Listening to the Weird Stuff

If you didn’t like Nirvana, were you really a 90s kid?

Hi. It’s me again. The person who doesn’t care for the popular thing. I don’t have anything against the popular thing, it’s just not for me. Repeatedly. Through the decades. 

Reading Alex Ross’s book Listen to This has me thinking about music and where my varied but strangely particular tastes come from. I blame my siblings to a degree, both of whom are several years older than I am. They seemed so cool when I was nine and they were in high school, and of course, their musical choices were cool, too. I listened to The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables thanks to one, and Queen and Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyrie thanks to the other. One played jazzy music on the saxophone, and the other played Beethoven on the piano and Bach’s Brandenburg concertos on the flute.

I think I was destined to have a peculiar taste in music. I was probably the only eighteen-year-old in my class who preferred The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘I of the Mourning’ or ‘Porcelina of the Vast Oceans’ to their angry, radio-friendly anthem ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, and I’m sure that only one or two of my friends had even heard of the twentieth-century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, while his ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ was and remains my favorite work of classical music.

Does this make me sound like a music snob? Perhaps, though I’m willing to try just about anything. When a friend was trying to turn me onto the progressive metal band Dream Theater (one of his high school favorites), I listened to one of their albums twice before declaring “I appreciate their skill and musicality, but I don’t care for the end result”. His response was “fair enough”. I’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s album Folklore, and it was fine. I spent a long night in my college’s ceramic studio listening to a then-boyfriend’s copy of Nirvana’s Nevermind to give the band one last shot, and I still didn’t like it. When my friends rave about some performance by Lindsey Stirling, I hold my tongue because I think her music is uninspired. 

So why do I prefer the weird stuff to the popular songs? 

I don’t know. I don’t know what it is about the melodies/rhythms/aural layering of something like Emilie Autumn’s ‘Opheliac’, PJ Harvey’s ‘The River’, or John Luther Adams’ ‘Become Ocean’ that appeals to me while artists like Taylor Swift, Nirvana, or Coldplay don’t. But I want to know, or at least have a better understanding of the underpinnings of music so I have a better idea of why I like something or not.

This means three things: I will be listening to more music, reading about music, and writing about music.

I don’t know how to write about music. I’m not worried about this fact. I didn’t know how to write about books when I started this blog, but here we are. 

So here’s to a musical journey and hopefully a better understanding of why I like what I like.

If you have any musical recommendations, please share them. Like I said, I’ll try just about anything.

17 thoughts on “Listening to the Weird Stuff

  1. I have a difficult relationship with metal. Many of my friends love it, and I’ve never been able to get into it. So I’ll probably pass on Rose Tattoo. But I have enjoyed Dresden Dolls, so if I Mother Earth is similar, I will definitely give it a try. Thanks!

  2. Here’s my thing….can you appreciate how Nirvana changed the musical landscape? Or soundgarden? It’s ok not to like, but there is a greatness to a new path ….

  3. Oh, I get that Nirvana helped changed the soundscape of the 90s, but the endless, lavish praise they’ve gotten over the past thirty years grates on my nerves. Like yes, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a bolt out of the blue, but it wasn’t the only thing out there, and Nirvana wasn’t the only band changing music. But here we are, three decades later and the 90s are apparently back in style, and it’s still “Nirvana, Nirvana, Nirvana”. Can we hear a little more about Soundgarden or the Pumpkins or Pearl Jam? Or the women who made Lilith Fair a success and proved that a mainstream audience will listen to women artists? Or about Black artists like Missy Elliot or Snoop Dogg (and not just the ones who were murdered then?). It’s like how, in the Classical music world, you have a vast swath of artists and so many people rave about Mozart and only Mozart….

  4. Agreed that that’s all we hear about. Probably something to do with Cobain dying at 27. There’s a mystique about that age

  5. This could be fun. I look forward to reading about your journey through music. It plays such a large role in my life and always has. I played trombone in school and now struggle learning guitar, and both instruments introduced me to music I’d never listened to before, from jazz to classical to modern acoustic guitar work. Just as with literature, but in different ways, music is capable of taking me places I’ve never been, and of feeling things in such strong ways. When younger I badly wanted to share my love of music with others. I figured if this song made me feel this way it must make others feel that way too and wouldn’t they enjoy that? It took a long while to learn to live with the fact that we each have our different tastes and that something I love might not mean anything to someone else, with the reverse also being true. And of course those tastes can change over time so it’s always nice to retry something from long ago. Sometimes I find I enjoy it more now than then, other times not so much.

    I did have to laugh that each of the examples you gave of groups or songs you didn’t care as much for were ones I have, at one point or another, enjoyed. 🙂 Dream Theater has been a favorite of mine since their second album (back when few knew who they were), but I liked both yours and your friends reaction to their album. “I appreciate their skill and musicality, but I don’t care for the end result.” “Fair enough.” Absolutely. You gave it a try, that’s all anyone can ask. As for why we enjoy what we enjoy…. There are likely very many answers to that simple question, so I look forward to learning some of yours. Maybe they’ll help me learn some of my own.

    I won’t give a long list of recommendations, but you’d commented on Lyrre when I wrote about their song, North Star, in one of my quarterly look back posts. In case you hadn’t seen, they’ve recently released their third song, Call in the Wind. You can find it on bandcamp and YouTube. I’m finding myself really drawn to artists from a variety of countries these days, just as I have been with movies, and I love finding new groups like this, or even discovering groups that have been around forever that I’ve just never heard of. I’m hopeful I’ll discover some new to me music through your posts.

  6. Interesting! I really know nothing about music from an intellectual or academic perspective — I just know what I like. My daughter credits/blames me with getting her hooked on Kate Bush when her friends were mostly focused on the Spice Girls (and yes, we love Spice Girls too).

  7. I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that other people often don’t enjoy the songs I love. It’s part of growing up into your musical tastes, I guess. I’ve already been revisiting various albums I’ve listened to over the years, including a few I haven’t listened to in fifteen years or more. For the most part, it seems that my opinions of them haven’t changed very much, but we’ll see how it goes as I progress. I’m sure some of my opinions will have changed. After all, I’m not the same person that I was at 25, so some bits of my musical taste will undoubtedly have changed.

    Thank you for mentioning Lyrre! I’d lost the note I wrote them down on before I looked them up and simply could not remember the name. I will be looking them up shortly so I don’t forget this time!

  8. I’m trying to learn more about music from that academic perspective so I feel more confident when I talk about it. So far, what I’ve read has been pretty interesting, so I’m learning a lot and enjoying what I’m learning. Bonus!

    I’ll admit, Kate Bush is one of those artists I never really got into. Nor did I really enjoy the Spice Girls, even when they were at their prime, which was when I was in high school. It seems I never enjoyed the popular stuff….

  9. I enjoyed reading this and will follow along on your music journey too. I’m not a Nirvana fan (I didn’t get into such music until a few years ago), but I do like Lindsey Stirling, lol. Your comment there had me laughing because I had a coworker who thought the same.

  10. What’s important is that you recognize what you enjoy and that you enjoy them shamelessly. There are so many subgenres born after the year 2015 that sometimes make me wonder how we even got to this point and what talent even means for some people but the great thing about today is that there’s always something out there that we’ll love listening to again and again and again. We just got to go out there and listen! 😀

  11. Hahaha! I understand why Lindsey Stirling in popular, but I just don’t care for her music. I haven’t listened to any of her work for a while, so I couldn’t tell you why off the top of my head, but… It just didn’t appeal to me then. I suppose I’ll have to give her another shot just to see if my opinion has changed.

  12. There are so many subgenres! So many! And it seems like there are more every day. Like you could make something up, like glittercore castlepunk, and someone will have made a song for it ten minutes later. It’s wild.

    See, one of the weird things about my little brain is that I want to know why I like a thing, and I like to be able to put that into words. Hence my dive into the world of music and its vocabulary. At the moment, I’m watching the second part of Lucy Worsley’s documentary, “Nights at the Opera”. I highly recommend!

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