Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it. ~ Henry David Thoreau
I’ve been working the concept of “music likers vs. music lovers” around in my head for a long time. Years. Maybe even decades.
I remember being in grade 10 in 1980 and wearing a Def Leppard “On Through the Night” t-shirt to school (I had to get a relative in the UK to buy it for me and send it over…they were completely unknown over here…much like Biffy Clyro are today). People said “who are THEY? That’s a stupid name. They totally ripped off Zeppelin. They’ll never last.” People are alarmed by new things. They need other people to tell them it’s OK to like it instead of just deciding for themselves. It’s one of my least favourite things about humans.
When I was in my early teens, my neighbour Jon and I used to go to this little record shop on Stephen Ave and order import LPs by Motörhead and Saxon and Tygers of Pan Tang , which cost about 4 times what domestic albums cost. We’d learn about cool new bands from Kerrang! magazine and NME (which were also imported) and sometimes even Skateboarder. The first time I’d ever heard of George Thorogood was in 1977 when Skateboarder reviewed his debut album. I found out about Joe Jackson from Skateboarder too, I think. And DEVO.
I’ve never been able to put into words exactly how I feel about this in a way that other people can understand, unless – like Jon – they feel exactly the same way. There’s always push-back. I suppose that’s to be expected when dealing with what is basically just an opinion, unsubstantiated by any kind of facts. So I’m probably going to end up re-visiting this a few times here over the next little while as I struggle to do an adequate job of communicating my thoughts, and somebody says to me “I get what you’re saying, because I feel the same way about the thing I love”.
Even though most people say “I love music”, they are actually music likers. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s call it what it is. Listening only to familiar songs from 30 or 40 years ago and lamenting the state of current music, or not appreciating music from 300 years ago, that makes you a liker. That’s fine. It’s not that I expect everybody to be as passionate about music as I am, but it frustrates me to hear someone say “I love music” when they clearly do not. I’m a movie liker. I’m a book liker. My friend Leah is a book lover.
Music lovers understand that good music has been created since the beginning of civilization and will continue to be created until humans become extinct (assuming music is peculiar to earthlings, and isn’t universal). To isolate a particular decade – which is an arbitrary and subjective measurement of time to start with anyway – as the high watermark of songwriting is bad craziness. When somebody makes a statement like “the best music was written in the 70’s”, they identify themselves as a close-minded dimwit. I usually try for a short while to see if I can get them to think differently, but I usually fail to convince them and leave the conversation in a huff with a dismissive wave of my hand.
Music lovers are always looking for something they’ve never heard before. They find the search and discovery to be invigorating. They can’t fathom listening to a narrow scope of either genre or period. Listening only to rock from the early 70’s is akin to only watching TV sitcoms from the late 80’s. Of course, I have my old standbys that I love, but I tend to binge on them a couple of times a year instead of relying on them for my day-to-day listening pleasure. For example, I’ll go for a week listening to nothing but Bon Scott era AC/DC, then I won’t listen to it again for 6 or 8 months. I spend most of my music listening time searching for cool new things. It doesn’t always pay off, but once in a while I’ll discover a band like Biffy Clyro, and I’ll get that fantastic feeling that I got in 1973 when I first heard Elton John, and 1976 when I first heard the Pistols, and 1978 when I heard Van Halen, and Pearl Jam, and Guns ‘n Roses, and U2, and The Police, and Foo Fighters, and MCR, and etc. etc. I’ll never get tired of that feeling. I love music waaaaaayyyyy too much to ever let it become a stagnant part of my life.
If somebody is a book lover, they usually don’t just have a small selection of novels from a specific decade. They have as many books as they can get their hands on. I’m approaching this from the point of view of someone who is primarily a rock fan, but it must logically extend to every genre. I have no issue with accepting that Mozart was an unusually stellar talent, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people composing great symphonies and operas in the modern era. We’ll probably never see another talent the calibre of Mozart, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t somebody in 2014 writing good symphonic music that symphonic music lovers can celebrate.
Maybe we’ll never see another Hendrix, but that doesn’t mean nobody in 2014 is writing great guitar driven rock music. A true music lover would have no problem telling you who some of those people are, and is always thrilled to be introduced to the ones they don’t know about yet. Don’t get me wrong, I love Van Halen – I freaking LOVE Van Halen – and The Beatles and Little Richard and Robert Johnson. “Classic Rock” radio stations have their place, but if that’s all a person ever listens to they are by definition a music liker (and since I invented the term, I also get to define it).
The problem isn’t that there’s no good music these days. The problem is that there’s SO MUCH good music and it’s more accessible than it ever has been in history. It’s impossible to give all of it a listen. Fortunately for people like me, it’s never been easier to get my fix. There are radio stations like Indie 88. There are websites like RadioYYC and ReverbNation and Noisetrade and on and on and on. For people like me, there’s an unprecedented number of avenues to discover new music. It’s a super fun time to be a music lover. I suppose it’s just a regular time to be a music liker.
It’s important to understand that the music we call “classic” today is only perceived that way through the lens of time. Nobody – not even the artists themselves – thought they’d be at all relevant 30 or 40 or 50 years down the line. People like Jimmy Page and Keith Richards weren’t looking any further ahead than the next gig. They had no concept of a career in rock that lasted 50 years or that they’d be household names in 2014. Obviously it’s still great music; that’s why we still listen to it. However, there was plenty…PLENTY…of bullshit music released in 1975. Anybody remember “All Pink Inside” by Frijid Pink? No? How about “The Rotters’ Club” by Hatfield and the North? We have to wait until 2030 or 2040 in order to judge which music from the current era is considered good enough to pass the test of time. We can’t do it now, although it’s reasonable to think that Pearl Jam and Nirvana are going to experience the same sort of longevity as Black Sabbath and The Stones.
Music likers are like wine likers. They think they know more than they do about the subject, and they like to talk it up, but true music lovers and true wine connoisseurs can spot them for the dilettantes that they are from a mile away. Does this mean music should be as important to everyone else as it is to me? Of course not. But it does mean that people who aren’t music lovers shouldn’t say quantifiably stupid things like “music peaked in the 70’s” or “music is at an all time low.” That’s myopic, intellectually lazy nonsense. It’s also an insult to Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krause, My Chemical Romance, Tool, Brad Paisley, John Mayer, Michael Buble, Steve Coleman, John Zorn, Weezer, Jane’s Addiction, and all the talented but unknown people who are working a day job while creating magic at night.
I’m a music lover, not a film lover or a poetry lover, so I can speak about music with some conviction and authentic passion. We music lovers are looking for an element that to some would be considered an intangible, but to music lovers is absolutely tangible…soul/honesty/integrity. The same could be said for any art form I guess, but I know plenty of people who never go to the theatre or don’t own any paintings and don’t read books.
I can’t think of anybody who doesn’t own some music.
All along, all I’ve really wanted to be is a writer. So now I tell people that’s what I am, even though I haven’t earned a dime being a writer.
That being said, I’ll confess that once a day, every day, I wish I was still a musician. That was the one time in my life when I was cool.