A friend asked me if I wanted to listen to his favorite music today. I turned him down, but for all the wrong reasons. For a long time I’ve been burned by top 40 music, for many reasons. I don’t like the fact that so many artists are defined wholly by their image. I don’t find any personal interest in music that isn’t music, but is just a backdrop for some modern-day beat poetry. I also don’t respect musicians who make repetitive gestures and expect them to be taken up as life’s blood. (I don’t mean repetitive action can’t be musical — take drum circles and their ancestry for example — but a 16-note undeveloped sequence on some 1970s vintage analog symthesizer is not a song.)
So I have this extreme prejudice that shows up when people ask me to listen to “popular music.” There’s definitely top-40 stuff I like (Garbage comes to mind) but it’s rare. Friends come to my abode and look through my record collection, hoping to spy something they recognize to put on the stereo. Usually they fail, unless they know folk, jazz, older rock (yay Elvis Costello!) or the truly bizarre like The Bobs or Donald Harrison’s Mardi Gras Indians.
A lot of people rail against “the system” just to be different. They buy independent records to prevent fuelling the recording industry’s payola system. They refuse to “sell out” by shopping at large food chains because they exploit various farm workers. They run Linux because Microsoft is bad.
Personally, I am a vegetarian because my body can’t digest meat very well (I get awful cramps for days.) I don’t listen to top 40 because I don’t enjoy it. If jazz fusion or folk became popular again, of course I’d listen to top 40! And I’d spend more time in front of the mass media if I liked their message at all. As it stands, it doesn’t usually tell me anything I feel enriches my life. I’m even contemplating not running cable or satellite to my new abode, though there are informational channels I want (pilots MUST HAVE the weather channel…)
I’ve never really felt that I was required to live a normal life. Those of you who know me intimately know I speak the truth. But I have felt increased pressure recently to not outright reject popular culture on the grounds that it’s just popular culture. I’ll be sure not to do that now, but it doesn’t mean I am all of a sudden going to replace my record collection with Top 40 hits and watch Friends. (Yuck.)