I listen to an odd collection of things on my iPod. Lots of old and new country, various idioms of rock, comedy. Chuck Klosterman once wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that the worst people in the world say the like any music ‘except country’. I feel similar – you can’t say you like any music ‘except (blank)’. It’s like saying you love basketball but hate the NBA; you can’t do it. If you like music, you can find beauty and meaning in everything. Sure, some genres and styles tickle my ears more than others, but liking music means liking music.
However, when it’s storming out, when the sky opens and God hurls lightning and it looks like the world is ending, I listen exclusively to rap.
I’m not sure what it is that makes me pull out the Jay, the Dre and old-school Ludacris when God calls down the thunder. Maybe bass drops just sound better when backed by a driving rainstorm. But it feels dark and mysterious to match the skies, while at the same time there’s an element to the hooks that give you confidence to keep pressing forward when other people pull off or huddle under bridges to not get taken away by a tornado. It’s soundtracking your life to something that feels like it should be soundtracking something much more monumental; it gives the mundane importance. You’ve heard of mothers gaining superhuman strength when their children are trapped under a car or something? That’s me when ’99 Problems’ starts playing.
Music offers emotions an avenue from which to escape, especially for manly-men types who wouldn’t wince if you cut their leg off with a chainsaw but get misty-eyed whenever they hear ‘Only the Good Die Young’. For those classified as ‘just regular dudes’ (me!), the right music can inspire confidence where there is doubt or give the most ordinary situation – like driving – an opportunity to seem cool, even if you’re by yourself, which is literally the only time I feel cool.
And while I’m married and it no longer matters that I’m cool, so long as I’m still trying, the music you play when someone else is in the car is how you’ll be judged. I have no idea if women still feel this way, but I know being single and having nothing more current than Charlie Daniels in my CD player (it’s what we used to listen to music on – kids, ask an older cousin or someone between the ages of 22 and 30) was not going to get anyone to second base during the evening.
Music matters. In terms of art, it matters more than poetry, fiction, painting and theatre put together. I’d put it just behind baseball.