2004 Year End Thoughts
My Year With Music
here’s business to take care of, caveats to apply before we begin. Those who believe these music pieces should never tread too closely on the writer’s life, that these critiques and commentaries must remain staunchly objective, turn away this instant. I’m bound to fracture every one of your rules. But I won’t be the only one. In fact, several of the ten pieces that Stylus will run this week will be more personal than what you’re used to reading here. And just as many may have little to do with the annual rundown of music per se. We’re embracing what impact music had on us this year, with little heed to temporality or time-sensitive indie trends.
With that in mind, this may be the most personal of all those to follow. This year was one of turmoil for me, and at times I couldn’t even listen to music. I felt my CD collection, something I’d thrown so much into over the past ten years, had little substantive value. I couldn’t hear albums without feeling all of the peripheral attachments they held, all those ruptured seconds they owned in partnership with another. But we’ll get there.
In August, my wife walked out the door. For a week, I couldn’t listen to music. I needed voices, flat-lined static across an AM dial. I listened to public radio. I listened to coverage of the upcoming election, how registered democrats weren’t allowed into Bush rallies. I listened to the war from a great distance. Ordinarily, I would have shouted at the radio. Alone in my car on the way to work, I would have lost my mind in tune to the simple-fuck drollery of that simian twit in the House. It didn’t matter what was being covered, whether I’d heard the same program that morning as the night fell. I held tight and listened again. I couldn’t even look at my Case Logics. Each seemed bound to a previous time, one I was already struggling to dislodge.
I lived that way for a week. And, slowly, music began to reappear at the edges. I flipped past the oldies station to get to NPR, and I followed along for a second to Otis Redding or the Turtles. I bought my first CD: Figurine’s The Heartfelt. I scanned my CDs again, and I returned to my college habits (classic rock kid, born and raised). Exile on Main Street. Blonde on Blonde. Ziggy. Tonight’s the Night. Ronnie Lane’s Anymore for Anymore. These watermarks were cut apart from memories of my ex, and they were safe ground as such. I hadn’t heard most of them in years. Well, that’s not exactly true. Exile on Main Street gets in like clockwork—it’s the perfect jogging album.
But with this reintroduction, I realized my tastes had changed in the interim. Before the divorce, it was like I craved emotional distance, and I disconnected myself through minor-toned melodrama like Radiohead, Postal Service and Bjork. Anything clinically separated from the self, forlorn and miserable; anything that traded in crisp-edged beats and plenty of night-break synths. If it wasn’t sanded-down through a computer, I wasn’t interested.
I began to listen to old school hip-hop. The energy and infusion of those front-porch jams was perfect. Raw and haggard, beating with resolve, it was escapism for those already half-gone in some way. I listened to the first CD I ever owned, Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, and I fell in love again. A form I’d long dismissed as criminally devoid of anything I could relate to from up close, too given to braggadocio, criminal bravado, and street-grit, began to dominate my rotation. I picked up The Pharcyde, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, which in turn led to introductions to MF Doom, The Roots and Jurassic 5 (I’ve only half-thawed to Kanye).
In turn, and as a natural extension, I returned to punk and post-punk. The first time I heard Pink Flag after laying it aside for so long was an instant state of baptism, like sizing up some broken force against your own brutal awareness and knowing you’d come out ahead. From there it was back to the Clash, Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Buzzcocks. Their frugal carnality, quick and crude like a shiv, returned me to a life of direct impact and confrontation. It didn’t cover up as much as it filled in and plastered over. Something tossed off and still thorough, a critical-level spill of essentials into unimportance. I swallowed them all whole again and returned to a simpler state. Not retraced roots per se, but at the very least a blind stuttering feel amongst the bushes.
September. Only a month and a half after everything. The leaves began to curl and slip in Minneapolis, and music became secondary again. Not of some loss though; I found someone. Well, not found. I’d known her for a while, but she was always more friend and confidant. The path I’d followed since early August, when the summer heat was still buzzing with cicadas and the parks were colored with dried-out grass, seemed to make sense now. All had been erased and rescripted. I’d reconfigured the music I loved in the first place. Heralding all the albums I’d long since dismissed as amateur collegiate listening and the slivered haze of teenage bong-loads, I balanced myself against my past.
The new girl considers herself punk rock, but she gets weak for Postal Service. Between the two, we should be able to live without mutual chagrin (my ex’s CD collection was an utter travesty; TLC for Christ’s sake!). She reminded me music should never anchor itself inside the hipster throngs, but those emergent elements should be spread amongst everything else you’ve known. I’ve gone back to electro-pop, and the late year has found me enjoying new records by Styrofoam, Patrick Wolf (Feb.), and LCD Soundsystem (Feb.). Many of them come out next year, which is only fitting; this one was full of catastrophe. And yet it finished with a simple renaissance. I understand now the value of building yourself up through your past and that of your music, no matter how fractured and dissolute either may seem at times. I trust all audiophiles can relate; I’m writing this for one who I know can. Cheers to all who’ve made it this far and Happy New Year to the rest...