Sunday, November 30, 2008

WTFITS, or When “Bad” CDs Happen to Good People

Congratulations. You just bought a CD.

You figured Let me see what all the fuss is about. I’m a groovy guy, I can still dig what the young folks dig, right? So you put on your bell bottoms and earth shoes and head down to the record store. You ask where the albums are because all you see are CDs. They tell you that unless you’re a DJ (somehow they know you aren’t) the album you want is only available in CD format (or you could download it, but let’s not even go there). You call your kids, who assure you that there is a CD player in the house so it’s safe to buy some.

Now you could let this little bump in the road throw you - you could chicken out and just look for an album you’re already familiar with (I can just see you boring your kids with You see this is the part where you’re supposed to turn it over, etc.) but that would defeat the whole purpose of this trip. You’re a cool guy! You can handle the new stuff! So what if the wife looks at you funny? You’ve learned to ignore that by now, haven’t you?

So you buy something. It’s one of those new fangled records you read about in your local newspaper. And although it’s a family paper, the reviewer is trying to be hip, and overcompensates by excessively praising a band with more cache than actual talent.

So, like the diet book that makes it all the way from the book store to your home, but never quite to the top of your reading list, let alone in the form of food on your dinner table, the CD just sits there. The one major difference between the CD and the diet book is that you’ve probably listened to the CD once. Hey, how hard is it to cut open the cellophane (very, actually) and slap it onto the CD player (after the kids have shown you how, that is)? I mean, it’s not like the lyrics are a lecture on the dangers of trans fatty acids or something. So you get that far at least.

But when you put it on, you…just…don’t …get it. In other words, your reaction is WTFITS? (English translation: “My, but isn’t this different?…”) Don’t panic.

There are very few CDs that fit any mood, and I’ll go further to say that, with rare exception, those that do should be considered wall paper, not music. So don’t let it throw you that you maybe didn’t like it right away. Wait until you’re in the mood. How’s that for a switch?

I went into some detail in an early post about how to deal with new music, but that was meant for those CDs that puzzle you. Now I’m talking about the stuff that you’re embarrassed to play around other human beings (as opposed to what you should be embarrassed to play around others), or is at the very least, totally inappropriate for the matter at hand. (Irish music and sex, for instance - “Celtic Moods”, not withstanding.) I didn’t develop a sense of this myself until a friend pointed out that the Brian Eno record I had on– early, baroque Brian Eno, not the later spacey Brian Eno – wasn’t exactly conducive to hitchhiking to the beach. Whatever you think of Eno, he certainly isn’t your “let’s get this party started” kind of guy. OK, now I know.

During an otherwise stellar record store run (Neil Young, Graham Parker, Bryan Ferry, come to think of it, this was when I picked up Eno….) I got “Second Edition” by Public Image Ltd. PIL was Johnny (Rotten) Lydon’s band after the Sex Pistols. I played it a few times and felt like I had crash-landed on a hostile planet. So I put it away for several months. One dark gloomy fall day I felt like trying it again, and it totally floored me. It remains one of my favorite albums, and comes in handy when I want to chase unwelcome guests away.

Okay, now I know what some of you are thinking. Music, like sex, is meant to be enjoyed, usually with others. Listening to it shouldn’t feel like homework. Can’t I just put it on and enjoy? I can’t argue with that, but I also can’t help thinking that if I just stuck with the artists that I knew I liked, I would quickly get into a rut, and eventually hit a dead end, listlessly buying their latest record, and concluding that, while not great, it was certainly better than their last one. It’s like when a farmer plants the same crop year after year. It deadens the soil, and things stop growing. He knows he has to plant something new every couple of years to replenish the soil.

Well, that’s where my agricultural expertise ends. My point is that I’m always on the lookout for something different. I’ll admit that there are some records that manage to walk that fine line of sounding both vitally new and yet familiar. But let’s leave that to people like Neil Young and John Prine.

There’s a point in your life when you realize that your record collection has to mean something. (Jesus Christ, I can’t believe that I just wrote that. Let it stand. You’ll think I’m kidding.) I recently read somewhere that reading fiction is an act of self definition. I think it’s even more true when it comes to record buying. If all your record library contains are the most popular records, then what purpose did it serve? You could have saved yourself a lot of money and just turned on the radio.

So a little WTF is good for you. If you’re up for it, besides PIL, I can definitely recommend these:

Soul Coughing: Ruby Vroom (Remember, not at dinner time!)

Now playing: Soul Coughing - Blue Eyed Devil
via FoxyTunes

X: Wild Gift One of the great punk albums.

Now playing: X - I'm Coming Over
via FoxyTunes

Brian Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) But please, not right before the beach.

Now playing: Brian Eno - Burning Airlines Give You So Much More
via FoxyTunes

They each caused some dismay upon first listen, but eventually wormed their way onto my favorites. And aren’t good friends like that?

1 comment:

chas said...

dude, i play taking tiger mountain for my yoga classes, along with music for airports and ambient 2 the plateau of mirror. ipod of course. owned all those things on lp, cd, and now hard drive and ipod.

music gives us an opportunity to express things that we wouldn't have the opportunity to express in regular it's great for the nervous system, not to mention the soul!