A few months ago, I had occasion to really examine my thoughts and opinions about music. I've always been clear on what I like, and what I don't like, but I had to put my finger on why. It's harder than it sounds - why do you like what you do?
This all started when I was with Libby. One of the sticking points of our relationship was music; basically, I'm not a fan of what gets played on local radio. Which boils down to pop, commercial, and R 'n' B. Libby is. It sounds like a really trite thing to have disagreements about, and in a way it is - but music is a massively important part of my life and a very pervasive part of our culture. What do you play in the car? Or when relaxing? A timeshare option isn't really that great, as it means that half the time one of you is not enjoying their environment.
Anyway, the question was often asked: why don't I like local radio? And it's a hard one to answer. On the surface it's quite easy. I've done my tenure in a convenience store, and as such have spent at least 9 hours a week for about a year listening to local radio. Often more. It wasn't so bad when I figured out I could put anything I wanted over the store's PA, but it's still a lot of time listening to the radio. You listen to a local radio station in the UK for 5 solid hours, and you'll find a lot of the material repeats. Listen to it for 4 or 5 hour stretches 2 or 3 times a week, and the music quickly becomes repetitive.
But surprisingly, this isn't what got my goat about the music. It turns out it boils down to a simple difference of what Libby and myself listened to music for: I listened for the music, and Libby listened for the lyrics.
This is a massive difference, although it might not be immediately apparent. Fundamentally, people listen to music because of the emotional effects it has, and we were taking our meanings from different places. Libby could listen to and enjoy Celine Dion, for instance, because of the lyrics, and what they said. But I'm not a fan of her voice, and the underlying music isn't that great in my opinion. So I would be unable to find enjoyment in Celine, whereas Libby could. Interestingly, Libby really was just about the lyrics; instrumental pieces didn't interest her at all, whether it be the modern delights of Mike Oldfield or the classical wonders of Beethoven, Bach, etc.
But that's not just it. It isn't just that I couldn't take my joys in the lyrics of modern music; there is something about it that repels me. And it took me a while but I figured it out. It's this: The manufactured quality of it.
Music to me is kind of a two-way street. Listening to a piece of music isn't just about the music itself; it's about the person who wrote it, and the person who played it. A relationship-like bond forms between you and the perception of the musician. Take the song "Sex and drugs and rock and roll" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. When I listen to this song, it's not just about the words in the song, or the guitar links behind it. It's about the people performing it, and their writing. It's Ian Dury making a statement, telling a story about a belief of his. And over an album, or a set of albums, you get an impression of the people who wrote the music, what they thought, what they felt, and how they changed over time. You form a relationship with the artists, and get to know them to an extent through their works.
Contrast this with the commercial music today. It's not written by the performers. It's generally not written by one person, either. It's put together by a group of people, as a complete work of fiction; the emotions and stories behind it aren't real. And that genuine quality is something that matters to me. I just can't enjoy a love story that was written by a committee of ghost-writers aiming to tug on heartstrings.
Other bits and bobs annoy me about modern music, but they don't merit as much discussion. Things like a lack of subtlety; I like some subtle detail and variation in my music. Which is just me being anal, but I like to hear little twists, slides, etc. that I just don't catch in commercial stuff. Which might be partially down to the fidelity of where I'm listening (bursts from the radio compared to CDs or minidiscs), but I think it's also lacking in a lot of places. I'm also not a fan of most of the ideas and values portrayed, simply because it's not something I can relate to or enjoy.
So there's a bunch of reasons why I don't like commercial music. Pick your favourite.