A Slice of Fried Gold

Crafting A Musical Identity

Monday, February 22, 2010
I was driving home today blaring 98.1 KLEF FM Anchorage (classical) while contemplating whether I should listen to my standard running mix (a hodgepodge of 140 bpm style music by artists like Girl Talk, Passion Pit, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lil' Wayne and more) or if I could successfully pull off a run while listening to Yann Tiersen's soundtrack to Amélie. Tough decision, but I figured I could do it and dammit, I was really feeling Tiersen today. The run turned out great while listening to Tiersen, but it got me to thinking: how the heck have I gotten to where I am in terms of music?

They say that every moment in your life helps sculpt who you are (who they is, I don't know, I may have just come up with that), but what in life makes a person listen to what they do? A quick browse at my Last.FM page reveals an eclectic and seemingly disconnected list of artists. My Top Eight from all-time and from the past three months are below, from most listens on down:

All Time
1. Beirut
2. Sigur Rós
3. Girl Talk
4. Yann Tiersen
5. Spoon
6. Anathallo
7. Andrew Bird
8. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground (666 listens - ahhh!!!!)

Last Three Months
1. Hot Chip
2. Kings of Convenience
3. The xx
4. Sigur Rós
5. Owen Pallett
6. Yeasayer
7. St. Vincent
8. Raekwon

Throw in the fact that my 12th most listened to "artist" is the identity-less "Movies" (collected soundtracks throughout the years) and that when I'm not listening to CD's or my iPod, I'm listening to Anchorage's classical station, and you have a pretty damn weird mix of music.

But when I look back on my childhood and my interests (Reese's Peanut Butter Cups excluded), you see a road map that leads directly to where I am. Each cultural touchstone left an indelible impression on who I am, and slowly but surely made me who I am today, at least musical. Here's the recipe to me as a musical listener, or at least what I surmise it is.

80's Pop

Some people grew up listening to The Beatles. Some people grew up listening to The Rolling Stones. Some people grew up listening to not much of anything. I grew up listening to 80's pop. Basically, what my mom listened to is what I listened to. This meant lots of Gloria Estefan, Mike and the Mechanics, The Doobie Brothers ("What a Fool Believes" still slays me), and Eurhythmics.

Hysterically enough, when I think of the comic book character Wolverine my mind inevitably goes back to Gloria Estefan's "Conga".


It reminds me of sitting out in the winter waiting for my brother's hockey practice to end as my mom listened to it and I read issues from Larry Hama's run ("oh my god! not Wolverine's adamantium skeleton!). What a weird message that is.

No less, the pop sensibilities and obsession with synthesizer from that music meant a lot to my addiction to indie pop, as those same characteristics are most seen today in groups like Passion Pit and Hot Chip.

Paul Simon's Graceland

More so than any album my mom regularly listened to, my mom's love for Graceland weighed heavily upon my future musical tastes. Particularly "You Can Call Me Al", a track that best bridged the gap between Paul Simon's newfound Afro Pop tendencies and his desire to make impossibly catchy music. Plus, you had a video that starred Chevy Chase, who was exactly as cool then as he was not cool five years ago (he's cool again though...poor Chevy Chase and his roller coaster popularity).

I loved it because it was unbelievably fun to dance like a dork to and so easy to sing along to. The whole album was a treasure, and whenever it was on you'd find me at my most gleeful.

For some reason I feel as if the whole of Vampire Weekend agrees with me.

Transformers: The Movie Soundtrack

Besides maybe The Goonies, there was no movie that captured my imagination more than this one. Growing up I wanted to be a Transformer, and when Optimus Prime died in the movie, I felt like a member of my own family died. Except he was better because he had the Matrix of Leadership. This soundtrack was the first piece of music I owned myself, a cassette I hid in my underwear drawer because god only knows no one would look for it there.

If you go out to a bar with me, there is the slightest chance you'll hear me break into an acapella rendition of Stan Bush's "The Touch" like my name was Dirk Diggler. In fact, I did that this past Saturday at the Buckaroo Club. Basically, this was all about cheesy synths and soaring vocals, which somehow over the past twenty plus years have been cultivated to be awesome instead of a ten out of ten on the ridiculous scale. Just ask Passion Pit.

Final Fantasy

Up until Final Fantasy IX, the only day that rivaled Christmas in childhood splendor were the days when a new Final Fantasy game was released. I wasn't really into music fully until high school, but I knew I loved Nobuo Uematsu's soundtracks. I remember very specifically when the Super Nintendo finally came out (after months and months of anguish suffered by my brother and I, akin to what Cartman went through while waiting for the Wii), we sprinted downstairs and immediately started playing FFIV (or FFII in America).

Ever since then I was completely and impossibly hooked.

In particular, the Airship Themes always got to me, and for some reason the structure and epic nature of them really killed me. In particular FFVII's Airship Theme, with its swirling background, triumphant high tones, and pseudo percussion (everything was basically a Midi file).

In fact, any time I hear a song that reminds me of one of those Airship Themes (like, say...Rufus Wainwright's "Evil Angel"), that song gets incalcuably cooler. It could be complete garbage and when a person would ask me why I'm listening to it, I'd respond with a completely straight face and say "because it makes me feel like I'm flying an airship."

Honest to god, I've done that before.

Simon and Simon's Theme Song

"Wait. What? Simon and Simon?"

Yes. Simon and Simon. The old CBS show starring Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker. That show. That was influential to me.


Yes. Really. One of my all-time favorite legends my parents tell of me (that's right, legends) involved me being completely dead asleep on their bed when I was probably four when it came on. Sure enough, as soon as it came on I got up and I danced until I couldn't dance any more. Which according to this YouTube Clip is about one minute and three seconds.

It was probably a completely ridiculous show, but something about it was like a cross between crack and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (have I mentioned I loved Reese's yet?) for me. When you get down to it, the song combines a lot of elements that work really well for me in music these days: oddly country like guitar riffs, horns, snapping/clapping, and bouncy rhythms. So thank you Simon and Simon, thank you for making me a sucker for Okkervil River, ska, and all kinds of other music.


MOM said...

I remember those days quite fondly!
Beautiful day in the Florida Keys.

Troy Olson said...

Love how you managed to tie all of this into your current music tastes.

I can relate to your comment about reading Wolverine and attaching it to specific music. I still remember specific comic books I'd be reading (often GI JOE or MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS or some such thing) and hearing something like Richard Marx on the radio (Right Here Waiting For You). Not sure why him of all people, but it's the truth.

And damn straight on the Stan Bush song from the TRANSFORMERS movie. That one got me pumped up when I heard it. Right then and there you knew Megatron was in trouble!

I remember watching SIMON AND SIMON with my mom too, as well as stuff like MAGNUM PI and ROCKFORD FILES, all shows which had instantly recognizable theme songs.

Seriously, nice stuff here.

Kellie said...

I can picture a young David Harper dancing around to Simon and Simon...it would look almost identical to the current David Harper, just a little bit shorter. <3
Love, Kellie

Cameron said...

Graceland is one of my all-time favorite albums. My parents played it on car trips, and I kept going back to listen to it years later. Killer, killer stuff.

Grace said...

I LOVED SIMON & SIMON and still do after all this time. And I LOVED both theme songs as well.
Special show not only about detective work, but about family ties.

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