Apr 21 2007

Is Being Cultured Really Worth It?

I’ve been trying to change my music-listening habits lately, as part of my overall quest to have a more positive, life-affirming focus. A lot of popular music is, if not actually depressing, fairly negative. Rap is the worst of course, with its hatred of women and glorification of drugs and violence. (And if you think maybe it’s not really that bad, or it’s just certain songs, read this.) Other genres are far better, but still have their downside. How long can you listen to the radio — pop, rock, or country — without hearing a song about a broken heart or a disappointing life? Bombard yourself for hours everyday with people singing about how much life hurts, and it’ll surely have some effect on your own expectations.

So, I started listening to classical music online. That was okay, but a lot of classical music is pretty dreary. It doesn’t have the negative lyrics, but dreary music can create the same mood. Also, after 37 years of listening to popular music, it’s hard for me to appreciate music that flows along without a drumbeat to anchor it. Most of the time, it fades into the background like the elevator music in a store, until after a few hours it starts to get repetitive and annoying. I’d like to learn to appreciate it more, but I think it’s going to take small doses over time, rather than immersion.

So I switched to Celtic music for a while. Much of this is upbeat, the kind of stuff you dance a jig to. That’s pretty good, but every once in a while they break in with a long bagpipe number that sounds like a bunch of trucks are in a traffic jam outside, laying on their horns. I can’t take very much of that.

Now I’m listening to 1980s pop and rock. It’s not ideal, but there are enough online stations that I can switch if something clearly negative comes on. The ratio of positive to negative music and lyrics was a lot better in the 80s than before or since. I’ve said before that rock music always starts from a basis of “Life sucks…”:

  • 1960s – Life sucks so let’s get stoned. (Woodstock)
  • 1970s – Life sucks so let’s hallucinate and screw a lot. (Disco)
  • 1980s – Life sucks so I want to punch someone. (AC/DC)
  • 1990s – Life sucks so I think I’ll kill myself. (Nirvana)

There are exceptions and overlap between those, of course. I’m not sure what the message for the 2000s is; this decade doesn’t seem to have a recognizable attitude yet. In any case, while punching someone isn’t the nicest thing to do, at least it’s a positive action in a way; it’s an attempt to remove something that’s bothering you. The others are all different forms of surrender.

Hmm, I wasn’t expecting this to get so deep or long. Anyway, now I’m switching between those three choices. I’ve tried listening to “inspirational” channels, but that seems to be a synonym for Christian rock, most of which is musically dismal. Maybe at some point I’ll collect my own library of “uplifting” music from all genres, and put the list on here.

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