Why I’m Changing My Cynicism About Music

If you can imagine never being allowed to develop a taste for things you like because of the deafening sound of egomaniacal idiots in your life, boy do I have a story for you. I feel that my whole world is about to change when it comes to music.

After having just recorded a new episode of my horror podcast — the topic of which is toxic fandoms — I only realized a day or two later something truly life-shattering. It’s making me dig real deep to confront a truth that I’ve long tried to avoid. And we all know the first step to recovery is acknowledging you have a problem, right?

Ok, to explain. It’s no secret to those that know me that I liked the last season of Game of Thrones a lot more than most fans seemed to. Normally, this would be no big deal, except these butthurt fans went the extra mile and created a petition to rewrite the last season, and that petition got over a million signatures. This shouldn’t have pissed me off like it did, but it goddam did!

And it sealed the deal for me regarding the epidemic of what you might call the Fanboy Apocalypse. This is when people who have nothing better to do with themselves than to shit all over others, accusing them of an inflated, trumped up list of artistic charges, and in the process effectively tainting or ruining entirely the experience of basically everyone else who liked it.

But I realize that this is, in a way, more of a feature to fandom than a mere bug. You are not really a fan of something, one could say, unless you can articulate why your particular thing is shinier than the rest. It can be fun, actually, but so many people take it too far. In fact, it’s the main reason I never gravitated to music the way I did with movies.

Add to this the other reason I’m looking into this topic, which is the podcast, “Your Favorite Band Sucks.” I found it while trying to figure out why and the hell people still listen to Nirvana! Normally I wouldn’t go for something so confrontational, and as I just stated, fans that shit on the interests of others is bad, right?

Ok, you got me. It’s a double-edged sword.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle between “I don’t want you to have fun” and “this just plain isn’t good.” Perhaps the thing I appreciate about this podcast is how it highlights negative fan behavior, as well as the immoral actions of musicians that are elevated to god-like status, despite their misdeeds. Just because I say fans shouldn’t be awful to each other, that doesn’t mean we can’t have an honest conversation about what constitutes good music.

So you could say my relationship to music has been a flurry of both sorts of thoughts. Many times, I gravitate to music I’m not supposed to like, but then when music is put in front of me that everyone seems to like singing along to, I just scratch my head and wonder why. I get pressured to agree that something is good or bad, and I get it from all sides. It’s very stressful!

Perhaps it’s another reason I pursued my interest in horror. I’ve noticed that horror fans in particular, with few exceptions, are pretty amicable. Any fandom is going to have bad apples, but on the whole, the genre’s permissive nature lends itself to a culture of curiosity, rather than judgment. Horror fans tend to be more interested in your new thing than not. Familiar is fun, but so is the unfamiliar. They’ll watch blockbusters or Z-budget trash fare, they don’t care.

Music is not the same, though. Tastes seem to be very refined, and there just didn’t seem to be very many people like myself with such eclectic interests that would just let me have one now and again.

I probably know more about country music than any other genre, and I think one of the reasons is that, other than traditional versus contemporary, there really are no major feuds in the industry. I’m not going to say that country music is perfect and should not be criticized somewhat for its highly commercialized nature as of late, but then again, few genres have been immune to that influence.

Horror fans, by contrast, could care less. By all means, they say, make big-budget horror films! After all, the film credited with being the first blockbuster, was a horror film. But other genres of music are not viewed with this open-mindedness.

The problem was serious enough for me that, growing up, I just decided not to involve myself in any music scene at all. I never went to concerts, never built a collection, never dressed like any of my favorite bands, or covered my textbooks with band logs. People walked around wearing clothes like it was a kind of regalia — as if initiated into some society of which I would have to prove myself in order to be a member.

But all of my favorite things in life were things I got to discover, not things that required approval. Though lord knows I tried! I’m not saying I maintained an independence on this front at all, by the way. I tried to fit in as much as possible, and as I result, my knowledge and taste in pretty much all music outside country was basically given to me by others. It was not what I actually liked.

But in retrospect, as I’ve said before, I did stand out in my love for horror movies. Michael was the kid with camping and survival stuff, Jason was the kid who loved bottle rockets, Danny listened to Megadeath, and I was the one that brought the scary movie with boobs in it to the sleepover. That’s just how I thought it was supposed to go. We all had our things we were into, and we fed off each other.

I convinced myself that music, as a lifestyle, was just not my thing. But now that I realize the reasons for thinking this for so long, is it too late to dig in?

Well, why not?

I think perhaps the biggest genre in which I have been pulled in ever direction over the years has been classic rock, and this is where I want to start.

I’ve always been a fan of classic rock, and it used to be one of my favorite genres. I always just sort of enjoyed what was put in front of me, and took note of the songs I liked. And like clockwork, if I ever expressed interest in something, there was always someone ready to sit me down and give me an “education.”

Now, this sounds like a good thing, right? Fans are always eager to tell others about what they’ve found. If they can convert someone new into being a fan, then that’s one more fellow fan to geek out with! And that is an exciting moment, to show someone something that you’ve loved for such a long time, and to see them take those same first steps. S.A. Bradley of Hellbent For Horror calls it your “first kiss.”

But here’s the problem. So many fans don’t care about leading someone to their first kiss, they only want to relive their own first kiss vicariously through this other person. As a result, if I listen to your favorite Pink Floyd song and I don’t like it, the conversation is going to be “educational,” but in the totally wrong way. It may even venture into “you don’t have any taste at all” territory.

By now you probably see where I’m going with this.

I’ve formed many opinions about a number of genres and styles of music over the years, but classic rock is one that I’ve always found myself coming back to. But in all these years, I’ve never done a deep dive. I’ve never had a music collection, outside of a few CD’s and cassette tapes that I borrowed from my parents. I’ve never really curated my taste for the genre.

Even as I type that sentence, I can sense the anticipation of every avid rock fan reading this preparing to offer their “guidance.” And I won’t say that I’m not interested in recommendations, or in learning everything someone has to share with me. But I’ll tell you all right now that I’m reserving the right to like what I like, and dismiss what I don’t.

I am not a music hipster. I don’t care if the music is highly produced, or recorded in someone’s basement. As long as it is good, it is good with me. If there is another band making the same kind of stuff, either before it or after it, I will check them out, too.

I’ll start with bands that I don’t know much about, and go from there. The earlier the better. Suggestions are of course welcome.

But there is one more thing I’ll mention, which you can keep in mind if you’re going to give me suggestions. It occurs to me that so many musicians lead questionable lives and engage in downright unforgivable behavior. They trash hotels, assault women, promote violence, steal other people’s music, and are otherwise terrible people. I’m not saying I’m a pearl clutcher or anything, and I know that being in the spotlight will make people do questionable things, but I see no reason to give such figures more attention than they already have.

I’d much rather dig into the music of musicians that really were all about the music. It’s rock and roll, so I’m not asking for sainthood. But I’m sure if there is a line to be drawn, I’ll discover it along the way.

I’ve got a list of bands I’ll be starting from, but if you have suggestions of bands you think people haven’t heard enough about, let me know. Stay tuned!


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