I know I'll never get tired of music. I'll never get tired of seeing it, playing it, hearing it; of experiencing someone's heart and soul, someone's blood and tears, in my hands and in my CD player. And yet, sometimes it seems that the idea of music as one's own personal connection to a bigger world has disappeared. From what I can tell, no one my age cares about finding music that sticks, music that smacks you in the face and keeps on smacking. Seems people would rather settle for the mainstream's recycled garbage.
But sometimes I think I'm full of shit.
I'm now a senior at a charter school near Wayne State called University Prep High. Most of the school, like the city it sits in, is rooted deeply in hip hop and R&B. Yeah, yeah, nothing new, right? But there are some kids who look for something different. Look at me. I listen to everything from death metal groups such as Autopsy and Derketa to singer-songwriters Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. It's all about what moves you, I guess.
But I had a question for my peers. With all the access we have to (free) music legal or illegal does that devalue it?
Personally, I could care less about MP3s, iPods and Top 20 commercial bullshit. My kick comes from exploring independent record stores and obscure online music sites, special ordering what I want, and then waiting, either for it to arrive in the mail or that phone call from the record store. "The new [enter obscure act] record is here." To me, that's one of the best feelings in the world, and part of my experience as a music lover. The music becomes my personal, treasured property. And when I get a record from the FedEx guy that has traveled all the way from Norway, well, that makes the experience of having discovered it so much better.
To me, when you can download anything from the latest pop hits to metal obscurities right off LimeWire, the music becomes a commodity, little more than a cheap-sounding invisible product with no context.
Am I full of shit? To find out for myself, I asked some kids my age.
Michael Carter is a buddy of mine. He's a 6-foot-tall aspiring artist who can probably embarrass most professional illustrators. But instead of blasting the usual radio fodder, Carter opts for something harder.
"I like brutal music put up against melody," he says. When you see the dude drawing with the concentration of a Tibetan monk and his headphones locked in place, he'll usually be blasting metalcore acts such as Bleeding Through or Bullet for My Valentine.
Why Bleeding Through over, say, Beyoncé?
Carter has his reasons. Mostly he digs the energy. "Aggressive is always good," he says. "With Bleeding Through, their lyrics are aggressive, but the guitars and the drums are too."
There are deeper reasons too: "My music captures a moment of time in my life that I can connect with. It's like, 'This guy can feel my pain.'" Maybe his girl broke up with him in MTV reality show fashion. Or maybe his music speaks to something inside that keeps him digging for more. Every time I see Carter, it's always "have you heard that new Shadows Fall album?" or "I just heard this new Japanese band." He's entranced by the soul of music.
Carter and I put our hearts into the music.
Derek Maxey is another student at UPHS who's interested in music outside the fringes of what's popular. Maxey's into astronomy and plays the flute. He's not a huge music fan, but he knows enough about his interests to not give a damn about what's mainstream. He gets most of his music from friends' recommendations and through such hobbies as video games, which have extensive soundtracks.
Look at Guitar Hero. As Maxey plays along on his guitar controller with the game's music, he discovers the bands and artists it programs, and downloads the songs he likes. Through Guitar Hero he's gotten into Jimi Hendrix, Megadeth, Lamb of God and Rush. He also has mentors and friends who burn him copies of everything from King Crimson and Rush to the Japanese metal trio Boris.
What's great about Maxey is that though he listens to MP3s and downloads from a P2P network he understands why he wants the music he does. Or why he needs it.
"Music puts me in a different world," Maxey says. "It lets me ignore the world. I can put on my headphones when rap is blasting, and just forget everything."
Of course there are many kids at school whose tastes are more mainstream. Is that bad? No. Carl Hughes is way into hip hop and R&B, and his sources for discovery are burned CDs and satellite radio. His definition of good music is simple: "Music is good when it's good to listen to." Hughes at least puts some kind of thought into his musical choices. He says he likes new ideas, new structures; music that tries to get away from the same old plod.
When I first talked to him, I expected a broad, almost nonchalant answer. It turns out that he thinks music is something to treasure, like me. And that's what each of my interviewees have in common, even if they arrive at that specific moment differently. Every day I see these guys trying to find more music. Hughes will be borrowing someone's headphones to see what's on. Maxey's off working somewhere with his PSP MP3 player, listening to his latest discoveries. And Carter is off blasting the most brutal metalcore he can find.
Although I never hear her music blasting or her MP3 player, I sometimes see Nicole Yopp rapping in a corner. The girl is into listening and downloading mainstream music, and while her feelings and passions for music differ from mine, her need's the same.
"I have an ear for music," she says. "It just became my life. When I have it, I can just forget about everything." Well put.
So these kids all need music. Yopp might feel the same about MP3s as Hughes and Maxey ("downloading is convenient"), but they all share a genuine love of music. It seems my biased ideas toward their personal experiences with music are melting away.
So maybe I am full of shit. Just because music is my life doesn't give me the right to be some kind of an elitist. But, these conversations with a few of my fellow students aside, I still think that in my age group and in our culture, with so many free songs floating around, there's an overall absence of a real love of music. I'm talking about that passion and power to change attitudes, and lives, for the better.
Others, especially teenagers, it seems, consider music as something to be consumed, like TV.
But that's OK with me. I'm glad I know a few who care deeply about what they listen to, who seen to respond to music as if it's from their soul. And I learned something too: You don't have to listen to death metal, or noise music, or some other underground genre to prove you're some kind of serious music fan. Someone's shit is someone else's hit.Kent “Zacky” Alexander is a 16-year-old Metro Times intern and fulltime metal freak. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org