Friday, January 11, 2008

My Music Is Better Than Yours

By Nicole Pope

Nothing provokes music lovers more than having to defend their taste in music. Now that I have your attention, I need your help solving a conundrum.

Anyone who knows me knows that when I’m not blogging, listening to music, or getting drunk and beckoning the wonderland, I’m teaching the youth of tomorrow (today?). I was putting some finishing touches on my syllabus yesterday and came across the following quote from the awe-inspiring text The Curious Reader (please note sarcasm):

“‘You’re entitled to your opinion, but you can’t say yours is better than mine.’ But is that true? Is it really impossible to make judgments about the worth of someone’s opinions simply because they’re entitled to have one in the first place?’”

Good question, Curious Reader. Incidentally, as is your purpose for existence, you have roused my curiosity as a reader. And as this question is applicable to any number of topics, naturally I think about music. Specifically, is it true that no music is “better” than another, since people’s definition of “better” rests so solidly on opinion/personal preference?

I’ve become more and more interested in this question as I think about the music that once whet my, err, whistle, and what I think of that music now. My fellow bloggers and I have decided that our Wayback Whensday feature would be a nice place to discuss not only older music we still hold dear, but also music we once adored that has not stood the test of time (I’ve argued we should make this its own feature, Shame Saturday.) The truth is, there isn’t much music I once listened to that I still love. Yet does that necessarily mean the music I listen to now is better? I would resoundingly say yes, but perhaps I should examine the assumptions behind that statement.

Let me assert why I think the music I listen to now is more intelligent, a claim that is far easier to substantiate -- and I suppose is what I really mean by "better."

  • A sound that is either "new" (as much as that is possible), or at least takes an old sound or combination of old sounds and makes them new or unique. This cuts away all of that radio-friendly garbage that I used to listen to. This also means listening to music that might be off putting at first, because it does not fit a mold I'm accustomed to. Incidentally, very little scares me off these days, which I could not say a few years ago.

  • Lyrics that don't have to be about break-ups or getting drunk/laid or finding true love. In fact, the lyrics may not even make sense in terms of a traditional narrative. The best lyrics, in my opinion, resemble poetry (see: Neutral Milk Hotel). Repeat listens are required to extricate the depth of meaning and emotion.

  • Song structures that are more complex and intricate. This means - shock! - not every song has to follow the traditional Verse-Verse-Chorus-Verse -Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus structure. Even bigger shock, songs don't even have to have a chorus! Or the song might start off in one direction, and end up turning into a completely different song. (Lately Backdrifter and I have talked about how Built to Spill are masters at this craft. SonicRyan's mentioned old Interpol, and I have to concur.)

  • Music that is critically recognized as innovative, risk-taking, rewarding. (Perhaps this one shouldn't be on here? What do you think? Certainly there are critically rebuffed albums that I still enjoy, yet there is satisfaction in knowing, "This is considered 'GOOD' music, and I 'GET' it." I don't mean to sound like a snob here, I'm just truth telling.)

I guess my purpose in writing today's column is to acknowledge that 1. I am a music snob, 2. Within the past seven or eight years I was still listening to some shameful music, so I ought not have a right to be a snob, 3. Yet because I've gone on this musical journey I feel that I do have a right to say that the music I listen to now is "better," and 4. Does any of this really matter, since people are going to listen to whatever they want to anyhow? Should I just say let them have their Fall Out Boy, and eat it, too?

Read last week's Unappreciated Scholar.


SonicRyan said...

Personally, I like my Fall Out Boy served over-easy.

But in all seriousness, I can't say that I have better taste in music than you, mostly because our tastes are nearly identical, but also because, as you mentioned, taste in music is subjective. I do find it funny that some people get bent out of shape over what the music we listen to. If I told you I hated tomatoes (which I do) you wouldn't even bat an eye, but if one day I said I hated Radiohead, it would probably cause an unpleasant reaction. Its funny how certain things, music being one of them, can affect people in this way.

Now, I have to admit that was not always such a live-and-let-live type of person. I was that person who would flame others on message boards over their taste in music. "What, you still listen to Oasis?!? Fuck, even I got over that shit in high school. Why don't you go back to 1994 and take your sorry avatar with you!"

Thankfully I've grown out of that stage. I was even un-ironically singing along with "Supersonic" at the Red Lyon the other night, well, as much of it as I could remember. Then again, when the Wallflowers came on I was sorta gagging on my own vomit. I'm taking baby steps, I guess...

Femme Fatale said...

Actually I think it is pretty bullshit that you hate tomatoes.

The Moon said...

I think I could have a conversation about this but I'm not sure I can just flat out write about it...?

When it comes down to it it's not really just about the music it's about growing and opening yourself and your eyes... some people can do this... some people just can't.

The music we listen to isn't really better per-say, it's just what we need to feed our minds, our souls, and everyone is going to have a different appetite. The purpose of blogs like this, publication in general, is to help those who might have similar needs find what just might help them make it through the day... and maybe, just maybe give someone a taste of something they didn't know was out there.

I've known people who wouldn't take medicine that would save/extend their life just becuz they didn't understand it. Do you think you or I could really convince them to listen Deerhunter?

From at least me - Thank you for putting so much into this page.

Josh said...

There's a term that I learned in Theater 101 and promptly forgot that essentially means: "Influences on your enjoyment of a play other than the play itself."

The actual form of the music is important; don't get me wrong. But we all have what my old professor liked to call an "inner audience", usually composed of mental models of people we know or knew (friends, family, ex's, etc). This inner audience influences all of our opinions, usually subconsciously.

Then there are the external stimuli that can influence our tastes. These usually include but aren't limited to: the people we're with, the ambient noise, the mood we are in, how much we've had to eat, thoughts about the day, etc.

All this makes a huge difference in first and second impressions of art, and therefore our appreciation of it. That's why I try and give most things a second chance. Where was I going with this? I dunno... Fall Out Boy still sucks.

backdrifter said...

I know good music when I hear it. I can't really describe what I consider as good - and that's just the point. It cannot be formulaic (like most of the shit on the radio). An art form is great in the sense that you cannot put it in a box. You cannot devise a formula to create the best music. It's ever changing and evolving. I find it very rewarding listening to new music, because you get to make your own uninfluenced judgment before the masses spit out their assumptions. Musical taste is subjective, but I think we all know when something is bad. Something that is made to make cash - easily digested by the masses. What is even more horrible is music that doesn't even treat the music as paramount. When it's all about how hot Britney Spears or Ferrgi is instead of musical talent. Now that's BS.

Femme Fatale said...

I Heart Deerhunter. Moon, you can be really sweet you wanna be.

G said...

I would like to point out that unlike a lot of music talked about here, Built to Spill is a band that has consistently tried to expand their sound over the years. They have provided challenging, yet melodic music time and time again. To even invoke their name in the same breath as some of these other bands is idiotic. I feel queasy reading the words "fall out boy" in the same post as Built to Spill.

Femme Fatale said...

But I was using BTS as an example of a band that is NOT like the other shit....????

P.S. New album coming out this year! Woooooohooooo!

Mandy said...

I'll admit I occasionally listen to what some would call horrible music but I also listen to alot of great, intelligent music. It's all about the mood I'm in and what personality has consumed me on that given day. Trust me, I can't even tell you what hat I may be wearing tomorrow. I can't listen to indie rock everyday. I just can't. Somedays I want some classic rock, or classic country. Possibly it's that nostalgic feeling when hearing GNR - "Paradise City" that invokes a good memory of my little sister singing the crap out of that song when she was like 4 years old. Haha. Perhaps I want some Loretta Lynn when I'm feeling like taking someone to "Fist City." I appreciate older bands and where they came from and what they accomplished. I can't really explain why I like what I like though. I think I'm kind of an odd one out. I'm not listening to the new Fall Out Boy album but I may be dusting off that Garbage self-titled album and throwing it in my cd player. It may not stand the test of time but if it makes me happy who cares? Lately I've been craving to listen to more metal or electronica. I mean, what the hell is wrong with me? Haha.

Btw - The blog is looking beautiful and I very much enjoy the new topics/day themes. Love, Mandy

Girlfriend said...

When I first started dating Sonicryan I used to put my nose up in the air when he would talk about music. It was a joke to a certain extent... People have their opinions about everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Music is subjective, fuck, life is subjective. We all have our own view of the world and the events that surround us. Life is a massive conglomeration of experiences and, whether you like it or not, music/art are always going to be interwoven into these experiences. Just as you may remember the t-shirt color of the boy who gave you your first kiss you may remember that Elvis Presley was playing in your taxicab in Africa. Everything we smell, see, touch, taste and hear is our life. Music/sound is just 1/5 of it. And now that I am done writing my novel all I have to say is don't be ashamed of what you listen to. Music is a personal experience, its yours. Don't let someone's upward turned nose deter you from picking up a certain album. Enjoy music, that's what its there for.

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