De gustibus non est disputandum.
Even before I became a Latin major in college (another in a long and colorful string of jackass moves by yours truly), I knew what this sentence meant. It basically means “there’s no accounting for taste.”
From my earliest age, music has been manna for my soul. It has been one of the primary platforms where I relate to the world (and to myself). From my first album (Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”), to my first concert (Aerosmith, 1984, Worcester, MA), through tens of thousands of LPs, cassettes, cds, MP3s, concerts, shows, festivals, mix tapes, radio stations, etc., right up to the last time I played guitar (twenty minutes ago), music has accompanied me in virtually all endeavors, big and small. As I compose this article, I am listening to the album “Wrecking Ball,” by Dead Confederate.
For every trip I’ve taken, there has been a corresponding mix. Every relationship, an artist. I have go-to albums for every mood, and to this day few things excite me more than making a mix for a friend. My tastes, like Tiger Woods’ girlfriends, are all over the place.
Just like some people have a workout regimen or a dietary regimen, I have a music regimen. It is the method through which I absorb music. And now, in this very piece, I shall reveal it to the world! How stoked are you? (You should know that right now, I’m picturing that television special from a few years back where the magician in the wrestling mask exposes the trickery behind the illusions of other magicians. Only unlike him, I don’t have two scantily clad identical twins here to help me unveil my music regimen. I do have two dogs though. They’ll have to do.)
First are the magazines- I read Classic Rock (for the in-depth artist biographies), MOJO (each issue features one artist, current or classic, along with other well-categorized reviews of new artists and reissues), UNCUT (same as MOJO, with a ridiculous amount of albums reviewed), Revolver (for metal), Q (great UK industry-centric mag, which unlike our Rolling Stone, does not put reality TV stars on the cover). I also read Hammer (a metal mag suitable for a 13 year old, which some have alleged to be an accurate assessment of my emotional age), and SPIN (I have written for them on occasion, and SPIN is the best American mag in the bunch because it covers more up-and-coming artists than any other mainstream magazine).
I buy these in one fell swoop at a newsstand and dedicate a couple weeks to reading them. To be sure, they are dense with musical minutiae. We’re looking at a couple thousand album reviews, plus all the biographies, updates, albums revisited, etc. As I go through each one, I circle anything that interests me (album, song, or artist) and fold the page at the top. After a couple weeks, I have a stack of dog-eared magazines, which I heave over to iTunes and pull up the music on all the folded pages. The iTunes album previews help me see just how close the reviewer was to describing the actual music. When I hear a new band that I like (or an old band I’ve missed), I download the song or album, and then put the new music into mixes. The mixes accompany me on drives and runs for the next couple of months until I repeat the process.
Then there are the live shows I attend, the recommendations from friends, the concert DVDs, YouTube clips posted on Facebook, and music television dealios that cross my path on a regular basis. All are great sources through which I find new music.
Because I’m a guitar player, and often too impatient to sit down and learn the newer stuff, I revisit lots of guitar-heavy rock when I’m sitting around the house playing. Most of my classic rock listening is done with a guitar on my lap.
So what works for me, musically? Almost everything. Well, I should say that good songs work for me, regardless of the genre. My first true love is the sound of loud, crunchy guitars. Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Metallica, The Stone Roses, and Clutch capture this sound perfectly for me. I also love many sub-genres of punk and metal. Really good hip hop blows my mind, and I will always be a sucker for a pretty folk song. I admit to enjoying catchy pop songs with lots of hooks, and I also listen to old school country, reggae, blues, and some house and techno. When you love music, a good song finds you and kisses you right on the soul.
What does my soul like kissing? While there are no right answers, music that really inspires me tends to make me want to screw, dance, cry or punch someone. There it is. While music certainly evokes many other emotions in me, those are the four parent categories. Does this make me a musical neanderthal? Probably. But I’m OK with that.
With all this legwork under my belt, there are some well-respected artists I just don’t get. I don’t relate to them even though rock critics, friends, and advertisers tell me that I should. I have tried to intellectualize how and why this is, but as many have said, “writing about music is like dancing to architecture.” I cannot explain fundamentally why these artists don’t spark my pilot light. For some reason, accomplished and beloved as they may be, I find that I don’t relate to their music on any meaningful level.
When caught up in a discussion about such an artist with a fan, I am invariably called a hater, a contrarian, an idiot, or some other name that the other person needs me to be in order for their identity and ego to remain intact. But these people miss the point- I’m not denigrating their icons, nor am I suggesting that the artists suck on any level. I readily acknowledge that these artists are important on a personal and social level to legions of music fans across time and space. I just don’t dig it.
Make no mistake- I admit that I’m a music snob, and I happily embrace the role of hater for loads of music out there (I’m talking to you, Scott Stapp and Lady Gaga). But there are a lot of artists whose talent I can acknowledge without relating to their work. To that end, where I don’t care for an otherwise legendary artist, it is not my character defect that these artists do nothing for me. Apologizing for not liking these artists would be like apologizing to the girl at Coldstone Creamery for not liking her strawberry swirl. It ain’t personal, baby.
If these bands mean something to you, I respect that and am not trying to convince anyone that they are anything but great. These are simply the opinions and experiences of yours truly. Please forward all complaints to Brad Listi.
With that being said, and with my crash helmet on, here are five artists/bands whose music is beloved by most, but who make me want to listen to something else:
Let’s just get this out of the way first. More than any other band that I don’t like, I have invested more time trying to convince myself that I am missing something with The Beatles. This is the only artist that makes me think I might have a problem for not digging their sound. But try as I have, I just can’t make the connection.
I started working in a warehouse when I was 14, where we would basically unload huge eighteen wheelers full of Levi’s jeans, and spend hours mindlessly sorting them in cold, subterranean storage rooms. It was only through classic rock that we did not all go mad. Alternating between Boston’s WAAF and cassettes we’d bring in, The Beatles were on steady rotation. I just never found myself getting excited when they came on- I found that I didn’t even really focus on the music when I’d hear them. At least not like I did when someone played The Who, Zeppelin, The Stones, The Doors, or other bands from that general era. My friend Rich was one of those Beatles fans who wore the John Lennon pins and who would occasionally stop unpacking pants to cry a little bit because a Beatles song was so pretty. He was the first person I encountered to become truly enraged with my refusal/inability to embrace The Beatles.
I admit that there were times that I simply adopted the persona of “The Guy Who Doesn’t Like the Beatles.” I wasn’t interested in liking them and I enjoyed telling Beatles fans that I found their passion meaningless. But then I grew up and realized that was just my ego at work and that to deny such a titanic and influential body of music did not make me punk rock, it made me dim-witted. I understood that I needed to give the Beatles an honest-to-goodness chance, and I surely did. I listened to all the classic albums- Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album, Sgt. Pepper, etc. I read a ton about the Beatles so I could place their music in context. I talked to friends about what their music meant to them and why. But to this day, I still don’t perk up when I hear their music.
I acknowledge that they were great lyricists. I readily admit that they broke ground and paved the way for much of today’s music, reaching into virtually all modern genres. I do not suggest that their music is in any way bad. It is certainly melodic, creative, and I love the blues base beneath so much of it.
Still, I just can’t get there from here. I do like the song “Revolution,” as well as a couple other of their tunes. But as a whole, I cannot say that there’s much about The Beatles that does anything for me. And before you try to pin me down, yes I understand that many of the music that I do like is influenced by and/or direct rip-offs of The Beatles (much in the way that they were influenced by and are a direct rip off of Muddy Waters and other American blues artists).
Instead I like: Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Jam
I just don’t get these guys at all. More than any artist on this list, Rush does nothing for me. It might have something to do with Geddy Lee’s voice and his semi-intelligible lyrics. I understand that these guys are to prog-rock what Sabbath is to metal. But that and a token will get me on the subway.
Neil Peart is pretty amazing. I love seeing his solos on YouTube, with his four thousand piece drum set. I’ve also read quite a bit about Rush and how they came to record the music that has made them legends. Rush is one of those bands that the hardcore music snobs that I know seem to universally embrace. In fact, some of these people would give me a harder time about not liking Rush than not liking the Beatles. But nothing about Rush inspires me. Maybe it’s the profligate use of laser-like sound effects (like rocking out to a video game), or maybe it’s simply the whole Canadian thing. I just don’t get it.
Instead I like: Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Dead Confederate
The Velvet Underground
I begin yawning as soon as I hear someone even mention this band. Look, I get it- experimental, the whole New York thing, Warhol, Nico, art married with music… Maybe it’s just the seriouser-than-thou posturing of Lou Reed that turns me off. I will say that artists (and people) who take themselves too seriously enjoy precious little time in the sunshine of my love. But the de-tuned, lumbering beats and spacy “melodies” of the VU don’t really speak to me, although like The Beatles, there are a couple their songs that I don’t mind.
But here’s the thing with “experimental” music. By definition, an experiment anticipates failure. Often it is only through a combination of repeated failures that the experiment can be truly successful. This is pretty much how I view the VU- a body of work that continually fails to affect me, with a few successes mixed in to show that the experiment works.
Instead I like: R.E.M., Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Hip hop is not an area of expertise for me. In fact, I know precious little about the whole hierarchy of rap and hip hop sub-genres, the subtleties of sampling, the East Coast v. West Coast thing, etc. But I do enjoy the thump of a good bass line, and bizarrely, when I’m playing drums at home, I often play along to hip hop/rap. Perhaps because it’s easy, but I like to think it’s because I like the way the grooves roll.
With all the reading I do about music, I am mildly surprised that Jay-Z is not on Mount Rushmore. I recall reading about his “retirement” in Rolling Stone (canceled my subscription when they put the werewolf teenybopper heartthrob from Twilight on the cover), and it being positioned as if the world needed to take a day off to absorb the shock. Friends told me he was the ultimate MC and the greatest rapper ever. I decided to investigate.
I found him to be just OK. Were it not for the high pitched crack in his voice, I would be hard pressed to pick him out of an auditory hip hop lineup. In fact, the only times I found his music to be at all interesting was when it was mashed in with another great album. A friend gave me a cd called “Jay-diohead,” which is a mash up of Jay-Z and Radiohead. Now this I liked. At least a couple songs. But standing alone, I find nothing groundbreaking or exciting about Jay-Z or his music.
Instead I like: Public Enemy, Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., Beastie Boys, Quarashi
I could break down a catalog of reasons why I don’t care for Dave Matthews. His voice stands first and foremost. It is completely affected- sounds nothing like the way he talks. I know, Jeff Buckley didn’t talk with a falsetto and his music was still great. But it’s different with Dave Matthews- he makes his voice almost cartoony. Which makes a lot of the lyrics sound unintelligible, and that becomes a barrier that I have to then overcome if I’m going to relate.
I agree that his band is phenomenal and he has created a sound that is truly his own. But try as I have to listen to his music and hear what so many people love so much, I have come up empty. His flavorless jams sound as interchangeable to me as a handful of pennies. When I hear Dave Matthews come on, time slows to a crawl as I bathe in exquisite agony, waiting for it to end. He is perhaps the only artist on this list for whom my dislike is active.
Instead I like: Wilco, Clutch, The Rugburns, The Red Hot Chili Peppers
There it is. Talk amongst yourselves.