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Thursday, March 17, 2005

How Much More MOR Could I Be?

This Michael Berube post (via Laura) rubbed me the wrong way, I'm embarrassed to say. I mean, hey, it's only pop music. What's the big deal if I happen to like a fair mount of Sir Elton John's oeuvre, however unhip it may be? I don't need to haul out yet another huge populist/simplicity-inspired analysis of the complex problem(s) of pursuing expensive, elite tastes in the context of popular entertainment, do I? Of course not. (Thank heavens, the readers sigh audibly.) Let it go.

I think it's my personal pop music history which does this to me. I grew up in a nice, medium-size, mostly agricultural city--Spokane, Washington--in a nice, big, religious family. I've nothing but praise for both of them. However, one consequence of this environment (which wasn't especially sheltered or restrictive, just...well, not in the mainstream of things, shall we say) was that I didn't get much of an education in popular music. I played the violin, listened to classical and church music and my mom's beloved Hollywood musical soundtracks. It was with great excitement that I discovered, sometime around when I was twelve, Casey Kasem and the existence of a "Top 40" on the radio (which, up until that time, I had mostly surreptitiously utilized to listen to late-night mystery dramas hosted by E.G. Marshall). I suppose my level of cultural awareness during my junior high and high school years weren't that different from that of your typical Napoleon Dynamite-type nerd, but still: the lack of exposure to anything remotely hip or alternative (there was no "college radio" station in Spokane) was painful, to me at least, once I left for college in 1987. (And yes, I attended BYU; but the Salt Lake City area, as those familiar with it can well attest, is one of the better and more diverse radio markets in the U.S.) The embarrassments of my freshman year, as I struggled in vain to pretend to my far more worldly peers that I too had ridden the New Wave, were legion. I attempted to speak knowingly about that hot new band from Australia, "Inks" (oddly spelled "I-N-X-S"). I mortified myself by reciting the chorus of 'Til Tuesday's big hit as "let's go downtown; it's so scary." I could go on. Suffice to say, I ended up spending most of that year in a defensive crouch when it came to popular music.

I've managed to straighten up a fair amount since then. For one thing, I realized that a lot of people couldn't give a damn about pop music anyway, and I spent several years learning from them all about jazz, the blues, a cappella, folk, and classic rock and roll. And it gradually dawned on me that pop music itself isn't a single stream, and I found myself digging all sorts of stuff from the 60s and especially the 70s (an unfairly maligned decade, culturally speaking) that weren't even remotely on the average white American's radar back when I came of age. I'd like to think that Melissa and I have managed to develop for our family a pretty broad and eclectic taste in music. But then I read something from Berube about the great old days of WNEW-FM in New York, and I get reminded just how middle-of-the-road my everyday pop tastes have become. The evidence? I own, and enjoy, Elton John's Greatest Hits--Vols. I and II and III. Or how about this? I have, in my office right at this moment, every single album James Taylor has ever released. Yep, I unapologetically (but perhaps not entirely undefensively) decided on a James Taylor marathon this week, beginning with James Taylor, continuing on through Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon and JT, all the way up to New Moon Shine and October Road. (My favorite album? Flag, of course.) Am I enjoying myself? Well, seeing as it's spring break and no other faculty are around to observe me grooving in my seat to "Sun on the Moon" or "Lighthouse"...yeah, I am.

But I promise: tonight, at Chez Fox, it'll be The Chieftains! It is St. Patrick's Day, after all.

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