(Shot with a Nikon N70 on Ilford 400 Film)
The first record I bought with my own money was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I played it on a used portable Super Friends turntable my Madre bought me from Goodwill (and later replaced with my own brand new model) about a year later. My Pops was a super music head so it ran in the family. But the time junior high hit I was onto buying tapes with whatever money got or made and by high school, especially with the advent of my burgeoning career as a freelance scribe, I was getting tapes and CDs (and going to all kinds of shows) for free.
I listened to everything, from Madonna and Nirvana, to a Tribe and De La to Coltrane and Miles. In college two of my best friends, J-Thrill and El Juba, rhymed and made beats. So I learned crate-digging by osmosis. But the time I was 30 I had over a 1000 CDs, close to 100 records and Lord knows how much else on my hard drive.
Then I had to give it all up, or at least most of it, when I left New York on short notice. I lost even more in a burglary. What’s left is miles away from me in a storage unit. For a good five years I haven’t been listening to music in the same way I used to, and I definitely haven’t been buying it. Don’t get my wrong, I’ve copped some records and “acquired” plenty of others, but the love hasn’t been there.
I think part of it was not having a real sound system like my home theater back in Brooklyn. More of it was about not really having the time or space to play anything. I used to play music while I cooked, while I wrote, while I cleaned. But when life became a cyclone I just couldn’t manage to push ‘play’ as often. And when I did I just wanted to hear the hits, bangers I knew or cuts I could rely on to chill me out or spark a thought process. I just didn’t care about what else was out there. And that didn’t sit well with me.
I found my hunger again in moving backwards in time, targeting the 60s and 70s ( with James Brown, Rufus and Issac Hayes as refuges) and then a serious delve back into Cameo, Marvin Gaye, Gloria Lynne and LaBelle. And I lived there for a while, which was good. But there were things back in the present I knew I needed to find.
I knew I didn’t feel safe in a world of Lil Wayne, Drake and later Jay-Z. There was a fatigue in the sound of it, the product of artists doing it for the check and not for heart and soul. Fourth generation gangsters and champagne and anthems just stopped moving me. And so much of the neo-soul gave me the same feeling on the other side of the spectrum. Maybe I was just getting older and leaving the target demographic for pop music. But it wasn’t just that. A lot of people I knew of different ages were feeling the same way.
Record sales in the last ten years have taken a Greg Louganis and more and more of what’s being bought is coming out of independent labels. Music, not unlike books, movies or any other commercial art, has become so much harder to sell when its so easy to get for free. What has money behind it is all that gets heard, unless you know where to find what speaks to you. I needed to make a better effort to plug myself back into the music matrix.
Yesterday I got a ride through the park with Khaya Storm, a friend of the family whom I’d never had a full-on conversation with before. We talked about the indie scene, and Rick Ross and the state of the game, and as I waxed poetic on how much I wasn’t feeling any of it, it occurred to me that I barely knew what was out past names and chart positions. I was barely asking my other music head friends what they were listening to.
When I dug through my Itunes files, my “sucky” collection had 600 albums in 88 genres. And most of them I’d barely listened to. I had turned music into this thing to collect, to acquire just to have, but I wasn’t making the time in my earbuds to experiment and find what I actually liked.
In a single day I listened to five new albums and LOVED them all, for different reasons. Some reminded me of things I’d already heard. Others were completely different. But I heard growth, and life and the stirring of my own curiosity again.
I’ll never be 22 again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have that energy, that hunger for the right head nod or a transcendent set of chords. There’s more out there than I’ll ever be cable to consume, much less memorize. So I’m gonna try to taste as much as I can, for as long as it sounds good to me.