>How strongly are we shaped by the music we grew up with? This is something I’ve been pondering for a while: how whatever music blasting out of our stereos in our formative years jolts our brains into valuing different aspects of sound far into adulthood. This whole “good taste” in music really is a load of nothing when you think about it, ’cause hey, maybe all we’re doing when we hear music we like is reacting to an impulse implanted deep, deep within our brains when we were like 3 years old! Maybe that obnoxious kid on your street who you always see loudly skateboarding on the sidewalk is only wearing that Linkin Park T-shirt ’cause he has to! ’cause his tainted brain demands it!!
Listen, I’m no scientist, but I demand my theory be tested by the greatest scientific minds of our era. If there’s any weight here and we all work hard enough to fund the project, we can make any good impulses toward Linkin Park extinct by 2020.
Either way, I can’t help but ponder this ‘cuz the more I remember my own musical upbringing, the more I realize how fucked up it was. Perhaps some comparison is in order; since reading Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, chronicling a handful of seminal American indie bands in the ’80s, I keep hearing about these kids in their 20s viewing the music they grew up with in the ’60s and the ’70s as the ultimate ideal, holding it dear to them and funneling it through this exciting new music they were creating. At the same time, they were a generation of kids separated from the first wave of rock ‘n roll in the ’50s, instead being weaned on ’60s hippiedom and ’70s slick arena rock; as the Replacements put it, they were forced to celebrate their own “fucked-up heritage.”
And man, that flabbergasted me. If growing up with ’70s rock was already considered fucked up as far back as the ’80s, where does that leave kids like me? Nowadays all that slick-radio-ready Boston/Aerosmith/Kansas shit is called “classic rock,” which gives people our age the impression that it’s music from a simpler, purer time (yes… the ’70s). So jesus, what does that say about us? I was a kid born in the late ’80s, a time where more than a few people already considered rock ‘n roll dead two or three times over. For a while I was raised on Broadway musicals and almost nothing else, save for ’80s pop like Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Prince, and the Footloose soundtrack. Once I finally started getting into new pop music, it was already the late ’90s, a time where even so-called “alternative” rock was on the skids and teeny-pop music was at its zenith of artificiality thanks to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Besides teen-pop, some of music’s worst genres ever were springing up in droves: emo-pop, rap-rock, punk-pop, nu-metal, ska-punk, faceless R&B, crunk, Latin dance-pop, and obnoxious novelty acts like the Bloodhound Gang and the Baha Men. Oh, and Creed were there, too.
Jesus. If Paul Westerberg’s upbringing was fucked-up ’cause of Styx, mine must be real fucked up.
Now, any logical kid my age would either try to suppress these shitty musical roots by any means possible, or embrace them so much that they somehow think Sublime were better than the Beach Boys or something. Most of the time it’s either one or the other. In my case, once the Beatles and a legion of classic rock bands invaded my stereo commando-style to “save” my taste in music, I pretty much became the former – a rock ‘n roll purist vehemently against the stupid music of my generation. Problem is, deep down, I wasn’t really a purist, I just wanted to have decent tastes in music and not look like the 12-year-old TRL-watching goon I used to be. Suppressing my instinctive attraction to all that stupid shitty late-90s pop was something I could never get away with for very long.
Don’t get me wrong here – I loved all that classic rock. Furthermore I still love all the punk, indie, alt-rock, post-punk, hardcore, whathaveyou business that I’ve been neck-deep in since I started college and let my tastes mature. But I’ll be honest, it is necessary – crucial – for me to listen to the Replacements or Richard Hell about as much as, say, the Backstreet Boys or Blink-182. This isn’t because I consider those bands to be equal in terms of artistry, oh no. It’s even gone beyond mere nostalgia, although that still plays a big part in it. No, this music is my heritage now. I grew up with it, and it’s mine. It’s part of my DNA. Whatever record executive masterminded these songs succeeded 100 percent of the way, because even in my adulthood they have never escaped my brain. So instead of dismissing them as the passing fancies of a pre-teen, I’ll play them over and over, let them bury themselves further and further into my skull until one day I’ll spit them back out with some burst of artistic positivity. Make them work for me.
And hell, why shouldn’t I? This stuff isn’t going to destroy my matured adult tastes anytime soon. It just makes me feel good, in a way that a Fugazi song never could. Yeah, my musical upbringing could be considered unnatural, but if anything all those obnoxiously-catchy songs have taught me the value of a good melodic hook. If I can let the good aspects of this music influence me, why worry about the bad? And hey, once in a while I’ll find a band I grew up with that I don’t have to be ashamed about. Last year I heard Hanson’s “MMMBop” for the first time since I was ten, a song I hated when it was released; all the sudden, it sounded fresh and wonderful to me. Just a few days ago I heard another one of theirs, the later “This Time Around,” which sounded even better to me. Keep digging and once in a while you’ll find a diamond in the rough.
I guess the bottom line is this: whatever your musical heritage is, feel free to hear it, twist it, burn it, bury it, smash it, dance to it, blast it, celebrate it in any way you see fit. No matter how fucked up it is, you have that power.