The 11 Discs of Christmas

Music is memories. Music conveys to me a sense of time and place, and brings back the people who I was with. I hear anything from the Forrest Gump soundtrack, and I’m instantly transported back to the last long summer, 94/95, and reading Robert Jordan’s Lord of Chaos, and my paternal Grandmother’s solo visit to NZ, of my first trek up Brooklyn hill to play in a Ravenloft game. “Bright Eyes” pins my memories to 1991, playing Talisman with my friends that remained from Sunday School, reading Piers Anthony, the house alterations my dad did to move a door and so turn a dining room into my sister’s bedroom. Or more recently, “Happy” was the thrashed refrain of the office radio in my first few weeks at Pell Frischmann, the last real engineering I did myself, the dramas of commuting before they became dulled by repetition and being in a book-free period. In this series I’ve not even mentioned some of my very favourite albums and artists – I just didn’t have space to fit She by Harry Connick Jnr, the third-most-listened album in my last.fm profile or my most controversial favourite, Hooray for Boobies. So it goes.

In some ways each of the albums I’ve talked about is a connection to the world, and was introduced by someone who was important in my life, even if just for a moment. But there’s a lot of music I’ve been introduced to and have decided not to dislike, to loathe, to hate, to simply not like and to pass without emotion one way or the other. I’ve come back to some of these artists later in life with fresh ears and found them a lot better. I remember absolutely hating Enya’s Watermark when I was a kid, and now I rather enjoy it. Disliking music is more complex than liking it in some ways, because the music you like feels personal and it feels like a statement of personality and values; when you dislike music someone else likes it feels like you dislike them. Would I have been married at 21 if I’d been passionate about baroque music and the Cranberries, about both of which I was pointlessly dismissive? If I’d grasped the allure of Lady Gaga and David Guetta, my second credible romance might have gone another route. I guess it’s too late to fall in love with Tom Waits now.

I once read that it’s impossible to critique your own culture, because it’s the tool you use to critique the world. It’s like wearing glasses – occasionally you’ll notice the frames, but 99% of the time your glasses are invisible to you, because that’s their whole purpose in existing. Writing this series has been a little like trying to take off my musical glasses and look at them directly. What I’ve learned by going through this exercise is that music is more than memories. It’s the contingent and malleable interpretation of those memories to give them context and meaning, to understand who I was and who the people around me were. Liking or disliking music is as much an act of self-definition as an unadulterated aesthetic response. The 11 albums I’ve presented in this series is just one possible way of thinking about myself, an interesting but necessarily contingent and fragmentary way.

Ideally what I’d like is for that elusive 12th album to complete my idealisation of myself to come from you, my readers. Always a difficult thing to ask of people casually consuming things posted on the Internet, and I expect at least a number of people reading this will have never met me. But, it is Christmas after all, the time for hope.

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