I do not have, by any means, an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. I sometimes even wonder whether I genuinely love music, or if I just set about relentlessly acquiring it. I surely have more music on my computer than I can reasonably listen to (36.8 days of continuous listening, apparently, and I haven't even bothered to rip everything in my collection. I discovered I hadn't done "Automatic for the People" the other day....). So much music, and yet I keep adding to it. I download MP3s and buy CDs, and each one is relentlessly swallowed into the gaping maw of iTunes. If I don't make a note of them, whole albums can disappear before I've ever really get around to giving them a proper listen.
When I flick through my library looking for something to listen to, how often do I settle onto the same old familiar names? Even if I avoid that trap by setting up a playlist, I often catch myself just listening to the same playlist on shuffle, over and over again. It takes that little bit of extra effort to browse a bit deeper and to pull up something that might be lodged just a little below the surface. This week, I've been doing a lot of reading instead of watching the telly, and it's been a real delight to do so accompanied by things like "Hunky Dory" by Bowie or "After the Gold Rush" by Neil Young.
One thing I've noticed as I get older is that, when I listen to a piece of new music, I often find it easy to hear its influences. That's not always the case, of course, but neither is is all that surprising when it does happen. I suppose I'm probably long enough in the tooth now to have heard the influences the first time around, perhaps even those same influences heard second-hand in other bands that then influence the next generation along (I'm not quite at the point where I'm the oldest person at the gigs I go to, but it can't be far off!).
I'm not entirely sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing: on the one hand it's kind of satisfying to be able to listen to some new music and to be able to pull it apart, but on the other hand, doesn't that knowledge rob you of a slice of the pleasure you get when you hear an amazing piece of music for the first time and it sounds like nothing else on Earth?
I think I've always -- within certain boundaries... classical music remains a mystery to me -- been musically curious; when I heard that such and such a person was an influence on a band I liked, I was the kind of person who wanted to seek out that influence as it was a way to discover more music and to try and understand. I suppose it might also be the historian in me, wanting to drill back to the source. I like to ask questions, and I like the fact that listening to Nirvana led me back to Neil Young and to David Bowie. (By the same token, do you think that Beady Eye are at all influenced by the Beatles? Tee Hee. Even their moody photographs look like they're trying to be Rubber Soul....)
That said, when I heard a song on the radio the other day, all I could hear was a Smiths pastiche with a singer who wasn't Morrissey and a guitarist who wasn't Johnny Marr. It wasn't a terrible song, I suppose, but I couldn't get past the fact that it wasn't anywhere near as good as The Smiths. When I got home, I googled the song, fascinated by who had created this song so nakedly in hock to one of my favourite bands. Slightly held back by a mondegreen that led me to think the lyric was "the trouble with Tiny...." (and wouldn't that be a Morrissey-esque lyric?), I eventually discovered that the song was "I Remember Moonlight" by The Crookes (with the lyric, "The trouble with time is...."). The Crookes may be an excellent band, but in my head they have already been marked down as inferior to the bands that came before them. They may be excellent, but I will always prefer to listen to The Smiths.
That's not to say that I can't still be thrilled by a piece of new music, or by a something that wears its influences on its sleeve (I think I heard, amongst other bands, a bit of Tom Petty, of all people, on the new Noah & the Whale album...). I was only reflecting this morning, when I heard the new song by the Arctic Monkeys, that "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" had me dancing in the shower when I heard it for the first time as it leapt out of the speaker of my radio and grabbed me by the throat and shook me.... it's just that.... ack. I'm old. And no, since you ask, I don't think the Arctics have managed to do anything as good as that first single thus far... certainly not the new song, anyway.
As a sidebar to this, early on into my career as a music reviewer for the Leftlion, I find myself typecast: in this month's issue, I review the second album by Nottingham punks, Verbal Warning. For next month's issue, I've been assigned the forthcoming album by Derby's Fixit Kid, described by the music editor as "punk, rock, hardcore".
Bring it on.... although I bet they sound like the Buzzcocks*.
* they don't....