Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Musical Reconfiguration

Below is an email I sent to my brother in law, Micah, a bonafide music geek like me. He's going to see three concerts this weekend. Lucky. I was trying to explain to him on the phone yesterday why it's taken me three years to appreciate Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky." 

RE: Wilco. I didn’t know “Sky Blue Sky” was your favorite of Wilco’s records. I can definitely see why. I really am going through a musical reconfiguring. Brief history to explain further what I was mentioning on the phone yesterday: I didn’t listen to much other than Rich Mullins and Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest hits until I got to college (1993). I’d heard of U2, but I hadn’t heard them. Freshman year I discovered “August and Everything After” by Counting Crows (their only good record because it was produced by the venerable T Bone Burnet) and then there was Jason Harod and Brian Funk, former Wheaton students. Their “Dreams of the Color Blind” was on constant rotation in my dorm room—almost every Wheaton College student’s dorm room. Then I got into James Taylor and several of his descendants (David Wilcox/ John Gorka). So from 18 to about 23 I mostly listened stuff like Natalie Merchant and the Innocence Mission. Radiohead’s “Kid A” really screwed with me. I heard some of it one day on NPR. Oddly enough I had “OK Computer” in my CD collection because a former roommate left it when he moved out. I didn’t even know what it was. Played it once, but didn’t like it. By that time I’d made my first record and the studio became an intimidating/fascinating addition to my understanding of music. Discovering Kid A was like discovering a whole new kind of food. Somehow it immediately made sense to me—so much sense that I went back and listened Ok Computer and it suddenly made sense too. Enter Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and I started to re-think the possibilities of song structure and interpretation. All the noises on these records seemed to be more honest to me than just a voice and an acoustic guitar. The simplicity of folk music seemed escapist by that point—naive (unless it was something like Eliot Smith). The noise elements (glitch beats, static, distortion, FX) sounded like our post industrial society: confused, scary, dark, but yet somehow formed and organized and musical. Its been a way for me to think redemptively about the world, a way to make sense out of senselessness. Thus the journey into more obscure kinds of music. However, I’ve realized in the last year that my mental questions about music have taken me into places that are less and less musical. I find it harder and harder to really enjoy the sum total of the parts. That is all to say that SBS is really nice listening for now.

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