A Healthy Diet of Art: Fandom in the age of endless content

If I were to sum up the musical category of my growing up, it would seem likely to say that I’m a child of rock’n’roll. I can’t remember a genre played more in my household. The specific memories were cassette tapes of Aerosmith’s Pump and the Beatles’ 1967-1970, as well as the VHS copies of Pink Floyd’s Pulse and ACDC’s No Bull. My dad played in a local covers band called My Fur Coat, and they jammed out classic pub-rock tracks like Bryan Adam’s Run to You and Screaming Jetts’ Better, and even as I got older my father started to find some bands that as far as I can remember he hadn’t really listened to so much when I was a child, such as Black Sabbath and David Bowie. And yet despite all this, my earliest memory is throwing a temper tantrum in the back of the car because my dad wouldn’t play the cassette tape of Michael Jackson’s Thriller one day.

But that’s the thing about my father: despite being such a rockin’ dude, he did have a slightly bizarre and diverse taste in music. He had been this rock’n’roll hippy growing up and travelling through America through the 70’s, and yet on top of all the rock’n’roll he would crank at home, we also had a copy of Prince’s Batman soundtrack on vinyl, as well as a Mariah Carey VHS concert (back when she did more traditional soul and rnb songs) and Supertramp and Bee Gees tapes. At his core, he was a rock dude, but somehow he found his way to these other genres that made the music in our household so diverse that really it could’ve been anything I chucked a temper tantrum over. It just happened to be over MJ is all.

And I’m glad of it, because as I’ve grown older I think that kind of diversity in content has allowed me to keep an open mind regarding music. What’s strange is how much more varied my tastes have become in comparison to my fathers. Not to shit on the guy at all, because I love the dude, but man, he did not like country and folk music. One of his favourite jokes is, “Bob Dylan? More like Bob Boring.”

But again, I have to give him credit: he still could have an appreciation for some of the things he didn’t like. His problem with Bob Dylan was that he thought he was a great songwriter, but that the folk genre didn’t have the soul that he sought from his music, thus finding his satisfaction in Dylan’s song-writing generally through cover-versions by Jimi Hendrix. It’s a small thing, but I think that influenced an open-mindedness on me, and curiosity over the years got the better of me. Why did all these rock’n’roll artists love Dylan so much and cover his tunes over and over?

So I found my way to Dylan. And where my dad particularly liked some disco-flavoured genre artists like Bee Gees and Supertramp, or even his love for an artist like David Bowie, I found myself wanting to explore the genres that inspired them, and found my way to soul and funk music, something my father rarely listened to. (Though to be fair, one of his favourite albums is Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, and he ain’t wrong: it’s a fucking perfect record and is up there as one of my favourites too) So through all of his genres he loved, I went deeper and found Neil Young and Curtis Mayfield and Townes Van Zandt and Marvin Gaye, and going deeper than that went well on back to jazz artists such Max Roach, Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy, on top of the staples such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Even if my father didn’t listen to these artists, and with some would even go as far as saying he didn’t like them, he allowed an open mind to the quality of their artistry, and I’m grateful that he did.

But it’s too much. There’s just so much content. And all I ever seem to want to do is find more. Even within my own genres of music that I found as part of my growing up, such as punk rock and hip-hop, how does one keep up? Even the staple records; there are still classic punk and hardcore albums and bands that I’ve barely gotten around to listening to, if at all, such as a good deal of the Dead Kennedy’s back catalogue or Cro-Mags, or even Minor Threat, a band I’ve only listened to a handful of times. This isn’t so much due to disinterest, it’s just that how I consume music is that when I get into something it can be hard for me to divert my attention, so whenever I’ve chucked on Minor Threat it’s likely been as a side-track from a Black Flag binge, with my thinking being “this will further satisfy my current interests”, but really all I feel like listening to is Black Flag.

And on top of this, what of all the new records coming out? These last few years I’ve felt particularly out of touch, with only a handful of records really standing out and getting some repeat business. This has gotten so bad for me that I kind of just switched off and forgot to pay attention.

But I’m trying to re-find my way. Recently I listened to Joe Rogan’s interview with Henry Rollins, in which Rollins talks about how goes about consuming his music, referring to his weekdays as the digestion of good, lean protein (taking in new music he’s yet to listen to), and the weekends as his carb-up (listening to the classic records he’s loved for years). I found this to be a really interesting way to go about taking in music, almost as if its a discipline in order to keep yourself and your tastes relevant. For him now it’s purely as a fan. For myself, it’s both as a fan and a songwriter.

And I do feel it’s important. I remember seeing an interview with Tom Araya from Slayer once, and he talked about how he didn’t really know any of the bands from the festival tour he was on, and didn’t really listen to much new music anymore. I just couldn’t help but feel like this perfectly summed up why Slayer is such a stale band. Not that Tom really writes for Slayer, but if you’re not taking in music anymore, what’s inspiring you? Not that I expect Slayer to take influence from modern trends to change their sound; I don’t particularly care if Slayer are the ACDC of thrash metal music and always sound the same. But at some point if you’re not find outside influence you become just a snake eating its own tail, and at then what’s the point?

So I’m going to do my best to take a leaf from Rollins book, and I’m going to save my potatoes for the weekend. I’ve already digested enough Cave In in my life (no I haven’t… and I never will), so that can be reexamined on my Saturdays and Sundays. But my weekdays are going to be about finding new music to take in. This doesn’t necessarily mean brand new, because there’s still Minor Threat to give a good, hard listen to. But already I’ve found my way to a few new records that I’m quite enjoying, and once again, I’m grateful of my father’s instilling a keen interest in diversity in sound in me. Feist’s Pleasure just came out, and today I gave it my first spin, and then my second and third. This folk album is a great listen, but that first track just sticks with me, with its riffy chorus being so infectious. I’ve also been getting my metal fix with Mutoid Man’s War Moans, and although it’s not quite the wacky sound I loved from their first release, it’s still good fun with a few really great tunes, and what might be one of my favourite songs of the year with the closing power-ballad Bandages.

But I’d be remiss if failed to mention what is currently my favourite record of the year, Oxbow’s Thin Black Duke. This is one of those records that immediately just captured my attention, and once finished I thought, “perfect.” It is an absolutely fantastic record, and I’ve been loving it since it came out. And this was prior to hearing the Rollins’ podcast, and I’d never even really explored Oxbow in the past; I just for some reason heard they were releasing an album and thought, “I’ve been meaning to check them out.” Admittedly, it was like the title that got me, being a big David Bowie fan and sorely missing Bowie since his passing and the release of what has become one of my favourite records of the last few years, Black Star. But even if you’re not a Bowie fan, this isn’t exactly a total Bowie tribute. The band claims they’ve barely taken influence from Bowie with their songwriting, but still, I think inadvertently they may have stumbled across a sound that is kind of reminiscent of Bowie’s own Thin White Duke era, most especially with his Station to Station record (my favourite… I fucking love that record). Not that it sounds especially like that record, but it reminds me of the same poetic and melancholic songwriting Bowie had done, with a similar diversity in sound, but with a more modern fitting. It’s as though it’s Bowie by way of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, with hints of Neurosis, Soundgarden and even a little Deftones in there.

And speaking of Soundgarden, my weekend carb-up has definitely been a good deal of delving into the Superunknown. Chris Cornell’s tragic passing shook me, and though I’ve been a fan of Soundgarden for a few years, and increasingly found myself enjoying them more and more as one of my favourite acts of the 90’s, their music has taken a whole new form for me since Cornell’s passing. It’s horrible that such a terrible event has been what really took my enjoyment of the band from liking to loving, but it was with a much more keen ear that I started listening to the band not just as a great and fun rock band, but for the incredible songwriting and lyricism. Soundgarden is one of those rare bands that was popular, yes, but almost understated through how complicated their sound was, and yet beat all odds considering how complicated their sound was. It’s easy to just listen to them as a rock fan and say, “yeah, cool… rock’n’roll,” but when you really delve into it, they were like the Beatles by way of Black Sabbath but made for the 90’s. Soundgarden were an incredible band, and in no small part due to Cornell and his talents as an amazing singer and songwriter, and he will be very sadly missed. (Also, naturally I explored his solo material, of which there is a good deal of great material, but most especially check out Temple of the Dog if you haven’t already. Only one album, but is absolutely fucking phenomenal)

So these are the goals I’ve set for myself. On top of music, I also intend to try and further my horizons with my interests in other artforms as well, most especially with film and literature. After a while of not having read so much, I’ve been getting back into the swing of it with some Elmore Leonard and Stephen King. And I’ve been found myself somewhat sentimental about the times when films would draw in crowds partially due to their star-power. Not so much that I need a great name attached to a film, as that certainly doesn’t guarantee a quality movie, but certain stars were who they were because there was a charisma that was undeniable, like a Harrison Ford or a Tom Hanks. It was much more amplified with classic actors like James Stewart, but at the same time, I love me some James Stewart. So I’m trying to follow up on some older films that I’ve either never seen or haven’t seen since I was a kid, meanwhile taking in newer films as much as I can.

Also, I finally watched Westworld. TV’s a whole different thing, and I might write about my thoughts on long-form narrative another day, but it was pretty good, but made especially great by Anthony Hopkins, yet another incredibly charismatic actor and an amazing performance.

Alright. Time to listen to Minor Threat.

-Louman

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