Wednesday, January 20, 2010

H is for Here's What I Like

People who get to know me, learn that I am very opinionated about the music industry. I don't mean to be, but I am. Upon learning of my opinionation (a cool word I just invented), they ask something like, "Well, what type of music do you like?" And I never know quite what to say.

I usually say something like indie-folk, but since I don’t even know what that means, I really need to stop doing it. Anyway, I found a clip on Youtube that (in a round about way) answers the question of what I like better than I’m usually able to. The clip below is a CBS news piece about one of my favorite bands, Wilco. Like most things Wilco, this clip went largely unnoticed. I mean, have you ever even heard of this show?

I'm not saying my taste in music is Wilco, but if you pay attention to the approach Wilco takes with their music, you'll find the secret to the type of music I prefer . . . sort of . . .

A wise person once said, “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” The answer to what I like isn't "those who work really hard," but those who work really hard are much more likely to create music that means something to me. Those who get record deals and MTV face-time because they have the right "look" (even though they don't have that much experience) are almost always undeserving of any accolades they receive.

In the clip it is noted that Wilco doesn’t have a single “hit”, and yet they have a very devoted fan base (of which I consider myself part of). In a world where most musicians are trying desperately to manufacture an entertaining “hit,” truly gifted artists like Wilco are creating well-crafted tunes that the masses simply miss (both literally and figuratively). And do those artists care? Not in the least.

I’m not saying that Wilco’s lack of hits is proof of their value, or that those with commercially successful songs are of lesser value. But I will say that there is an intrinsic value that comes when musicians write music that isn’t merely designed to impress or entertain others. People who are accustomed to listening to what the radio tells them to listen to oftentimes can’t hear it—at least at the beginning—but that “intrinsic value” is real, and almost all mainstream music lacks it. Trust me, you can like (nay, love) music that at first seems odd to you.

I am not some omniscient music connoisseur, but I can say that when I have strayed from mainstream music I have found art that has become—eventually—my favorite music of all. And Wilco is a great example of that.

For instance, when I first heard Wilco’s album “Yankee Foxtrot Hotel” about five years ago, I felt like I had walked into some weird art studio. I didn’t know what to think. Weird, it was, but there was also something else I was hearing (or thought I was hearing) that fascinated me. So I listened again, and again . . . and again. Before I knew it, I loved the album, knowing full well that it was far from the norm. People like Simon Cowell would have berated it (and they did) for lacking enough “hooks” and “pulls” (and other terms that seem better suited for hunting than music). And yet . . .

That same album was recently rated the third most important album of the past decade by Rolling Stone; a truly amazing thing considering the relative anonymity the album had for the entire decade. What’s my point? I’m not exactly sure. I guess I just want people to look outside the mainstream when it comes to music (and almost everything else for that matter). And I want people to understand me when I try to explain for twenty minutes what types of music I like. I still don't know how to answer the question, but I think I'm getting closer. Thanks, Wilco!


Todays recommendation: If you are interested in learning more about Wilco, check out three of my favorite (more moderate) tunes of their's: “I’ll fight,” “Either Way,” and “When the Roses Bloom Again” (a cover)


  1. This might not mean much, since I feel like your younger brother in a strange sort of way, but I really enjoy your blog. I relate with your "genre explaining struggles". Before it was frustrating to me, but now I take pride that a word like "rock", "rap", or "country" can't categorize this type of music. It's more than that. I remember stealing (not literally) one of Marc's new CD's to try. The tempo seemed awkward, and the melodies were from another world. I could not even finish the album. Now "The Shin's" are at the top of my playlist.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to yet another great music group I may have never heard of before. You are definitely broadening my horizons!