I get into the different genres of music in phases. I guess I’m a late bloomer in the sense that I opened myself to different kinds of music after a rather long while. Better late than never, I guess. I loved boy bands in primary school, then moved on to Eminem and a bit of Limp Bizkit in middle school. Then to Evanescence and Linkin Park in seventh grade. I was into emo during the early part of high school and I became a ‘serious’ jazz/standards listener by early college (in particular, I was a fan of Ella Fitzgerald). I felt that I was a no-bullsh*t fan of 80s new wave/post-punk when I was 18 and 19.
Thanks to Chuck Klosterman’s book “Fargo Rock City,” I’ve gotten hooked into metal. I’m still in my exploratory stage, but that’s okay. This means there’s a truckload of things I’ve yet to discover and experience. This should be exciting.
What else did I learn? Well, Klosterman is a very opinionated thinker - which is a good thing more often than it is not - and accompanying his views are insights that the musically/culturally aware can use. It also aids in my personal reflection on things that matter to me.
The main point of this post: Rock is stupid.
Were I immature or less informed, I would be quick to contest the assertion. Yes, music takes thought and creativity and yes, music-making is a product of skill and talent. These things are true, but they’re beyond the outskirts of the context. The real question one should look at is this: What is rock n’ roll about?
I would figure that rock is about expressing yourself and having a blast while at it. It’s about being able to relate - to feel like you belong and involved in something that feels real. Rock is about being honest, stripped of any pretense or politics. No, it’s not about being brainless and an idiot, although there are lots of dumbasses in the world. It’s not just about the rock n’ roll lifestyle (read: using your star status as an excuse to get wasted five days a week). If you think that the statement is being anti-intellectual, you’re wrong. Nothing’s bad about being smart - if that’s what comes naturally. The problem only materializes when people become snooty and condescending about their own brilliance - whether as a listener or as a musician.
I was watching “Almost Famous” again earlier today. In a scene, Lester Bangs lectures William (the protagonist) about rock n’ roll. He described rock as “a form that is gloriously and righteously dumb. The day it ceases to be dumb is the day it ceases to be real.” The key word is “real.” This pertains to honesty - see the preceding paragraph.
As an artist, I sometimes find it difficult to work when uninspired. I spend hours on the keyboard or on the guitar, practically toiling, hoping to come up with something cool. 90% of that uninspired time, I end up quitting. I’d feel like an uncreative imbecile, unworthy of the word I called myself (the third word of the first line of this paragraph). But when I’m inspired, the magic (excuse the term) just rolls out like a tossed red carpet. I hardly even need to try, and I feel extremely happy (not the smiley kind of happiness, but something deeper). My efforts are not at all contrived and when I’m lucky, I even get to complete a full-band demo within a couple of hours.
Towards the conclusion of “Fargo,” Klosterman details his superlative love for Motley Crue (see photo). Although he thoroughly enjoyed and admired Radiohead later on, he declared that nothing could beat his love for Crue. Why? Because he was fifteen when he got into them. When you’re fifteen, your life is crazy and what you need is something, anything that you could feel warm and at home with. For Klosterman, it was “Shout at the Devil” or maybe even “Too Fast for Love.” Listening to their music made him feel like he was understood, which left a mark given that teenage years are crucial years in any human being’s life.
I get what he means. When I was fifteen, I was mainly into Saosin and My Chemical Romance. I was an outcast, loveless, and my Calculus grades were the bane of my existence. Looking back, my taste lay in music that was really loud and vocally whiny. I can now sympathize with my parents’ former dismay each time I’d blast Saosin/MCR stuff. But during the time, they expressed my unspoken teenage angst and drama. Anthony Green (fine, maybe Cove as well) and Gerard Way were the singers of my hormone-splashed anthems. Today, although I don’t revere those bands the way Klosterman reveres Crue, they hold a special place in my heart. During the select few times I’d listen to “Seven Years” or “I Never Told You What I Did for a Living,” I get this sense that I’m being transported back to that weird period in my life. I’d say I feel sentimental, but mostly I’m just weirded out. I suppose the emotions were so extreme and lasting, they molded my person into who I’ve turned out to be. I’m led to believe that the scars of my teenage years will never fade away - and there lies the point.
There are times when the emotional will rule out the intellectual and almost always, this is the case with rock music. You can forget the technicalities and cerebral junk - but never take away the heart in it. Or the soul in it, whatever. Punk in the 70s was like that. Though the production quality was usually crap, the songs stood out ‘cause they were great. People could relate to them on the emotional level - too much, in fact. As for myself, back then it really was only the music I paid attention to. I’d put on my earphones and lipsync to all the shrieking and screaming (I preferred this to singing along ‘cause I’d have rattled the neighborhood awake at 2AM if I actually sang) ‘cause my love for girl x went unrequited and I miserably failed my Math test for the hundredth time. I didn’t exactly care for image or “scene politics.” For one, I hardly understood it. Today, there’s an overdose of damn-giving when it comes people’s opinions. It gets difficult to shut out, and it messes with your head and gets in the way of enjoying art and music. In retrospect, things were much purer and unadulterated. Ignorance was bliss.
As I’ve said, I only opened my doors to different kinds of music later on. I’m currently digging Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and even Motley Crue. I think they’re pretty rocking, even if people who grew up in the 80s now see them as tacky. I could care less about their relevance or lack thereof anyway. I just love it - not in the way I loved emo before, but I’m passionate about the music. I guess that’s all that matters. Music is the essence of my life - I live, breathe, sleep, eat pizza and work with music. I may not love all the stuff out there, but I certainly appreciate them. Although this entry requires heavy thought and introspection, I forego any complexities when I listen. I get lost in it - and in those moments, nothing is more real. It’s just me and the rock, or jazz, or post-rock, or the new wave, thrash metal or whatever it is. At that moment, I am existentially electrified.
I guess you can afford to call it stupid or dumb because the experience is inexplicable. Ultimately, words fail. Mock me if you will, but I warn you - I won’t hear you through my headphones.