After yesterday's post, where the Dream Academy led me to researching Nick Drake, I was thinking about my tastes in music, and how I have found some of my favorite artists. Music is a really important part of my life, and I guess it thus becomes an important part of my artistic process. I am not a musician in any way, nor is my work influenced in a real direct way by it, but it is always there for me. Music is the soundtrack of my life, and I am very effected by what is playing while I work and play. I have some pretty specific tastes. I tend to like to sample a lot of things but when it comes down to it, I will set myself upon a whole album and listen to it over and over, in an almost obsessed fashion, until I feel like I understand that piece of music and what it means to me in a very personal, emotional way. So it stands to reason that I am most attracted to complex music especially with complex lyrics that can keep me thinking for years. Sorry Paul, "silly love songs" just don't cut it for me, I gotta agree with John there.
So when I trace back the paths that have led me to the music I love, some interesting connections arise. I think it started with Elvis Costello. Geez, I have been listening to Elvis for so long, I can barely recall how I even got started. Oddly, I think I heard a version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" on the radio by Elvis, maybe when I was in eighth grade. That may have led me to buy my first cassette. I say oddly, because that wasn't his song, and I love him for his songwriting, so its a bit ironic that I would discover him by a song he didn't write. I don't think most people fall for him just for his voice. Anyway, once I got that first album, it was obvious that I connected with it, and I have purchased almost every US release of his career, and know them all well. Of course, there are about zillion of them, and some I don't like much or at all, and some I just adore. I like his variety of musical tastes and experiments, it is always a surprize what path he will follow next.
Ok, so it started with Mr. Costello, and since he is so critically acclaimed, and is a source for much inspiration for other artists, I began to listen to who was being compared to him. That's how I found John Wesley Harding. JWH jokingly described his music as Gangsta Folk, which really describes the sort of feel that I like most in music. It is based in folk, but with a contemporary, urban theme or sound. So while I do enjoy some traditional folk musicians, like Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor for instance, it really needs to have the songwriting skills of traditional folk mixed with a bit of rock or punky edge or something different or experimental to really hold my attention. Ironically though, JWH led me to discover a real old school folkie that I fell in love with, Phil Ochs.
Another musician that led me to Phil Ochs was Billy Bragg. Billy was a big influence on my musical taste in high school and actually led me to learn about politics. Oddly though, it was a much less intellectual pursuit that led me to Billy. Early in high school, some girl friends and I went to the Ann Arbor Art Fair, and went a little boy crazy over some college guy with a guitar. He sang a BB love song and we were all swoony. Later that day, after the guy telling us who the song was by, we bought a used Billy Bragg album in Ann Arbor at one of the record shops. We quickly discovered that Mr Bragg wasn't all about swoony love songs, and was actually pretty politically motivated, so my friends lost interest in the album, and it was given to me. Which led me to listen to it over and over and then buy more recordings by Billy. So basically a silly schoolgirl crush led me to learn everything I know about British Socialism. Hey, life can't always be important research and deep thoughts...as long as you end up in a good place, I guess the journey should be fun.