Monday, 2 December 2013

A Musical Odyssey

Music has played an important part in my life since childhood, and I am constantly surprised at the way in which my tastes and interests have evolved.  I have come a long way since purchasing my first 7 inch single at the age of nine!  In that time music has served numerous functions; as a frivolous means of relaxation, as an outlet for youthful rebellion and assertion of identity, and as a palliative in times of trouble.  Like many people, I tend to trace pivotal points in my life by way of the music which I was listening to at the time.

I did come from a vaguely musical family, as my mother had played the piano and worked in a music shop. My parents’ record collection was, shall we say, eclectic, comprising things as diverse as Julie Andrews, Franz Schubert and the Mamas and the Papas.  I half absorbed some of the images and sounds reaching my senses from the radio and television, but very little of it made a major impression.  At that stage, music was just one of the many good things in life.

Things began to change in the closing months of 1979, when my attention was drawn to a single just released by Queen, entitled “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.  What drew me to this record, and to this group, more than others which I had heard, is difficult to pinpoint in retrospect.  It may just have been a case of “right place, right time”, meaning that I was receptive to something which seemed, to my youthful ears at least, to possess both substance and mystique.  Thus commenced my love affair with music….

My teenage years, like those of many people, were ones of uncertainty and change, in my case partly conditioned by the after-effects of family upheaval.  There was the obligatory casting around for direction, dabbling in sub-cultures, often succumbing to peer pressure, but as adulthood presented itself some things began to crystallize.

Other people have observed that my tastes and inclinations in music tend towards what might be termed “craftsmanship” and “the organic”, and I think there is some merit in this assertion.  Much of the music which I have gravitated towards during the past two decades could loosely be said to have these qualities.  I have occasionally pondered whether humans possess some kind of innate genetic disposition towards certain styles, intricacies or genres, and to what degree one’s tastes are influenced by social interaction, environment and accumulated personality traits.  A debate for another time, methinks!

In my own case, preferences have tended to develop in several ways.  After teenage experimentation and restlessness had begun to subside, my tastes were really quite narrow.   Such a restricted outlook eventually breeds curiosity, and in my case I began to wonder what other delights were out there.  So my listening habits began to broaden from the safe, “populist”, some might even say lowest-common-denominator, towards things which, although nominally connected and within the same genre, were also more rewarding and esoteric.  When I stepped out of my comfort zone around twenty years ago, a whole new kaleidoscopic world began to emerge.

Once I had crossed the frontier,  awe and wonder bred further inquisitiveness.  I would liken this process to a “family tree” , with each new discovery inspiring me to explore the numerous sub-branches.  For example, an initial affinity for the shiny, anodyne country-rock of the Eagles has led via a tortuous route from Californian rock to folk-rock, singer-songwriters and British folk music, and the search continues.

Other strands of my musical “development” have emanated from other sources.  There is a natural resistance to embrace those things cherished by one’s siblings or antagonists. Once this crumbled for me, a new vista of musical delights opened up, and I was happy to admit to those antagonists and siblings that “you were right”. 

Happy chance can also enrich our landscape.  A cursory glance at a thread on an internet forum a couple of years ago reawakened an interest in classical music, which had lain dormant since my school days.
One of the wonderful things about music is that the possibilities are almost endless.  Just when we think that our “portfolio” has become  static and stable, we stumble across a new artist, “scene” or style which sends us off in another stimulating area of research.  This is of course greatly facilitated by the myriad tools available to us via the internet.

Although music is very important to me, I increasingly try to remind myself not to take it too seriously.   It enhances life, and can also reflect life, and for some people music represents a statement of allegiance or lifestyle choice. When all is said and done, however, it remains an art and an entertainment. By being too “precious” or insular about it, people are actually depriving themselves of a great deal of enjoyment and fulfillment.

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