Music is the best medicine for me. My entire life has had music right at its center, from my Dad teaching guitar to me at age five, to coming home from school in the third-grade to my mother blasting the Beatles. My Dad taught me a more folksy style of playing music, as was his style at the time, but when I discovered Rock and Roll, I had really found my Balm of Gilead.
I get into obsessive stages of what I liked and what I want to listen to. When I was in grade school, all I knew was the Beatles. I took possession of my mother’s old LPs and played them until I wore the grooves down to nothing, or until I scratched them into oblivion. My mom still has those original US pressings of those albums, even if they are worthless to any collector. They were an integral part of our family.
I remember on the last day of fifth-grade that my class had a party. My very cool teacher said we could bring in any records that we liked. My classmates brought in some odd bubble-gummy pop crap that was fashionable in 1979, and I brought in the Beatles. My teacher loved that I brought in The White Album, and confessed that “Rocky Raccoon” was his favorite song. My fellow students thought that it was all weird, especially me.
Later that year, as I grew older and wiser in the sixth-grade, I started listening to the radio more and more. My older sister turned me to a lot of great Rock and Roll, but she also liked Disco, which at the time was forbidden in my circle of friends. We fought over the Rock station in Sacramento, KZAP, and the Pop/Disco station, KWOD. She usually won, by right of being older, but my friends and I found a lot of great music in the process. In the fall of 1979, I discovered Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and Supertramp. In the spring of 1980, I discovered Genesis, Yes, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and Aerosmith. My super-Christian parents rediscovered their love for Bob Dylan during his “Born Again” phase, and I heard his music frequently during this time.
The older I got, the more I discovered. There was Jethro Tull, the Band, the Who, the Police, and Billy Squier. Then, I discovered heavier music like Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, the Scorpions. Then I discovered Metal at its nascent stage with bands like Metallica, Venom, Slayer, Mercylful Fate, Saxxon, and Exodus.
And then, oddly enough, I discovered the Grateful Dead. This joyous music would come to transform and define me as a musician, and as a person. I would go on to see them in concert seventy times, and then discover the new wave of Jam Band followers like Phish, the Spin Doctors, moe., and the Disco Biscuits.
I fell in love with the Grunge movement of the early 1990s, itself a hangover of the old “College Rock”/Punk music of the 1980s in which I would dabble. In my early-to-mid-twenties by the time Nirvana changed the music world, I saw most of the concerts I would ever see in this brief 2-3 year period.
I did not only listen to music; I played it in bands, and I wrote songs, and I saw concerts, and I became a sort of historian for bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish, Neil Young, or any of the Grunge bands. I read every article I could find in fanzines like The Golden Road, or Relix, or in major publications like Spin, or Rolling Stone. I collected every bootlegged live concert I could get my hands on.
I have always found that music has ability like nothing else in the world to bring peace to me. It can also bring darkness to my soul that I did not invite. Therefore, I can only listen to certain music at certain times. I have written before about my history of depression and anxiety, and music plays a key role in that.
A perfect example of this is Elliott Smith. He is absolutely one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and he can construct the most gorgeous melodies this side of George Harrison. However, his lyrics are often sad, angry, and filled with self-loathing. His melodies, while beautiful, can be dark and haunting. As much as I love his songs, I cannot listen to him when I am feeling anxious or depressed. The same is true for Soundgarden, Nirvana, or even Wilco.
When I am feeling particularly anxious or depressed, I will usually go for the Grateful Dead, or Phish, or the Beatles, or the Flaming Lips, or Ween—something uplifting, or even silly. When things are going well for me, I will put on Elliott Smith, or Wilco, or The Cure, or anything else with a darker tone to it.
I mentioned before that I get obsessive about the music I listen to. It started with a 2-year run with the Beatles, followed by another two-year run with Led Zeppelin. There were lengthy bouts with the Rolling Stones, and then eventually, the Grateful Dead. Of course, I would listen to other music during these bouts, but certain bands dominated my record player/tape deck/cd player/mp3 player during those times. I have had lengthy spells in which I only listened to Wilco, or Elliott Smith, or The Cure, or the Smashing Pumpkins, or Nirvana, or the Flaming Lips. Recently, it was St. Vincent and Metric. I guess I have moments in my life in which only one particular band or artist speaks to my mood.
I must be especially mercurial at the moment because I am bouncing around quickly from the Flaming Lips, to Ween, to the Strokes, to the Shins, to Dinosaur Jr. I think that is my twelve-year old son’s influence on me. We have spent these past two years learning different songs on the guitar. I would teach him something, and then he would go to his mom’s house and learn new something on his own, and then teach that to me. He has similar tastes in music as me, but he has also developed his own tastes as well. I see a similar, yet somehow healthier, obsession of music in him.
So, what are you listening to right now?