March 12, 2003

What's on my mind: childhood. I've been thinking hard on the subject of my formative years as a music fan -- how the way I received and appreciated music back then differs from what I do with it now. I feel like I'm regressing, and this may be a good thing -- even though to some extent I'm always fanatical about whatever music I have on my plate at the time, when I'm depressed I'm more prone to take things in passively, to leave MTV or VH1 Classic on for hours and let the steady stream of songs slowly ooze over me. Normally I discover things by browsing SoulSeek; poring through the racks at Other Music; reading blogs, magazines, books, press releases; getting tips from friends. It requires a lot of work on my part.

When I was a kid, when I still relied on my parents or my scant/sporadic allowance to pay for my records, I listened to the radio damn near all the time to compensate for what little I owned. I was a fucking geek about it, too, but it was NYC in the '80s, and a few flips around the dial could give a youngster an amazing education. Z-100 and WPLJ for pop; KISS-FM and WBLS for hip-hop, soul, funk, quiet storm; Hot 97 for dance music, nuyorican salsapop; K-Rock for classic rock and WNEW for classic and modern rock (it's where I first heard R.E.M., back in 1987); CBS-FM for oldies. There were some great left-of-the-dial stations too (WFMU, WSOU, WBAI back when it was still interesting), but I listened to the center-dial stations with the most regularity, and there was a period of about three years in the mid-to-late '80s when my hyperactive nervous energy channeled itself into an unhealthy obsession-compulsion with the American Top 40 -- come hell or highwater pants, I tuned in to the countdown every weekend and made everyone in the family car SHUT UP while Casey Kasem was talking. I didn't know from math or social studies, but I knew chart positions. I was precocious and probably very difficult, but this music stuff was more relevant to me than anything else in my life.

And I was discriminating. I was a savvy little kid with considerably terrific taste for someone who knew absolutely nothing -- back in the very early '80s, I knew I preferred Devo and Blondie to Phil Collins and Christopher Cross, and a little later on I loved Roxanne Shante and thought Huey Lewis was full of shit, and I remember getting very excited when I went with my dad to something called the New York Music Awards (this would be '85 or '86) and Lou Reed and Run-DMC (and I'm pretty sure Joey Ramone too) were up there on the stage.

My fascination with this stuff came long before I'd ever understood words like "genre" and "canon," and I was better for it -- I was aware there were different types of music (obviously), but it wasn't until junior high school that I realized there were folks out there who only liked one type of music, that that one genre was helpful in defining your identity. (I tried to be a metalhead in seventh grade, and I really did love Guns 'n' Roses, Metallica, and some other bands, but I wasn't a very convincing hesher -- I was starting to get hip to punk and Dylan and the Velvets and also one day in ninth grade my "satanic weirdo" bubble was totally burst when I was caught red-handed humming "Vision of Love" in the music room. Nota bene: Mariah and I have long since parted ways, but I still like that song.)

But anyway once I got to high school (fall '91 -- I transferred in as a sophomore), and once I got wind of Nevermind, I started etching out a serious self-conscious canon-abiding "geek" aesthetic, one that would never quite begin to hang together in any coherent (cohesive) way until about ten years later, by which time I was good 'n' ready to reject it all.

So now I'm right back at square one, reconnecting with my past, and I was fucking right -- my taste was that good, and everything I've learned since then hasn't been (intentionally or not) PENANCE for my naivete, it's just a logical progression, me casting my net beyond the signal from the top of the Empire State Building out to the larger world. Nuttin' wrong with that. But MY GOD, that music from my childhood just sparkles when I listen to my handful of old records again now, or when I see the videos on TV, some for the first time in twentyodd years. It's a wonderful thing to experience.