Sound Check

Small Epiphanies: December 28

I’m not a music person.

Maybe that’s too strong.

I don’t seek out new bands and new music and I don’t really fall in love with certain artists for the long haul. I do consistently like certain musicians, like Beck, or like . . . right now I can’t think of anyone else.

I am still listening to the playlist I titled, “Liz’s Favs” on my first iPod in 2005–this is the same playlist that accompanied me all across Europe that same year, and certain songs put me back in certain places, and not always for reasons that make sense.  “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails–I am on the train to Nuremburg. I had a terrible sinus infection, but I was determined to visit the Nazi Museum and the Christmas Market. Quite the combination for one very full day of traveling. “Mr. Brightside”?–The Alps. No idea why. “The Real Slim Shady”–the park I used to walk through every day in Prague, singing tonelessly at the top of my lungs, as though not speaking Czech made me invisible, or whatever the sound version of invisible is.

The Kinks “Destroyer”–not Europe but the Henry Hudson Parkway as it goes through Riverdale. Not good. Makes me drive crazy.

And yet, a twist of fate puts me in the car while Sound Check on WNYC is on, all the time. Sound  Check is my least favorite WNYC/NPR radio show, and yet, it’s the one I listen to the most. And it’s become where I get whatever limited new music I add to my list.

Tonight Ann Powers was taking the NPR 2012 Music Survey, which you can also take. Powers is an NPR music critic, and her favorite newcomer of the year is Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff. I love, love, love her voice. Listen to her here. And thank you, Ann Powers. (Only one of their singles is available on iTunes, but the rest are on their website.)

Powers also gets a vote from me for calling “Glad You Came” by The Wanted, “the roofie anthem of the year.” I’ve had a problem with that song for a while.

And finally, the reason for this post: my vote for “Song that Makes Me Feel the Oldest,” which was unfortunately not a category on NPR’s survey: “We Are Young,” by Fun.

But let me back up a bit.

I didn’t mind turning 30. It felt liberating. So did turning 40. The older I get, the more I feel as though I can be exactly who I am, no apologies. I don’t hide from anyone how old I am, and I don’t thing age matters all that much as long as you’re doing something you love. I celebrate wrinkles. I think they mean you’ve lived.

(And I am absolutely not my father’s daughter when it comes to music. I don’t think everything after 1990 sucks. (To be clear, my father thinks everything after WWII sucks.) I don’t often update my list of favorites more because I’m lazy when it comes to music than because I don’t like anything new.)

But sometimes I am reminded–or maybe “forced to notice” is better–that I have, indeed, changed since I was twenty.

And Fun’s lyrics do that to me in a strange kind of way. They go like this:

We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

I like to sing along with a song that’s fun to sing, no matter how cliched the lyrics. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by what I find myself singing. I know nothing about music. I am in fact still smarting from the time that pretentious guy in the Rainy Night House in the basement of Stony Brook’s student union said that REM’s “I am Superman” was for the fake fans, the ones just following the trends.

I like to sing along to the verse above of “We Are Young.” But singing it does make me feel like a bit of a fraud. I’m not young. At the very least, I am not the “young” these lyrics are about. And that struck me all of a sudden the first time I sang them really loud in the car.  I used to be that kind of young. I used to be in Fun’s audience.

But mostly, I realized that the idea of “setting the world on fire” has completely changed for me. “Setting the world on fire” used to mean knowing the guys in the band playing at Neptune’s on Dune Road and drinking and dancing on the stage as they sang. Going out in the middle of the night and stealing lawn signs that supported Republican candidates. Doing pretty much anything that would make a good story the next day. It meant, almost literally, burning “brighter than the sun,” and usually crashing spectacularly at the end of a night or a semester or a political campaign; but it also meant, in whatever misguided way, changing things, making noise, believing in something.

The thought of doing most of those things now just makes me tired. Or cold. Or dizzy.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing–the immaturity of my early 20s aside. Because I think that I get that same feeling from writing something spectacular, from challenging ideas and customs that haven’t been challenged before–that have been naturalized, mythologized (Barthes again)–from pushing, instead of behavior boundaries, genre boundaries.

Listen to me. I’m comparing pushing genre boundaries to trespassing and the theft of lawn signs. My twenty-year-old self would rail at the use of language like “genre boundaries” at all. F’ing theory head.

And that leaves me I do not know where. Conflicted. Not where I meant to be at the bottom of this post.

2 Responses to “Sound Check”

  1. I don’t like that FUN song. I was never that kind of young. I do, however, like some of their other songs! Have you heard Some Nights? I feel good singing along to it:

  2. haha! i love this post. i just turned 24 and i even feel the same way, that i’m not young like that anymore.

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