One day in the summer of 2004, I was listening to my local classic rock station (a station I ended up working for a few years later), when I heard what sounded to me like the greatest rock and roll song ever recorded. Not knowing what it was, I frantically called up the afternoon DJ who had played the song and found out it was “Badlands” by Springsteen. Within the next year, I acquired all of his studio albums and got much more heavily into the sweet sounds of classic rock–Tom Petty, The Beatles, CCR, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and (Indiana’s #1 Boy) John Mellencamp.
I was sometimes asked the (slightly sexist, if you ask me) question “How did you get into that kind of music? Was it your parents? To impress a boy you liked?” (Something tells me a guy my age would never get asked these questions.) While my parents certainly did play Beatles and Springsteen and CCR music in the car sometimes, which made me aware of these musicians, it wasn’t until my curiosity was randomly piqued in my mid-teen years (by no specific person or situation that I can pinpoint) by this particular brand of music. Then again, I was in the Midwest, which certainly has a remarkable fondness for classic rock in general. So I guess it really shouldn’t be seen as too unusual. Still, among girls my age, this particular taste in music was not average.
In this still pre-Spotify era, I had two main methods for listening to “new” music–checking out big stacks of CDs from my local public library (which really had an excellent selection available) and standing at those listening stations at Barnes & Noble, listening to 30-second clips of songs. (How old timey!)
Though I’ve never been one to get into a particular band when they’re actually popular (Me in 2004: Hey guys, have you heard about this band Nirvana? They’re great!), some friends still helped keep me clued-in to some great new music that was out in high school. Bands like Weezer (they were the second concert I ever attended, which I believe was in support of their Green Album), Arcade Fire, and The Killers were all introduced to me by friends and became some of my all-time favorites. What can I say? My friends, they keep my young.In college I worked as a Music Director for two years and as General Manager during my senior year at our campus radio station, WTHS. I also DJed once a week, inviting my friends into the studio to have dumb conversations with me in between playing some new indie music I was increasingly becoming interested in. I was a sophomore when Vampire Weekend released their first album and The White Stripes released Icky Thump. Don’t get me wrong, I was still rocking out to Jackson Browne and other dad-rock acts, but now I had a taste in music that could allow me to have conversations with people my own age. Before it was more like,
Me: “Hey, you know that song ‘Up Around the Bend’ by CCR?”
Other Girl My Age: “No.”
Me: “Oh, never mind then.”
Junior year of college changed everything yet again though. Mostly by luck (I’m not just being modest here either), I secured an internship in the music department at SNL. While I’m not sure that this necessarily expanded my musical knowledge or level of appreciation for music, it certainly had an impact.
It was the fall of 2008. Barack Obama was about to be elected for the first time and people were suddenly watching SNL again. Tina Fey was a guest star portraying Sarah Palin, and John McCain made an appearance. The first half of that season’s performers included Adele (no one in the U.S. knew who she was yet!), Kanye, Beyonce, Kings of Leon, The Killers, Coldplay, and T.I. It was surreal.
Most of my intern tasks involved ordering food, photocopying scripts and run-down sheets, shuttling musicians and their backup dancers/singers from the dressing rooms to the stage, and letting Gwyneth Paltrow know that Mya Rudolph’s dressing room was “down the hall, first door on the left.” (I aced that last one.)
Upon returning to school in the winter of 2009 (western Michigan is basically an angry snow globe for six months of year), I listened to nothing but Elliot Smith and cried frequently. I’m kidding. (Kind of…) I did dive deeper into “old music” by artists like Paul Simon though and newer bands like The National and Modest Mouse. (I started listening to The National because a music critic described them as being “potentially appealing to fans of Bruce Springsteen.”)
When I graduated college, I almost immediately moved back to New York. Everything was different then than when I’d been in New York for my SNL internship. The economy was in the toilet and jobs were very difficult to find. But I was back in New York, baby! (I’m sorry, I don’t know why I just said “baby.” I promise not to do that again.) I was in the city that never sleeps, where I could see practically any of my favorite bands live. And boy did I take advantage of this. I still do. I’ve been to probably a couple hundred shows, including massive arena shows of 20,000 people and tiny shows in basement venues where the only people in the audience are me, the guitar player’s girlfriend, and the band’s manager. I started writing for a few different music and arts websites and got to interview some bands, which was always a sweaty, nerve-wracking experience on my part.
I also expanded my listening to include a lot of great 60’s soul music and new Americana. Andrew Bird, Shakey Graves, Shovels & Rope, Sam Cooke, and Marvin Gaye were some of my faves. Some girls with guitars (and haircuts like mine), like Courtney Barnett and Lucy Dacus, and rock bands with a harder, punk edge, like White Reaper and Car Seat Headrest, also entered my musical consciousness and stole my heart.
But as much great, live music as I’ve gotten to experience in New York, I do still sometimes miss getting to drive a car while listen to music. Even just the right set of noise-canceling headphones or top-notch home speakers don’t provide quite the same experience as driving down the monotonous, flat highways of the Midwest, while blasting some of rock music’s greatest guitar solos.