Monday, August 9, 2010

My Musical Journey

I was checking-out Mary's changes to her ICMDb blog and just finished reading her three-part posting about her journey into country music.  I realized that while I have known Mary for a few years, we never really discussed exactly how she ended up getting into country music, and why Lionel Cartwright was such a major factor.  So, now I know.

In the name of full disclosure, in a previous blog entry (Uncertain Times) I mentioned (paraphrasing) that I got into country in the 1980s to avoid the garbage that was pretending it was music during that period of time.  That is actually only part of the story.  With Mary's detail in mind, here is my journey...and a quite different one...

WTF is on AM Radio?!

My journey starts around 1984.  I was in college (a commuter student) and my second stupid car had died an untimely death - the frame cracked coming around the cloverleaf onto a highway.  Alas, I was now borrowing my parents' second car to get to school and work and all they had in it was an AM radio.  Most of AM radio was top-40 pop music and sports talk, which at the time I was finding to be less than satisfying (to be nice) for my tastes.  The only radio station in the NY area at the time that was an alternative to all this was the country station WHN.  WHN was also unique in that they not only played the newer country songs, but also older country music from the 1960s and 1970s.

As I listened to WHN I realized how many of the '50s/'60s songs that I liked were either country or had strong country influences.  For example, The Everly Brothers, The Dixiebells, Johnny Rivers ... all these artists were country.  Country wasn't just twangy songs about losing your truck, your girlfriend, your horse, and so on.  Country music also included a cross between rock 'n' roll and the traditional country that still included losing your girlfriend, which seemed to strike a chord with me (even then).  I also found that there were many crossover artists in the 1970s and 1980s including Olivia Newton-John, Juice Newton, Anne Murray, and Pure Prairie League who had very strong country influences in their work, and some could arguably be called country in their own right.

If it weren't for that blasted AM radio in my parents' car, I would have missed out on a whole genre of music.

My Reasons To Go Country

What I noticed about most country music (the stuff I enjoyed) was that it tended to be less synthetic.  By that, I mean that many of the lead instruments were those of the early 1960s rock 'n' roll music that I liked rather than the electronic stuff of the disco era and beyond, which I generally didn't like.  The vocals sounded pure, and were understandable.  So throughout the 80s and well into the 90s, most of what I listened to was either top-40 country or "oldies" ('50s/'60s) stuff, with some '70s mixed-in for good measure.

I can say without much hesitation that I can't tell you much about the top-40 pop charts from the 1990s.  To me, it just didn't exist.

Music...To Me

For me music is a soundtrack to events and periods of my life.  When I hear a particular song, I am transported back to the time and place where I first heard it or when it had some kind of profound meaning to me.  While I think people have a few instances like this, most music to others is more or less background or something to dance to.  I have an (admittedly irrational) absolute dread of being a participant in anything dancing, and having something as "just background" is almost impossible for me.

I used to share the music I liked with others, but I found as I went further into college and into adulthood that, like much of the other things that I enjoyed, nobody else could quite understand it or appreciate it as I did.  "Does it have a good beat and can you dance to it?"  Well, that really wasn't my criteria for music appreciation.

Cool Country, Rock, and Blues

My first exposure to radio-by-Internet was a station called KICK-AM in Sydney, Australia with a format they called "cool country, rock, and blues"  that I heard in the mid 1990s.  No station I have ever encountered since then has been able to capture this format quite like KICK-AM.  I never knew that country music was popular in other countries outside those in North America.  Doing a Google search for KICK-AM turns up the last pieces of this rare gem in a few old web sites with broken links to a now defunct web site.  Apparently I was one of the few who liked this station and format as described in the Wikipedia article about the station, which is now 2SM (see

What Now?

I'm not exactly sure how to describe how I encounter "new" music these days...and by "new" I generally mean, "it's new to me."  I tend to stumble upon different songs more or less by accident.  I heard "Bourgeois Shangri-La" by Miss Li on an Apple commercial.  When I was listening to the Solid Gold Oldies channel on Music Choice on cable TV (when I had it) I heard a lot of songs from the '60s that I forgot about, so they seemed new to me.  There have been some amateur artists on YouTube that I accidentally found and have since turned their videos to MP3s so I can listen to them other than on my computer.  I found a couple of live performances on cable TV that I liked and made them into MP3s as well...although in most cases none of these were very good when I heard the studio recording, and thus were not worth looking at further.  The quasi-legal MP3 site from Russia presented some opportunities to explore artists and styles of music that I would not usually have tried.

At one point I was gaining some subliminal knowledge of new country music by waking up to the country station on my clock radio.  But, alas, it seems popular country music has gone the way of the music of the 1980s, and as I stated in my previous blog posting, that source of new music has quickly disappeared.  Funny how things have come full-circle.

So how do I classify my musical tastes?  That's hard.  Eclectic, perhaps?  If you look at my record collection it looks like a weird combination of 50s/60s/70s/80s pop and some country.  If you look at my CD collection, it looks mostly like country, but then there's Union Underground's "An Education In Rebellion" or The Partridge Family.  Where in hell did that come from?  In my MP3 collection artists like The Shirelles, The Grass Roots, The Flirtations, and The Four Seasons share the same space as Quarterflash, Ferrante & Teicher, The Spice Girls, Lisa Loeb, Gordon Lightfoot, Cheyenne Kimball, Culture Club, Split Christie, and Hole.

"What's your favorite artist," you ask?  The funny thing is that it's hard to give an answer to that question.  I like certain songs by certain artists, and sometimes only one (for instance I find anything that Kim Wilde does to be revolting except for "Four Letter Word").  I would say that it's The Partridge Family simply by number of times I've listened to their songs by themselves for as long as I have, but that would be unfair to the Go-Gos that I listened to repeatedly for over a year while I was looking for a house.  I just can't say I have a favorite.

So that's kind of my version of Mary's "My Country Music Journey."  Oh, that's right, I do have one or two songs by Journey in my collection as well...

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