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The Question: "What Kind of Music do You Like?"

- Aug 05, 2010 at 12:47PM
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I have a lot of pet peeves - more than someone as unattractive as I reasonably should to still expect to be well-liked, but that's beside the point (sort of). A few of those pet peeves involve answers to that all-to-frequent question that anyone bothering to check out this webzine probably gets more than once a week: "What kind of music do you like?"

I used to think that "everything" was a cop-out of an answer - one given by people, usually in their teens, that will basically listen to whatever MuchMusic or Virgin Radio feeds them. Justin Timberlake? Sure, if he looks hot in the music video. Black Eyed Peas? If it'd sound good as a ring tone. Dashboard Confessional? If it'll make girls think I'm sensitive. For someone like me, who considered himself very passionate about music (and still does), that answer was indeed peevish.

It wasn't long ago that, upon being asked "the question," I'd give a verbal-vomit variation of a specific genre. In my case, it was usually something like, "punk rock and really crazy metal." It answered the question, and for naive 19- or 20-something me, did so accurately. Not only was it accurate, but it also told people something I thought would help them define me: I like stuff that other people don't. I'm different.

I'm sure there are many others out there (maybe you, kind reader?) that have a similar response and reasoning behind it. It might not be "punk" or "crazy" or "metal"; it could be "hip-hop" or "redneck" or "spazzy." But you know what? It's the same kind of response. And equally as naive.

Limiting yourself to one genre of music, either for the identity you're trying to project when meeting new people (as I did) or, even worse, for what you'll actually exclusively or mostly listen to (as I also did), leads me to believe you're not as passionate about music as you claim. I speak partly from first-hand experience, and partly from watching other people look painfully shallow in similar shoes.

I can't think of any respectable or successful members of the music industry - musicians or otherwise, and I know a lot of them - that have ever given me an answer similar to that I used to give. I mean, take a look at the Polaris Prize shortlist, where 185 valued members of the nation's music media chose a shortlist of the 10 best albums released by Canadians this year. You'll find polarizing acts like Fucked Up, K'naan, and Joel Plaskett in the bunch. Look at the cover of Exclaim! every month. You'll see Converge in January, Two Hours Traffic in February, and Cadence Weapon in March. Another example? I was just speaking with my friend Arif of Protest The Hero, and you know what he's been into lately? Throat singing. Seriously.

Even PureGrain here built itself as a primarily metal medium, and in 2006, you'd be lucky to see something on the main page that wasn't associated with Metal Blade or Nuclear Blast. Now, you can find a Lights review under a Set Your Goals review under a Cattle Decapitation review. Want to guess how many hits we had in 2006? Want to guess how many we have now?

If you're only listening to heavy metal music or its off-shoots, you're missing out. If it's because that's how you want to be able to answer "the question" with some kind of credibility, I feel sorry for you. If it's because you TRULY, HONESTLY BELIEVE that it's the only kind of thing you like, I feel even more sorry for you. The truth is you CAN'T be passionate about music - metal music, jazz music, or throat singing - if you're only putting stock in one variety.

Maybe it's just ignorance, though, and for that, you're forgiven. I mean, I used to turn on the TV to CMT, only to realize the remote was misplaced, and I couldn't stand anything I was subsequently forced to endure for even 20 seconds. I thought country sucked. And you know what? Mainstream country isn't for me. I don't think much of it is very good. But to answer "the question" saying "I hate country," or "I hate rap" is dumb.

Don't like Keith Urban or the Chixie Dicks? Try Elliott BROOD, The Divorcees, or Johnny Cash.
Don't like 50 Cent or Ja Rule? Try spinning some Shad, P.O.S., or Blackstar.
Don't like Killswitch Engage? How about The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Fall Of Troy, or Underminded?
Don't like The Strokes? Check out The Weakerthans or Constantines.
Don't like Blink 182? Give Set Your Goals or Broadway Calls a shot.

There are many that will try and refute such a statement, if only because it appears belittling. If you're a Dream Theater or Between The Buried And Me fan that believes that the virtuosity of such musicians far eclipses anything you could ever find in a New Found Glory song, fair enough. Put on some Charlie Parker or even Maps & Atlases. Those guys have some chops, too. Hell - one of the best live shows I've ever seen was a Michael Buble concert. Dude had a full brass band onstage that blew me away. To think that Psyopus is better than Brand New because they are (or seem) a lot more masterful on the fretboard totally ignores other fundamental elements of music like rhythm, melody, cadence, blah blah blah. Mike Portnoy likes The Who. You can relax a bit.

Don't let the T-shirts you wear or patches on your backpack limit what you'll consider listening to for enjoyment. I truly, honestly believe that if you told me there was a genre of music you simply didn't like, I (or someone else) could show you an artist under that umbrella that you would. If you don't think so, you're probably lying to yourself, and do you really want your identity crisis interfering with the art that you enjoy? A lot of readers probably consider most of this to be common knowledge, but it doesn't seem that way to me. Most of the kids at my high school or even university that considered "music lover" as part of their identities by wearing band shirts or sticking stickers on stair railings (me included) will answer "the question" like I did in paragraph three. Looking back, it's almost laughable. It's often the ones that think they're closest to the pulse that wouldn't know a heartbeat from thunderstorm.

Don't get me wrong - there's music, and musicians, that I can't stand, and if I'm having a serious conversation about music, some will probably come out. But I certainly don't let the music I don't like (or do) make up an overly-sized part of my identity. I'll wear band shirts and sweaters and advertise what I'm into, sure, but would never look down on you for not being into one of those advertised artists. I might if you told me they did because you "hate indie", or because the band looked "super queer in their last video." Then I'd look down on you. Otherwise, we can probably be friends, and we'll be sure to talk just as much about sports, travelling, and a nice pair of socks as we do music, because I consider the enjoyment I get from all of those things equally as defining as my love for punk rock. Or alternative. Or hip-hop.

I've blotted this nonsense (as it might be to many of you) over a nice glass of whiskey, which I'll now raise to those 15-year-old girls comfortable enough with their identities to answer "the question" with that all-encompassing answer of "everything," because really, that's the only reasonable answer for a music fan. Well, at least "everything good." You know what? I'll even settle with "mostly punk," or "a lot of jazz," because that's honesty. But leave the "anything buts" or "only this" or "that music sucks" out of it the first time around. It doesn't really help define you as anything, except someone that doesn't know as much about music as they think.

Cheers to you for making it this far.

Check out the song: "No Stars Over Bethlehem"

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