08 May 2013

A Lot About Listenin' (And a Little 'Bout Love)

I only watched four movies in all of April, in part because I turned my attention recently to revisiting my music library. It actually started with movies; I became concerned when I had a glitch with the DVD Profiler program that I use to catalog my DVDs and Blu-ray Discs so I decided to create a Google Docs spreadsheet to track what I own and the basic stats (edition, release date, purchase date, price paid, last viewed, etc.). That evolved into an entire spreadsheet with different sheets for different media, so I began to make my way through my CD library for the first time in admittedly quite a while.

I used to be all about music. Back in my pre-Crohn's days, I went to my fair share of concerts. All you have to do is take a look at my setlist.fm profile to see the dramatic difference that Crohn's made. (Hint: I was formally diagnosed in 2005.) In those healthier days, money was a lot better and I splurged on quite a lot of music. I was probably directly responsible for offsetting 4% of the market shrinkage attributed to online piracy at the turn of the century. If I decided I liked a song, I'd buy the whole album. If I decided I liked the artist, I'd track down his/her/their entire discography. I bought soundtracks, tribute albums, Christmas albums and any singles that contained a non-album version of a song (i.e., acoustic versions, club mixes, etc.).

eBay was a whole 'nother world, where I discovered promo CDs distributed only to radio stations that contained content not made available commercially. I collected radio station singles of songs from some of my favorite artists and albums, and radio specials when I could afford them. I once won a bidding war for a CD single that contained the live performances of "Friends in Low Places" and "The Thunder Rolls" from Garth Brooks's landmark TV special, This Is Garth Brooks! It cost me about $36, I think, including shipping. Just two songs, but they were the live versions that to this day have never been released commercially on CD (the versions that appear on 1998's Double Live are different performances). It was the late 90s. I was healthy and so was the economy. Why not bid $30-something on a promo CD single?

Over the last decade, though, I've found myself falling out from my musical taste. Part of it, I attribute to the impact of Crohn's on my concert-going. Music stopped being accessible to me, at least in the personal way that I had once enjoyed. I've shared some of my favorite concert-going anecdotes in this blog before, but the relevant thing is that being there in person when an artist/duo/band performs is the only real way to judge the artistry. There, you get to witness for yourself not just the technical competency away from the studio trickery but the actual charisma and passion that a given performer has for his or her craft. Clay Walker was a radio darling for a few years in the 90s, but I've held him up for years as one of the most consistently engaging and entertaining stage performers I've ever seen. That guy loves playing for an audience and it shows.

Another reason for my dwindling connection with my music library is that I've had a parting of the ways with my primary genre, country. Throughout the Bush administration, country radio became increasingly jingoistic and full of banal anthems, increasingly defiant and decreasingly thoughtful. As a liberal, I used to connect with country music as a sort of "center" point; it was common ground where I felt comfortable engaging the right. It became increasingly clear, though, that I wasn't welcome there anymore so I left. It wasn't even the infamous Dixie Chicks backlash of 2003 that chased me off, though that was certainly the obvious beginning of the end.

After the country soured on then-President George W. Bush shortly into his second term, country music went through its own identity change. If no one was into bombastic, love-it-or-leave-it songs of nationalism, what would listeners accept? Enter: Taylor Swift, whose eponymous debut album came along at just the right time in 2006. She was young, she was fresh, she was the flagship artist for startup label Big Machine Records and enjoyed their full marketing support. I actually like Taylor Swift as an artist. I like that she writes her own stuff, from her own experiences.

Overnight, not only was she a smash but she had changed the entire direction of the genre. Country radio followed her - and, as it always has done, it did so largely by trying to clone her with diminishing returns. I haven't particularly cared for any of her clones or the current landscape of mainstream country music in general. They're not addressing me anymore. That's okay, of course, because at the time that it did it had stopped addressing listeners older than me. That's just the way it goes. I've aged out of it, I guess.

The upshot is that the music that once resonated with me now belongs in the past, to someone I haven't been in quite some time. By and large, I've found that specific albums or even the whole works of an entire artist have stopped being "mine" and I mean that both figuratively and literally: I've taken and traded in several CDs to Half Price Books. I've deleted the ripped files from my digital library, too, believe it or not. If I don't care enough to keep it on CD, I clearly don't care enough to clutter up my hard drive with it, either.

It's kind of strange to whittle away at my music library like this and to find so much of it means so little to me. In a way, I suppose it mirrors how I've felt the last several months as I've gone through personal things around here; wedding photos, that kind of thing. I can't say that I'm resentful of these reminders of my recent past. In truth, I'm mostly just indifferent to them. They may as well be CDs and photos that belonged to someone else for all the meaning they hold to me now.

For the time being, I continue to make my way through my library and prune it. At some point, though, I'm going to want to address the question: If "my" music isn't the stuff I already/still own...what is?

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