I suppose it happens to nearly all of us. At some point, people become set in their musical ways. They’ve explored and come to like all the music they care to let into their world. To my mind, these people are stuck. To their minds, they’re exactly where they want to be.
I can’t stay in one place musically. I just can’t. It was pointed out by a friend that new music is like oxygen to me. I need it to live! It’s an accurate assessment. Lots of people are content to hear the same songs played by the same band in the same fashion. These same people seem to get upset when their favorite band has the absolute nerve to release new music. “Just stick to the hits,” they say. Well, how is it you think a song becomes a hit?
But I digress.
There have been times when I felt myself sliding into a musical rut, getting more material from the same artists playing the same music in essentially the same way. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to stretch. I just hadn’t figured out how.
When I started traveling more (mostly to attend concerts from artists not coming to St. Louis), I always made an effort to go to at least two local record stores. But let’s be honest: at their core, all record stores are pretty much the same. Some might specialize in one genre over another, but you can find Radiohead and Miles Davis pretty much anywhere.
I needed new music. The only way to do that was to take some chances. That meant taking the time to learn about — and buy — music I was completely clueless about. I came to think of it as sticking my face into the fan. Sure, it’ll cool me off (finding something I loved). But it could also take my nose right off (find something I hated)!
But there is no true reward without risk. I had to take a chance.
So I started visiting record stores. Once I found an employee who actually seemed interested in talking to me — as opposed to just pointing me in some vague direction — I would ask for a specific favor. “Show me some quality artists from this area,” I would ask. My query was almost always met with great enthusiasm, whether I was in Memphis, Nashville, Cincinnati, or Chicago. (I didn’t make this request in Baltimore, which eats at me to this day.)
Each time, I told the store employee what I was into and that I was open to just about anything else. From Cincinnati I learned about Lung, one of the more interesting duos you will find in music. No way I was prepared for a combination of electric cello, drums, and vocals. But here we were. And they’re awesome!
I got the most enthusiasm from the good people at Grimey’s in Nashville. Perhaps it was because I told them Adrian Belew (who lives just outside of town) sent me to them. Nah … they were really nice people before I dropped Ade’s name.
I asked to be introduced to the modern Nashville sound, with the caveat that I’m not a big country fan. Our conversation lasted at least half an hour, and I walked away with four new artists I knew nothing about.
Sun Seeker put off a definite Indie vibe …
While Lilly Hiatt gave off a definite sense of Americana …
Steelism took Americana in a slightly post-rock direction. Is post-Americana a thing?
And then I was guided to Margo Price. Now, I distinctly remember telling the guys that I wasn’t all that into country. So what did they do? They introduced me to a young singer/songwriter, extolling her skills. They never used the word “country.” It was yet another great opportunity to stick my face in the fan. So I did. What I got from Price was definitely country. It was also brilliant! I was particularly fond of a duet she did with Willie Nelson.
Each artist sounded a little different from the one before. Yet they all sounded like Nashville. And had I not decided to take a risk, I wouldn’t know about any of them.
I’ve taken more than a few risks in Chicago, before and since I moved here. But that’s a complete essay of its own.
The point is, there’s no real joy in music without risk. Not for me, anyway. If you find yourself in a rut, do yourself a little favor:
Stick your face in the fan.
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.
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