Monday, May 10, 2010

The music that made you (and you and you and you)

I've temporarily abandoned the "music that made me" project. It's not that there aren't many albums that challenged my assumptions of what "good music" is, but there are few that I can say I've fallen in love with. And none I can say have really saved my life.

Hortense from Jezebel wrote a piece on how No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom saved her life, and it got me thinking that I totally missed out on some fantastic girl rock by being a few years to old, and far too jaded. I was well into my twenties when that record came out; I loathed mainstream rock. (And I was just savvy enough not to ignore the cultural appropriation: the bindis, the henna..) Besides Madonna, in the late 80s and early 90s when I was a teenager, there weren't many strong, female role models in music. Debbie Gibson and Tiffany? Not exactly. Sure there was Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, and the Breeder's Kim Deal, but indie rock was largely unavailable to me then. (More on that here.) Even Joan Jett, the quintessential 80s rock chick, remained off my radar. I was sort of screwed, generationally speaking.

If I'm being completely honest, had I been a decade younger, I don't know if I would have listened to Liz, Alanis, Tori, or Gwen. From about twelve to seventeen, my main criterion for listening to music was "Can I sing this?" Being cursed with a deep-ish contralto kind of excludes all those, save for Liz and Courtney.

Okay, yeah. I have one paradigm-shifting album, and I feel like a "bad feminist" for it: it's the Replacements'Tim, a full decade after it was released:

I was in my twenties then, out of college and looking to expand my record collection. I was thumbing through the used cd bin at a used record store when I spotted what was probably one of the ugliest album covers ever: all purples and grays with a picture of a long corridor or tunnel on the front and the title, Tim, written in yellow cursive in the upper right corner underneath what I think were rough pencil sketches of each band member. I’d read enough reviews to know that it was part of the “holy trinity” of Replacements albums. (1984’s Let It Be, brazenly named after the Beatles album, and Pleased To Meet Me, which came out in 1987, were the other two.) I had five dollars burning a hole in my pocket, the exact price. It was fate.

I didn’t play that cd right away. When I got home I set it down on my messy desk where it stared at me for a few days. Finally, I threw in in the stereo and waited for the magic to begin.

I don’t really know when it hit me that this was going to be the turning point in my musical education, but I had to get past my idea of what good music is. I was raised on top forty pap, and this was anything but. There was nothing polished about it. It sounded like the type of music my guy friends in ad-hoc garage bands made. Because it kind of was.

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