When I think about music, I think about where it comes from, its history, its native origin
, its source. I mean, I like a little classical, a little country, a little Latin, a little blues. But liking it doesn't seem to be enough. With music that comes from a rich heritage, unlike American music (even though we've gotten most of our influences from outside our borders), I tend to think you have to do more than like it. You should identify with the people who make it
, and if you can't, you should at least know a little about the background. Liking big band
music or the latest Latin craze just because it's the newest thing or the thing that has been getting the most air play
and therefore the only way you would have even heard it to begin with, just seems a little hollow.
I've found that when a person is really into a certain style of music, he can't help but let it integrate other facets of his personality, of his life. My friend Jason is a big time classical music fan, and he contends that because of this in addition to the regality that period allotted, he was born in the wrong century. His bookshelves are oiled cherry wood and in them he has gold leafed books with dark leather binding. His furniture is antique and ornate, his dress practical, simple, but very regal. Another guy I knew, John, lived for jazz; he worked at a local station that played 24 hour jazz. His apartment was decorated with posters of his idols, his record album toting Nina Simone and Professor Longhair. When he danced, he was liquid and fluid, his eyes closed. Not that all jazz fans are stoners, but John was, a mellow man, mellow the way jazz is mellow and sporadic in energy like jazz picks up and undulates. Zack is at the heart, a bluegrass country boy with a rockabilly twist. Jeans rolled to wide cuffs with Chuck Taylor low tops and a cowboy hat hiding a shaved head and stretched earlobes. He plays mandolin and acoustic guitar. He adores Billy Bragg and Hank Williams III, but will be seen at a Dropkick Murphy show. He lives the polar life of back woods and back alley. You don't have to guess where his life philosophy is.
When you are into a culture that is almost opposite to yours at first, music is one of the first ways to make contact. When you want to slip out of yourself and your prescribed trappings, you reach out for something new, and if music is what you find, it can be almost like a transfiguration. It is hard for me to get into blues not because I don't like it, but because I feel almost like a thief stealing someone else's history for my entertainment. Even though we've all had the blues, I question if I could have the blues the way Ry Cooder or John Mooney has them. It's not that their music excludes me, it's just that I somehow feel unjustified in believing that I can relate on their level.
So I tend to listen to music created in the similar culture of my own. Music of my generation, of my hometown, of the here and now, right here. Now, in New Orleans, that may mean a little more than the top 40 selection that most Americans get, but that's only if you go to the local shows that aren't just like what's on the radio. You have to work to find a culture here that isn't like your own, unless you count 3 piece jazz ensembles that play at the open mouths of bars facing the sidewalk, and I don't. The zydeco or jazz you hear on Bourbon Street sounds like it's a local flavor, but it's catering to tourists for the most part. You'd need to find a real juke joint to hear local music, and likely you wouldn't feel too comfortable there if you are white. But they are fun when you do find them and the people are actually very inviting, even though you are an outsider.
Perhaps I'm not being clear, or am thinking too much about music. But I can't help it. It's like when I see punkers wearing camouflage pants and Army issue boots and I wonder if they ever thought that they are wearing a uniform instead of rebelling against conformity. Maybe that's a way to use a medium against itself. It just makes me cringe to see white guys who in my opinion have never suffered a day in their lives getting into music that reflects a deeper sense of suffering or strife, and thinking it's cool, and never really letting it change them, never letting it get in, where music does the greatest good.