Monday, May 7, 2012

Music, relationships, and how we communicate.

    Does music affect you?  

    Do you ever read or hear or experience something from popular culture which, instead of being temporary, passive, and distracting, becomes a changing moment in your life?
    As a 16 year old I dated a young lady named Cara. Cara had an older sister who felt I was a good match for her younger sister and tried to encourage our relationship. She gave me a mix tape of her favorite music. I tried listening to it. I didn’t recognize any of the artists, and didn’t care for any of the songs save one. I filed the tape away in a shoebox. About 2 years later I was in my first year of college. I had come back for Christmas break and in my intense boredom I examined the contents of my closet. In a dusty shoebox I found a mysterious, unlabeled tape. I put it in the player and was amazed to hear some of my favorite bands and songs. “Ooh! R.E.M. – Orange Crush!” and similar comments were to be heard issuing from my mouth.

    I wondered what had changed. Had I changed to match the music or had the music changed me? I still don’t know. I know that as my friendships changed and evolved over time I was exposed to new music, and sometimes new music led me to new friendships.

    It seems to me that youth today talk about music a lot. The kind of music a person listens to is often seen as a key to understanding what ‘type’ of person he or she is. I know that for me when I run out of conversation I ask “What kind of music do you listen to?” (Or, if I know them better I ask “Which super power is better: flight or invisibility?” This is another trick I learned from my personal choice of pop culture – talk radio.) In group therapy sessions it is common for the facilitator to suggest that the participants bring a CD with a song that they feel ‘describes them’ on it. I find it significant that not only listening to pop music but sharing it becomes a therapeutic experience. I once had a college course where the professor asked us to bring the lyrics to a song to class that we felt described us and I quite enjoyed the search, but I wished that I could have played the song for the class.

    As I grew up I always harbored a secret desire to be a DJ. I wanted to play my music for everybody to hear. I suspect that on some level this was a desire to find acceptance. The thought was that if people accept my music they must accept me – after all, this music is so me. Later in life I did have the opportunity to be a DJ for the university station. I found I had a knack for it and even heard of people from other towns recording my sessions off the air for replay at home. (This was before the advent of the mp3.) I felt great when I was on the air. Napster was soon invented and we’d never heard of the RIAA, so I was determined to be the ‘music man’ of the dorms. My computer was constantly downloading songs. I made mix CDs for all my friends for Christmas. (Here, tiny Tim, Have a piece of my soul.)

    Looking back, I realize I was something of a freak.

    Yet at the same time I fit in perfectly. We were all music freaks together. We were young and in love with pop music. When we were angry we drove around town with angry music blasting. I can’t remember any aspect of my life that wasn’t touched by my desire to be constantly enveloped with music. Friends who went on religious missions said “The hardest part was that I missed music.”

    Two nights ago, when I should have been working on this paper, I spent my time on Youtube looking up music videos of yesteryear and today. I watched the White Stripes, Fall-out Boy, Ok Go, and many more. The viewing was like a kind of therapy for me. Songs that were “me” I would listen to. Songs that weren’t got skipped. Songs that were partially me got fast forwarded to the good part.

    I only just noticed but even as I write this paper I have an online music player called “Slacker Internet Radio” playing on another desktop. I don’t even know why, exactly.

    How has this music changed me? My initial / gut reaction is the feeling that it has kept me current. By allowing myself to be swallowed whole by the music monster (or the movie monster or the TV monster or any of my many other pop-vices) I allow myself to be ‘with’ people – especially the people that I care for. I know that my friends are listening to the same stations. I know that as I form friendships I can share the most current version of myself with them.

    I once had a friend come to my apartment in tears. She had apparently told her boyfriend “I love you” for the first time. He had responded with “Oh.” There’s a theory of communication called “Transaction theory” which tells us that we expect equal levels of communication. In other words, when you meet somebody for the first time you expect a certain shallowness to the conversation - phrases like “where do you work?” as opposed to “do you want to have kids with me?”  I think that music is an almost harmless way for us to ‘test the waters’ before jumping into conversations. At least, it is for me. I can play a bit of my music for people who visit – leave the computer jamming in the back room when the guests arrive – and see how they react. I’ll know which of the party goers is going to be my best bet for friendship. I’ll know who to send to chat with my soft-rock loving wife. I’ll know with whom my Pink Floyd friend can bond.
My national borders are marked with the likes of David Gray, Sting, Guster and Carbon Leaf. I pledge allegiance to adult alternative stations and NPR. Why go around asking who loves me when I can easily, and less emotionally riskily, ask who heard last weeks episode of “Car Talk” or who listens to “The End” on trips to Salt Lake City?

    Music has given / created a method of bonding with others. When music is not an option, other aspects of pop culture fill in the gaps. Have you seen “Good Night and Good Luck? Don’t you love it?” Do you watch “Life? Best new series of the year by far.” Strangely, some of the most lasting relationships are developed based on the most transient aspects of our culture. Is it good this way? I’m certainly not in a position to make a value based judgment here; I’m too busy checking out the latest Modest Mouse video on Youtube. Have you seen it?


In college I had 2 professors who never ever give 100% on assignments. Ever.  It’s like they thought it was against the rules. Except once. One time, I got 100% from the tougher of the two professors.

The assignment was to react to the question “How has pop culture influenced my life?”  I thought I did pretty good. What did you think?


SherryE said...

I think the types of music we listen to says a lot about who we are. I like classical music, so I guess that means I like things orderly and traditional.

I nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. You can pick it up at my blog, Mama Diaries.

M Pax said...

I've formed lasting bonds with folks on bits of flimsy, pop culture ... a common love for something. I think it opens a doorway for letting others in, and a way of staving off judgment. If they like X, then I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, or more time. That time often leads to lasting friendships.

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