Friday, May 20, 2011

"Golden" Moments: Shifting Tastes & Musical Watersheds


By Jon Stone | @jwstone

In 1991, Boyz II Men and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince put out the unforgettable singles Motownphilly andSummertime. If you were 11 or 12 like I was when those tunes came out, those were THE songs, right? You know you loved them (unless, as I sometimes suspect, all readers of this blog were somehow born with unrelenting, musical erudition). That summer, though, with high school on the horizon, I abandoned them—openlydisdained them even. I hid my cassette singles and in their place new, shiny CDs appeared with pale, British faces on them: from Boyz II Men to Boyz Don’t Cry faster than you can say goodbye to yesterday. (Sorry, kids. I'm kind of old.)

This ebb and flow of our musical interests is common, I think, and though it may not happen as frequently (or dramatically) as it did when we were kids, I think it’s fun to think about how what we listen to changes over the years. My musical tastes certainly have changed and expanded over the last decade. I suspect yours have too. And thank goodness, really.

Skipping ahead another ten years from where I started, the beginning of this decade was rough. 2000-2004 were like musical badlands for us post-alternative, 20-something, suburbanites: our favorite bands kept abandoning us by breaking up (or starting to suck and then breaking up), making bad records, or worse, making the same record over and over again. It took me a while and several John Mayer and Coldplay records before I recovered. (Seriously though, anyone who wants to chat up "Parachutes" or rap about Mayer’s guitar playing hit me up, I didn’t hide those tapes very well.)

I think the watershed moments of our musical pasts are important to reflect on.  What we listen to seems to be indicative of other shifts in our often tenuous world-views and brought about by other life changes, subtle or serious. No wonder songs and bands become both touchstones and course markers along the way.
A standout moment for me in the last ten years was when M. Ward and Jim James took the stage with Bright Eyes—Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis—during a 2005, pre-Monsters of Folk  Austin City Limits performance. I was in the midst of a shift that year and was looking to shows like ACL and podcasts like NPR’s All Songs Considered for nudges in new sonic directions. Bright Eyes is a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. Oberst was (then even more) strange and catlike and I remember being intrigued (if in a pseudo-literary sense) by his poem-song "Waste of Paint." He also did a lovely waltz with Mogis on mandolin called "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" from the critically acclaimed album I'm Wide Awake It's MorningBut it was when M. Ward and Jim James came out and played songs from their respective main projects that ears perked. Ward played "O'Brien" -- a great song from his now classic, break-through record End of Amnesia (2001). Next, Jim James played the My Morning Jacket tune “Golden” (from It Still Moves, 2003) with Mogis on pedal steel.  Something clicked. That Gibson, those chords, that melody, and the lyrics:

Watchin' a stretch of road, miles of light explode.
Driftin' off a thing I'd never done before...
Watchin' a crowd roll in. Out go the lights, it begins.
A feelin' in my bones I never felt before...

I watched and listened again and again. In the process, I discovered—from the first half of that episode—a little band called Wilco (tragically late, I know). And while I can’t trace back all of my current musical interests to that moment, it was very significant.

Tell us a little about your musical histories: What were the moments, songs, albums, artists, blogs, podcasts, tv shows etc. that brought on some kind paradigm shift in your musical world over the last five or ten years? How dramatic were your shifts? And, if you please, what brought on those shifts?

(As an aside, you gotta love Tweedy's swagger in that first half. So cool. So intense.  So much so that it almost seems uncharacteristic, until halfway through the set when he says, "Everybody look under your chairs. We've got a prize for you." An audience member screams "I won!!" way off mic and Jeff adds, "Anybody find my keys?"
And well dressed! Dude's wearing a suit coat(!) and we're talking straight-edge razor shave up in there. Unprecedented.)

Special thanks to Leslie Nichols, Associate Producer on Austin City Limits, for official photos from the show by Scott Newton.

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