“Oh I listen to a bit of everything”.
Who hasn’t heard this or been guilty of saying it themselves when asked about their music taste? It’s a great way to let people know you’re not too uptight or closed-minded, especially at parties. But what does it actually mean?
Not everyone listens to a wide variety of music. Some music fans are infamous for shooting down any style of music that isn’t their chosen religion, be it genre or band. While standing in the crowd of a Slipknot gig once I was confronted by a mask-wearing fan who was adamant that unless you listened to only the nine piece metal outfit exclusively, you couldn’t call yourself – and were not worthy of being called – a fan. Not just a true fan, but a fan altogether. This guy didn’t want me listening to Slipknot if I was filling my ears with frequencies other than vicious double-bass pedalling and Corey Taylor’s growling vocals. Other people can happily tolerate a polysonic existence when it means listening to the radio or background music but don’t really have such a strong opinion on what they would choose to listen to given the choice.
The choice to listen to Slipknot, Spanish fandango’s or Vivaldi is at the end of the day, a choice and you can’t fault someone for not having the time to listen to them all equally. There’s just so much music saturating the world right now, vying for airwaves into your earholes that you’d have to be making a conscious effort to expand your horizons beyond what you know and get pleasure from. Listening to musical styles that you’re either unfamiliar with or don’t enjoy on first listen could be seen as an exercise in empathy. After all, good music can be a view through the eyes of someone in a different life or situation to you. A situation you may never have found yourself in and never hope to, but it shouldn’t mean you can’t understand.
Take Golden Era American hip-hop for example. To many it’s viewed as an aggressive, overly violent genre that exaggerates and idolises violence and criminality. But if you were to actually listen to some of the defining examples of the genre with just a little understanding about the role in society that young black americans felt pushed into by a stereotyping media, poor living conditions in projects and the introduction of laws such as the “three strikes” bill – used to incarcerate many black Americans for petty crimes – examples such as Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones pt II and Nas’ NY State Of Mind can be viewed as philosophy through the prism of a culture of violence they couldn’t not find themselves looking through. As Mobb Deep’s member Havoc says in verse two of Shook Ones;
“Thirteen years in the projects—my mentality is what, kid?”
Taking the time to scratch beneath the surface of violent imagery and language reveals a deep philosophical aspect to most of the albums and songs that are valued by fans of the genre. Havoc goes on;
“…Sometimes I wonder, do I deserve to live?
Or am I gonna burn in Hell for all the things I did?”
With the right set of ears on and the ability to listen one starts to see that much of the rhetoric used, from Kool G Rap to Ice Cube, hides a philosophy on a struggle against a system that doesn’t want them. A philosophy that most people could understand and get behind, especially with what’s being revealed about American society in today’s world. As Nas describes in the 90’s;
“Life is parallel to Hell, but I must maintain…
…Cops could just arrest me, blamin’ us; we’re held like hostages”
Not hearing the philosophy behind the way these artists choose to express themselves and describe their situation could show a lack of empathy to some.
But then again, there are so many musical genres, who has the time to really listen when first impressions don’t land right with you, especially when they’re shrouded in offensive language and violent rhetoric. And you can’t blame anyone for that.
This approach to what we choose to listen to and how it defines us can be expanded to the current state of political thought. There are so many views, polarising and self-righteous, flooding the airwaves today, that it’s difficult to find the time or inclination to delve into the reasoning behind a statement if on the surface it seems so out of line with your own experience.
To truly listen to what a person has to say, regardless of whether you agree or not is an attempt at understanding a situation different from your own. It’s trying to listen to the anger of Black Flag when you’re a fan of Billie Holiday’s blues. You might not like what you’re hearing at first, but by delving deeper into the situation that created the music you might learn that there’s some similarities in the woes they both cry about. You might still not like the music but you now have an understanding and from understanding comes common ground, even appreciation.
Time is seemingly a valuable commodity these days, and yet we fill that time multitasking with nascent vacant tasks that stop us from pondering about others and their situations. Instead of daring to read an opposing view we choose to read articles that reinforce our bubbles of opinion and find new ways to pander to ourselves to make ourselves feel like a better person.
I am not saying that every person spouting violent rhetoric and offensive views has a story to tell, but there’s usually a story as to how they got there.
The need to feel comfortable and listen to the same music is a stifling one, we should all try and listen to something new every once in a while.
You never know, you might surprise yourself.