When I DJ weddings I tend to use them as an excuse to research and consume massive amounts of music that I think might be appropriate for the gig that I have thus far ignored or neglected in my life. I had very spotty exposure to popular rock music after the 80’s. Basically none since the early ’90s. I have managed to go through life being largely unfamiiar with the Strokes, White Stripes, Hives, Killers, Vines, Jet, My Chemical Romance, Panic at the Disco!, Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, you name it. Much less anything more obscure. I know all the images and all the names from my voracious consumption of music magazines, but I am utterly unfamiliar with their any of their sounds. I was obsessed with indie rock in the early ’90s and then simply stopped being interested or caring about anything rock-related. For an upcoming wedding I have relied on friends and family to catch me up with many of these artists. I spend so much time listening to music that most people in the US have no clue about, that I often have no clue about what most people in the US are listening to. When I do mainstream events such as weddings I feel a real need to have some awareness of popular music. Especially at weddings it is the familiar songs that are a DJ’s bread and butter. The more popular songs I am aware of, the larger my pool of options.
In the 80’s and the very beginning of the ’90s I loved pop-punk music. Bands such as the Descendents, All (Dave Smalley only, please) and Dag Nasty were responsible for a lot of my favorite songs. In college I developed a taste for much darker and more experimental music and left all of the pop stuff alone. I remember I was at a party in the Spring of 1993 and my friends were singing along to early Green Day albums released before they were on a major label. I’d never heard of them and realized that the world of pop-punk had continued rolling right along without me. I felt the same way when I discovered Operation Ivy. (Jawbreaker were also popular with some of my peers that stayed in the scene, but I never checked them out.)
When Green Day and Offspring did hit big many old time fans of punk rock felt a need to distinguish between the music they loved and this new music (many refused to call it punk, or admit any relation) that was dominating MTV and album sales. I liked some of these bands’ songs for the simple reason that they were catchy pop songs. I never bought any of their music but I also didn’t change the channel when their songs came on MTV. However, after these bands’ major label crossover debuts I stopped paying any attention to anything poppy and punky on a mainstream level. Mainly because after that point I no longer watched any television or listened to corporate radio. I did, however, continue to read just about any music magazine that came across my path, so I stayed vaguely aware of the existence of many bands that I had never heard.
Researching music today is a far different thing than what I have experienced over the last thirty years. In the old days I might hear or read about a band and I had to either listen to a friend’s copy, or go buy it myself. I was always interested in music no one around me listened to so my only option was to go buy it. Now anyone can research all sorts of music online with no commitment to buy. I do not get involved in ilegal downloading, but even on a stricty legal level one’s options are astounding. I can simply google a band, or use wikipedia, find their myspace page, listen to some samples, watch some videos on youtube, etc. Kids today might take this for granted but I am aware of just what a new development this is. Without spending a dime I can research any number of bands in a very small window of time through using these online tools. Crazy. I grew up on rummaging around garages, attics, etc. for dusty records so this online music research phenomenon is a very new thing for me.
What I am remembering about myself through this research is how much of a sucker I am for a good uptempo pop song. As if my love for cheezy Bollywood didn’t already confirm this. I am currently loving songs by Blink-182 and New Found Glory (yep, whiney suspect vocals and all) that everyone else may have heard (and hated) a million times. (Maybe after I’ve heard them more than a few times I’ll feel the same way.) I learned that there are a few Strokes songs I think are pretty good. I even discovered how clever the new Fall Out Boy video is.
I am so past caring what is “cool” or not “cool.” (Unfortunately my epic post on FRPGs is taking forever to finish.) I am an old-timer who grew up listening to punk rock and hardcore in the ’80s and yet I feel no need to dismiss top 40 bands who reference these idioms in their music. Punk rock and Hip-hop are similar in that there has always been a great deal of music under their umbrellas, and there have always been people attempting to consecrate a canon and keep it pure. There were always bands or artists wanting to cross-over from within the hip-hop and punk worlds as much as there were also purists trying to excommunicate them. Well I like some hip-hop and some punk and some pop and my listening is not affected by what categories purists wants to stick a song in. I like pop music that works as pop music no matter how much of a sell-out or a poser someone thinks the artist is. Hell, Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” was one of my favorite albums in my early adolescence. (We’ll just ignore “Diehard the Hunter” and “Billy’s Got a Gun.”) That actually leads me to a story about my early attempts to discover punk rock.
My first awareness of punk came in 1982 when I was a sixth grader and the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” video was playing on MTV. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV but I caught a glimpse at a friend’s house. One kid told me that if you watched their lips closely you could see that they were really saying “fuck the Casbah.” Around this time my friend Nathan Means told me about some highly-controversial punk band called the Sex Pistols. Now in my mind I tried to think of the naughtiest thing I could that would have people riled up. I imagined a group of sexed-out female Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders with six shooters when I tried to picture the band. In the summer of 1983 I would take various friends to go swimming in the stagnant pools left in a local dried up river. Despite the prevalence of large poisonous snakes in Columbia, Missouri, this somehow seemed like a good idea for cooling off on a hot day. My friend Nathan and I tried to convince my friend Doug Robertson to go one day. He lived near the woods with the dried-up river. He said his mom wouldn’t let him because of all the snakes. Nathan and I had actually never seen any snakes on our swimming trips before, or even worried about the possibility. As we were walking along the riverbed looking for a deep pool that still had water Nathan saw a snake up ahead. I couldn’t see it. He threw a rock at it to show me where it was. Then I could see it, because all three feet of its dark body began slithering towards us rapidly. We ran off screaming. We stopped exhausted after a while only to see another mottled three foot long snake beside us. Aaaaaaah. We kept running and running until I dropped at the edge of a pool only to see another three-foot snake staring at me from inside the shallow pool. Aaaaaaaaaah. We ran all the way to Doug’s house.
We played with his Odyssey computer and Nathan typed in “shit I hate snakes” for the voice simulator to repeat over and over. After a while we started watching MTV. For some reason I was obsessed with finding out what punk was. Every time a video came on (no matter what it was) I would ask, “Is this punk?” Finally Def Leppards’s “Pyromania” video came on and I didn’t care what it was, it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I was a huge D&D fanatic at the time and the fact that Joe Elliott wielded a broadsword (before it transformed into a guitar) was just too cool. It took me until the end of that Summer when I was visiting my older cousin Carter in Colorado before I could hear it again. In the meantime I just kept singing the phrase “Rock of Ages” over and over because it was the only line I remembered. At my cousin’s I would listen to the album on headphones in the dark after all the parents thought we were asleep. I moved to Portland at the end of that summer and Def Leppard were “over” in Portland. Only unrepentant stoner kids still repped them on their denim. Most kids seemed to be listening only to their older sisters’ and brothers’ music such as the Police, Bowie, the Who, etc. Boring.
At this point I was going to continue on to talk all about punk, hardcore, and high school, but I gotta break off this post for now. I’ll just leave you with the thought of pre-Hysteria Def Leppard. Later.