Embraceable You?

Stan Kenton

I had this friend who had one of those really rarified record collections. Probably only a couple hundred records all told and everyone a testament to his hipness/good taste: Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Velvets, Television, the Residents, Nick Drake and so on. It was really kind of a drag, it was all too well honed, too fucking hip, nothing dodgy, nothing that might make one raise an eyebrow, really rather boring. Taste in music is of course one of the ways we go about defining ourselves, but why have the lines drawn so rigidly? Why have everything fit so tightly? I submit that it's the things that don't fit that tend to be more interesting. Don't box yourself in, leave the lines a little blurry, let people wonder what you're on about, don't cower to their expectations.

There are many different and admittedly good reasons for paring down one's collection of music. Money and space limitations are the big two that spring to mind, but consider keeping records in your collection that you aren't sure you like or that you used to like but are now a little embarrassed by. I suggest this for many reasons. First off you never know when you might discover a record previously ignored and filed away that has something special on it. For instance this Mott the Hoople record called Mott, that I picked up cheap and quickly dismissed only to later discover it contains a song called "I wish I was your mother" that's really beautiful. I'm glad I have it. Or this Stan Kenton record that I got from my Dad that I recently realized has a strange piece of music by composer/arranger Robert Graettinger on it, who Irwin Chusid profiles in his Songs in the Key of Z book (a disappointing book by the way). Secondly, how often do you really get any significant amount of cash for the records you sell? Not often in my humble, so why not hold on to them? Space is probably the most legitimate case for honing things down to the essentials. But if you're gonna have one possession that's oveflowing what better than records. I mean get rid of some furniture, get rid of some clothes, get rid of the TV, get rid of your dog, and your girlfriend or boyfriend, but keep the records. It's a nice, almost soothing, thing to sit in a room that is endangered of being overtaken by records and books. That kind of sensory overload I can deal with.

Alright, then there's the whole matter of bands and genres being rediscovered or re-evaluated over time. I can still remember when people laughed at me for listening to the Beach Boys. Who's laughing now? These days almost any indie record with the slightest production values is hailed as being under the influence of the genius Brian Wilson (sadly it's almost always more of a half- assed Pink Floyd affair). Old Country music used to raise a lot of eyebrows, whereas now it's considered right and correct to name drop people like Hank Williams, the Louvin Brothers, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. Hopefully soon Kris Kristofferson too. The recent tribute c.d. with a bunch of no depression cats would seem to be pointing in that direction. He's a great songwriter either way.

I enjoy taking shots at Progressive rock, mainly because there is so little that is progressive about it; faux classicism with tales of gnomes and elves on top. And yet I have some Yes and King Crimson records in my collection and I'm glad that they're there (sometimes I even listen to em and like em). You don't need Vincent Gallo's weighty opinion to get you to appreciate the rocking part in Heart of the Sunrise; sometimes you'll end up out hipping others by accident, but fuck all that. What about Frank Zappa you ask? Yes he was a pretty annoying character, with his snide, scatological and homophobic novelty tunes, but lately I've found myself enjoying his Hot Rats record (it's instrumental except for a Beefheart vocal), an idea that would have been unfathomable to me a couple of years back. Peaches en Regalia, and for that matter the whole record, is a Saturday morning sugar high. And that's a good thing. So you never know when you might do an about face and find merit where before you found zilch or come back around to a band or genre previously discarded.

I got to thinking about this the other weekend while visiting a friend of mine in Dallas Texas. He makes hip-hop music and has thousands of records. While sitting in his music room, surrounded by vinyl, flipping through the stacks and stacks of records I was constantly surprised at seeing say a Yaggfu Front or Y'all so Stupid record next to classics 12 inches by Brand Nubian, Uptown and Main Source. Now in most cases he got these records for free as part of a record pool or something, but whatever the case I found myself digging the idea of the wheat and the chaff being all mixed up together. And if you ever want to try your hand at making music with samples you never know where you might find a beat or nice sound. Hell John Travolta's solo joint has a break beat on it! So you know these things can come in handy, yet another reason to keep those records around.

There are people that would like jr. high to never have ended, people that sneer and try to make you feel guilty or bad or lesser for liking something that doesn't conform to their idea of cool or aesthetically correct. To put it bluntly, fuck these people. They've already put us all through enough shit so let's leave them back in the past where they belong. Unfortunately these attitudes tend to replicate themselves in "outsider" circles, so we have little indie-hierachies of cool tsk tsking your lack of good taste and such. Now as tempting as it may be, don't get sidetracked into deliberately forcing yourself to like or acquire things just to piss these people off That's too reactionary and contrived and ends up making you the ass. I am not by any means advocating that you go out and buy Styx albums. But when you feel yourself worrying about what others might think if they see that Jay Z, Bobby Goldsboro, Led Zeppelin, Judy Garland, AC/DC or Carpenters record check yourself and remember this is your happening and if it happens to freak them out then all the better.

© 2002 William Crain