Tuesday, November 15, 2016

So Listen Up 'Cause You Can't Say Nothin'

Today was the 30th anniversary of the release of License to Ill.  I celebrated by playing a bunch of Beastie Boys, and it got me thinking about music, and all the ways that it's influenced me, impacted me, opened doors, shaped my experiences.

I've been playing music for most of my life, and I'm immensely grateful that's the case, but that's not really what I want to talk about today.  Maybe that'll be part II.  Today I want to talk about the times when listening to music affected me purely as a listener, rather than as a performer.

There are two moments in my life that really stand out for me when I think about how listening to music has impacted my life.  The first was when I was maybe 13 years old, and I was sitting in the car, waiting for my sister.  A song came on the radio, and even though I didn't recognise the song, I knew every damn word.  It was a surreal experience, singing along with a song that, as far as I could remember, I'd never heard before.  I was confused and disoriented and thrilled all at once, how was this even possible?  When I got home, I went straight to my parents' record collection, and sure enough, there it was, "Night Moves" by Bob Seger.  I put that album on, and a flood of memories from the earliest years of my life came pouring in.  I'm sure my folks played that record hundreds of times when I was still in diapers, and though I wasn't conscious of it, those songs (along with the Zepplin, Springsteen, Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Simon & Garfunkel) had burrowed deep inside me and were just itching for opportunities to break back out.  That was the first time I understood just what a powerful connection music had with memory, and it's a lesson I happily re-learn every time "Gimme Shelter" comes on the radio and all of a sudden it's summer vacation and I'm sitting in the back seat with my sister while we roll across the prairies, and dammit that drive to Calgary always felt 18 hours long when I was a kid.

The second moment that sticks with me came a couple years later, when I was in high school, and it involves the Beastie Boys, which is why I was thinking about it today.  I got home from school and flipped on MuchMusic, and I couldn't make any sense of what I was seeing or hearing.  It would be wrong of me to say that I liked it, in fact I'm pretty sure I didn't like it at all.  But it was so weird, so different, that it just completely fascinated me.  Every once in a while you experience something that is so far removed from anything you've ever seen before, it blows the doors off your preconceptions, and reveals to you staggering new possibilities.  That's what happened to me the first time I saw the video for "Sabotage".  That video slapped me across the face and made me realise that there was this massive unexplored world that existed outside my realm of experience, a world that I knew NOTHING about.  This was music that didn't get played on the one shitty FM station we had in town, music that wasn't on the vinyl downstairs, or in my CD collection, or on the cassettes in the glove-box.  This wasn't music that was going to be handed to me, it was music I had to go looking for, and I couldn't wait to get started.

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