At the risk of sounding ancient, I stopped listening to the radio nearly twenty years ago. The two-fold reason is partly to blame for my opinion of mainstream music.
The music of my youth was not mainstream music. Yes, my friends had it blaring from their cars. I had a name for it: Gutless technorock. The only radio station I could stomach was one out of New Orleans, which included my favorite irreverent morning show, Walton & Johnson.
The age of the big hair band was coming to a close, and while the pop side appealed to me not at all, I was concerned the bands would age in the way of the singers of the ’60s- to suicide or overdose. Turns out, many of them are still rocking today, in their golden years.
Even the name turns me off. Popular. It is as though the ubiquity of it gave it quality. Nowhere was the music suppressed. It was in every restaurant, bar, club, function and home. It was my third migration. I traded in the last vestiges of my vinyl collection and a few hundred cassettes for CDs. Other than the morning show, I kept the radio off.
For some reason, record stores buying hundreds of copies of albums constituted the bar against which popularity was ranked. Radio stations played it because the sales warranted a top ten list. More than half of the songs were butts of jokes and became the filler for the $1 bin when the next greatest song ever written made its way up the charts.
Most of what did not appeal to me was the gearing toward teenagers. The lack of depth to the lyrics, the tinny sound of synthetic instruments which ensured no concert appearances, the over-mixing of all of it.
It was all enough for me to declare my friends brain dead for not wanting to listen to something they could go see in concert, feel the sound in their chests from 10-foot speakers and squeeze in with a few thousand other screaming fans with Bics wanting just one more encore.
The next stage my friends entered was the country phase. Perhaps, it had to do with the radio station being bought by someone who catered to the Stetson crowd. Maybe, they had experienced the loss of puppy love and wanted to back mask the music to get back their trailers, dogs and women. Either way, I still had a complete lack of interest.
While some of the lyrics strummed heartstrings, the steel guitar and flat, twanging singing voices just did not appeal to me. Other than a handful of ballads and some Tim McGraw (mostly because he was hometown proud), the only country I continuously liked was the music my grandfather, a true cowboy from his Justins to his Stetson, played on the record player. They are the last vinyl I have today.
At this stage, I embraced a different sort of techno: New York clubbing music. 132 BPM, songs as long as 11 minutes, occasionally no lyrics at all. It was layered differently than pop because it did not rely on catering to a teenager’s changing voice. Instead, the voices were digitized or absent.
It was just the beat and music. It is still the music I associate with hot strobes, laser shows and night life.
By now, rap and hiphop had come into their own to be recognized as a legitimate form of music. (elongated pause while I attempt to find nice words) I did not like it.
Rage, rave or no, I could not embrace the new age of mixing blues roots (which I did love) and street cred (which I did not respect). The lyrics again were a deal breaker for me. When I could discern them, they bore no feeling other than anger and authority issues, at a time in my life when I was, as I still am, 100% about no drama.
Following the fall of Napster, the rise of YouTube offered the first glimpse for me into what mainstream music held out on offer. While this time, I did find some grains among the chaff, I felt as though I was continually sifting through the $1 bin.
Today, I feel no different. Mainstream music is not what excites me, moves me or makes me want to move. No amount of celebrity watching will change it. Frankly, I am not one to remember the artist and the title in the same thought pattern. They are filed in completely different sections.
I am still listening to music from the late 18th century to the present, though fewer and fewer artists appeal to me than ever before. I suppose at heart I am still a poet. I want the music or the lyrics to move me.
Fortunately, my mind is still open. Maybe one day, the popular crowd will sync up with something of substance.
Are you a mainstream music fan? What is the appeal? What is your favorite song of all time?
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