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Why Music Matters

I am a codger. At least in the eyes of most teenagers and 20-somethings, I am a codger. But when it comes to music, I don’t have to be.

I am a 51-year-old father of 2 daughters – 1 teenager and 1 not too far away. They both are learning music in school and through lessons outside of school. When it came to the music they listen to, I figured I could choose one of two courses. I could either sit back listen to my own old stuff like Joe Jackson and Steely Dan and ignore what they listen to, or I could start listening to new music.

In the first case, I figured that the most likely outcome would be children who listened to Britney, Christina, and the other legions of similarly “positive” role models in the music industry. Yow! In the second case, they still might decide to listen to cra… um, artists like the ones I mentioned previously, but at the very least I could offer other choices. Choices like The White Stripes, The New Pornographers (on our iPods as “New P” to avoid the potential wrath of school authorities), Hot Hot Heat, The Raconteurs, Neko Case.

Friday, August 26, 2005 was the day I had my musical epiphany. I had been listening to some music that my older daughter had brought to my attention, but basically I was still living in the 80’s – Joe Jackson, Roxy Music, Dire Straits, Talking Heads. Still good, but a couple of decades had passed, for goodness sake!

On that Friday night, however, we were going to see the White Stripes at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis. I had listened to several of the albums before the concert, and I was looking forward to the evening, but what I experienced was the best musical event of my life. After a nice but not too exciting set by the Greenhornes, the stage was reset in the traditional red, white and black colors of the White Stripes, including white palm fronds.

The concert opened with “Black Math” from the “Elephant” album. Over the next 2 hours Jack White played unbelievable guitar, mandolin, piano and marimbas. Meg White whacked complete hell out of her drum kit. They played a varied mix of songs from their 5 albums, including almost all of the songs from “Get Behind Me Satan”. By the time the concert ended with “The Hardest Button To Button” and “Seven Nation Army”, I was transfixed – transported – transcendent. That 2 people could make such a glorious noise was breathtaking. I don’t know if I let my daughter get a word in on the trip home. (She probably did.)

I was HOOKED!!!

After seeing the White Stripes live, I needed more new music. So, I added several new albums to my iPod: The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, All-American Rejects, Outkast, Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose” (produced by Jack White), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie, The Strokes…

In April, 2006 I took my daughter to another concert: the opening set by The Cribs followed by Franz Ferdinand and Death Cab For Cutie. Fantastic show! Alex Kapranos and the other Franzers were fabulous. They performed with great energy, particularly 40’, Darts of Pleasure and Do You Want To. The show stopping number came from Death Cab, when Ben Gibbard performed I Will Follow You Into The Dark a cappella.

After attending the Death Cab / Franz show and listening to a bunch of new music, I also realized that there were some artists that were loved by the critics, but didn’t do much for me. For example, the #1 and #2 albums on Metacritic for 2005 were Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens and Z by My Morning Jacket. I thought both were OK, but I don’t go back and listen to them a lot. (My most listened to CD from 2005 is Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers.) I don’t get Bright Eyes / Conor Oberst. I don’t get Tom Waits. I’ve never gotten Bruce Springsteen and his Pete Seeger album just doesn’t do it for me.

What I love about this is that music is fun again! There is a lot of good music out there for every taste. And I want mine!

For me the excitement of music is putting on an album by someone I have never heard of or a new album by an artist that I love. I’ll start at track 1 and spend 40-50 minutes just absorbing. The results can be exhilarating or disappointing, but the process itself is the best part. Can disappointment be exciting? I’d have to say “Yes”. There is nothing in world quite like those first moments of discovery.

Right now, I am particularly looking forward to “Icky Thump”, the album due from the White Stripes this summer. The genius of Jack White is that he simply has the ability to thrill when you listen to a White Stripes album for the first time. You can only hear it once for the first time. That is the ultimate beauty of music.

When their 2005 album “Get Behind Me Satan” starts with “Blue Orchid” and Meg White’s thumping drums and Jack’s thrashing guitar, you know you are off to a great start. Then marimbas, for goodness sake, starting off “The Nurse”. How could you expect that? Then in the rest of the album you have mandolin bluegrass (”Little Ghost”), piano-infused driving rock (”The Denial Twist”), classic blues (”Instinct Blues”) and an ode to Rita Hayworth (”Take, Take, Take”). When the album finally ends with “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”, a country piano melody with lyrics that dishes out the disses, your breath has better be taken away or I’ll be checking for your pulse.

When I heard Tokyo Police Club for the first time, I thought that here is a young band who I could be listening to for years. Someone at my day job mentioned Amel Larrieux to me today. Never heard of her. But the samples I heard intrigued me. R&B is not my usual favorite genre, but I’ll try anything.

Deerhoof, Snowden, Love of Diagrams, Calla, The Guillemots, The Earlies, Cold War Kids. I love this stuff, even when I don’t.



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