A few months ago, I did something that would have mortified my teen-aged self.
I listed as one of my favorites, a song performed by a *gasp* country music group.
It was in a post in which I responded to a Crazy Eights meme by revealing eight songs I could listen to over and over. One of them: “Landslide” by the Dixie Chicks.
Now that might not seem like a shocking or mortifying admission to you, but for me it was a big deal indeed. It meant I was finally free of the notion that my social status and my very worth as a human being was inextricably linked to the genre of music to which I listened: yes, aging does have its advantages.
I grew up in a very, very small town where many teenagers, including me, spent their formative years dreaming of bright lights and the big city. In our eyes, the more you disdained small town life, the more likely you were destined for something better. And in our small town, country music ruled, therefore hatred of it was automatic and unwavering.
No matter where you grew up, you’ll probably agree that the genre of music you listened to during high school and the years following was a powerful way to establish your identity. Professing a love of a certain type of music and becoming knowledgable about it was like slipping on a pre-fabricated identity that clearly said to others: this is what I value, this is whom I am.
For a lot of high school, I adopted a hyper-preppy persona in honor of a girl a few years older than me who I thought was the coolest thing to walk the planet. (Echo and the Bunnymen or Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, anyone?). In my senior years, I became more comfortable in my own skin, settling into an image of myself as a rebel, rocker chick who naturally favored Led Zeppelin and Ozzy Osbourne.
When I set off for university, I hit the road for a city five hours distant with a massive beat-up pickup truck and a finely-honed rocker babe persona. I blasted Guns and Roses and Metallica all the way there and my arrival caused a minor sensation among the girls I was rooming with.
Even into my twenties, music continued to define me and the people I surrounded myself with. The coolest of the cool guys were always up on the hottest indie bands and their preferred mode of seduction was an invitation back to their place to hear the obscure Icelandic export they had excavated from some dingy, alternative record shop off Yonge Street.
I’m not exactly sure when the music itself started to become more important than what the music represented. I remember having a revelation about seven years ago when Rob and I crowded into a small downtown club during the North by North East music festival. It had been a while since we’d made an effort to check out the latest thing and I had it on good authority that the band playing that night had the hipster stamp of approval.
We had a few years on most of the brooding, streetwise crowd in the dark, smoke-filled room (yes, you could still smoke in bars back then), but I was flush with excitement and convinced we fit in just fine.
Until the music started.
A few minutes passed before we realized it wasn’t a sound check we were hearing. When the singer started shrieking the third song in atonal Japanese, we exchanged a long glance.
“Let’s get the hell outta here,” Rob said. “This is crap.”
Ten-dollar cover charge be damned, we headed for the door where the oh-so-young and stylin’ guy at the door smirked dismissively. Rob looked him right in the eye.
“Buddy,” he said. “I know music. This is just crap.”
As good as it felt to walk out that door, I felt a little sad later. I felt sad because I knew I was walking away from a crutch that I had relied on almost all my life. In saying that I was mature enough to discern whether I actually enjoyed the music the cool kids were listening to, I was walking away from that gloriously, youthful part of myself that would happily be swept up in the excitement of the next big thing.
I am now officially too old to be swept unthinkingly away by music or anything else just because I aspire to be the type of person associated with it.
In fact, very little can sweep me away these days—I’m too strong. I have roots and a foundation. Perspective. An unapologetic sense of what I like and what I don’t.
I like the Dixie Chicks. I love the White Stripes. I also like Jamiriqui, Jimmy Buffet, Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Blink 182, Green Day, the Dance Hall Crashers, and a hundred other great musicians and bands from every genre.
But I do not like atonal Japanese poseurs. That’s just crap.