Thursday, February 21, 2008
For the Love of Music
Newsflash: There are 18-year-old people who don’t know about Prince.
As in, heard of him, can’t name a song, and actually have a bit of disdain for what they do now about The Purple One.
This rude awakening manifested as I shuttled three young men (two 17-year-olds and an 18-year-old) home one night. I always enjoy a moment to enlighten the youngins, so I asked them what they knew about Prince.
“Prince?!” exclaimed one.
“Ay, is he, y’know, funny?” asked another.
“What? Okay, well y’all have heard Purple Rain, right?” The three boys looked at each other and then at me with raised eyebrows and silly grins. “Remember at the Super Bowl last year, when my boy had the scarf on and it was raining while he was singing Purple Rain…how fly is that--”
My inquiry was met with stares and chuckles. I immediately sought out my personal Purple Compilation and selected arguably one of the greatest songs of all time, Purple Rain. With volume nearly full blast, we rode as I crooned the climax like an owl with soul (“Whooooo whoooooo whooooo whoooo!”) and they joked (“I can’t get with all this hollin’…”).
While we had a good laugh that night, for the first time, I felt what my parents and elders must have felt when we flaunted our ignorance about the elements of Earth, Wind, and Fire, the harmony of The Temptations, and the unmatched flair of James Brown. “You don’t know nothin’ bout that!” they exclaimed. Yet beneath their playful teasing there dwelled a wish tinged with desperation. A wish that someday we’d break free of pop culture, countdown shows, and radio to discover the melodies that paved the way.
But is it really so bad to stick to what you know?
“If all you can talk about is Lil’ Wayne, lil’ Weezy, and all those other little rappers, that’s going to be your world,” said Brett, a friend and jazz enthusiast. Brett, who has played drums and trumpet for several years, stresses that his broad musical interests have initiated bonds with people of different backgrounds in a variety of settings. As a college student at Duke University, he gained much respect from fellow white students for being well versed in the likes of Led Zeppelin and others.
Like other folks I asked about the subject, Brett also mentioned the fact that most successful music producers engage in a variety of musical genres. “The consumers listen to what they want; the people that create the music listen to everything.” On any given episode of MTV Cribs, top artists show off music collections featuring rock, old school, and alternative.
At the risk of sounding like an after school program, diversity in musical interests builds character. It makes you interesting. Similar to a diet, if all you eat is any one thing, you wind up unbalanced. Some of my young family members are forbidden the freedom to listen to secular music. As much as I adore gospel, I don’t see how every other genre of music can be justifiably ignored. At the very least, history and culture are embodied in the rhythms of music.
I’m not saying you have to dig every type of music, just as no one digs every type of food. But it doesn’t hurt to try something outside your norm, or at the very least, know about it. What’s worse is claiming you don’t like something you know nothing about. I have more respect for the person who gives something an honest chance and decides it’s not their cup of Kool-Aid, than the one who’s closed off from the jump.
I practice what I preach. I’ve been curious about jazz, the last couple of years, and more recently the blues. I bought an Etta James compilation and borrowed a few legends from the library: Son House, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis. I’ve made an amazing discovery in the process…can’t nothing scratch the blues like the blues.
Seeking knowledge---whether it is in music, art, literature, or whatever-- is a sign of actively elevating your life. As children, we’re told what to do and what to listen to and enjoy by parents, friends, radio, and pop charts. Many people continue in that vein into adulthood, listening to what they always listened to, liking what they always liked. I pity the fool! This is the time when education is the most rewarding, when learning is not for the sake of a grade, but for the enrichment of character.
I have my Aunt Bess to thank for turning me on to Prince when I was a teenager. I’ve since encountered friends that continue to lighten my ignorance of melodies new and old. In turn, I pass the torch, encouraging others to join in the challenge to climb out of our boxes, release the shackles, and open our ears.
at Thursday, February 21, 2008