Does taste ever leave us? I can’t tell, because I don’t test it enough. Nostalgia can be bitter long after it is sweet; there’s that much. The ear-curling embarrassment of the lyrics we loved and lived by; the bovine predictability of a chord change, a sequence of notes, that we used to deem unearthly. Old tastes haunt us. They flutter around the speakers in our rooms and rattle chains, except we aren’t scared. We’re curious. We want to know where our musical allegiance has come from, even if it means braving the blunt, shrunken quality of the kids we once were, and are no more.
For me, things discernibly began in a painting shed where I’d attach little figurines to bases and ignore the Sunday gloom, flicking the DAB to rock shows. But I also had two CDs: Best of Bowie and ABBA Gold. Both of these – the first collections of music I ever remember zipping in a carrier in my too-slender hands – have never gone out of my personal fashion. It’s more than I can say than of Eminem. When he crashed into my adolescence, it was with the all the middle-class rage of a thrown carrot stick at a cricket game. When I listen to him now, it’s heavy going, because I think it was due to his whiteness, of his novelty of rhyme and race, rather than anything deeper. Really nothing other than pretending to hate your dad with a hood up in the rain.
But then at fourteen, funnily enough, my dad left mum and I. Took off for two years. I got emotional. And music did too, with more blatant, platitudinous voices from the bands that came at you with party antics and skateparks, a free beer. Good Charlotte, Green Day. The burgeoning growl of Pearl Jam. When I was that age, I listened to a lot of songs about divorce and running away. She and dad hadn’t divorced because they never married. Maybe they’d always known they’d leave each other.
The path continued and so did yours, I imagine, at school. Because we’d latch to groups early, to collective brotherhood, with those we aspired to be and connect to. Music was inclusion. The joy was knowing you were fit for a ska band or perhaps, even, a Machine Head gig at a fake-smelling arena. I was a pop-punker, then a metalhead. Then something else. I remember buying a Kerrang! and staring at the cover of four guys in denim and white shirts. New Jersey grease. ‘BEST BAND FROM OUT OF THE BLUE’ was the rough gist of it. The Gaslight Anthem. They brought me to pop music. And not only that. Folk and soul and romance in the dark. And probably more hair gel.
Who was it for you? How did you branch from a simple discovery?
I like those questions, because we can trace artists back to one another. Sometimes it is a step, or a leap, like a whole continent of songs with borders and familiarities. Gaslight brought me to The Replacements, see; chaos and personality (two things I was myself trying to cultivate) churned an important process. Suddenly I was enraptured by The Stones, The Small Faces after a mushroom trip in a flat with a dancing biscuit tin, six hours of bliss. After thinking groups with the definite article were lame and tame, I’d come to plunder them across the 60s, 70s, 90s mainly. Then eventually, Tame Impala. “Oh, modern music too . . .” That was a welcome change. The biggest. I was studying far from home and trying to be someone. Independence meant the doors were blown the fuck wide for Frank Ocean and Blood Orange, mixed with the swamp of UK psychedelia, prominent in Liverpool, where I began to write for people who cared.
Being in a city was enormous help, of course, but that doesn’t seem important since most of us are urbanites. I feel there are some friends – one or two – who push us forward with our listening. Then you’re 25 and comfortable enough with newness that it doesn’t seem like a result of leadership, just a happy thought or coincidence. Music appropriation can be as fluid as we want it to be. If we lean, it’ll do the rest.
For me, some days, there’s jazz born out of a love for film scores, or dream indie from a playlist at a mate’s house. There’s the return of hip hop, which kept me waiting for so long, after a throb through a particular wall of my student digs, where Kendrick spat his backstreet freestyle. These are pleasant diversions of mood. I wouldn’t want to give them up, or say that any manage to rule what I listen to.
But hey, you may be different – a committed genre-phile, like Ken Russell, who stripped naked in his living room when he first heard an orchestra. Good on you. Tribalism has its legacies, apart from tattoos.