride the charts – I recall buying stuff from The Divine Comedy (National Express) and Mr Oizo (Flat Beat) and being giddy with satisfaction!
How about when I received my GCSE results in 1999 and Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) soundtracked that?! How about, too, when my sister bought me The Beatles’ number-ones collection in 2000 or when I first discovered Madonna back in the late-1980s?! All of these memories are dear and part of my life…it scares the crap out of me that they are starting to fall away. The reason they are still in my mind is because of the sheer breadth of my tastes. I was brought up around so much different music and would not be a journalist if it were not for my parents and my appetite as a child. Rather than dread the ticking of time and the erosion of precious memories, I feel, oddly, engaging in as much different music now as possible can help strengthen fading memories and actually help preserve recollections from childhood – some might say that is faulty and ambitious but I think it is possible! If people like me learn from our past and forge barriers then I think we will all be a lot richer and wiser. There are natural limits and, you understand, such is the tidal wave of new music that it is impossible to even absorb a small percentage of it. As much as I adore certain radio stations and artists, I will be bolder; I will take the time to re-explore the legends of the past and spend a few hours a week getting on top of all of the best new music around.
It sounds exhausting but I feel it is beneficial to me, not just as a journalist, but as someone who tends to retreat to those songs/artists that lift me up and have permanent residence in my limbic system. There is nothing wrong with nostalgia and remembering childhood – it makes us happy and connected to the past – but I think so many of put up walls and define ourselves too rigidly. If you once ignored a certain time period or genre then give it a try! I am, as I said, finding myself struck my tracks I thought I wouldn’t enjoy and realising that, when you let this music in, the effects are immense and immediate. Whilst rounding this feature up, I am thinking of some artists I am going to attack very soon – some more Traveling Wilburys and some classic House music – but I am also resolved to have a peek at some cool underground sounds of now. I get caught in ruts and I think shaking that habit is a good thing. I think we all could do with widened our scope and taking some bold steps now and then. My revelation and new resolution comes from my (genuine) worry that my childhood is getting lost in the fog and, with it, so many of the musical memories that make me smile will be lost. There is not much I can do about that. It seems strange to say this but, in order to be a more rounded and enriched music lover now, I have to embrace the future as much as possible and…
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LET the past go.