Sentimental idolotry (excerpts)
Pop music is pretty much the only musical language I understand. Melodies, hooks, a sort of poetry, arrangements, production qualities – it might not be as nuanced as classical music or as intellectual as jazz but there’s more to it than just junk radio.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s actually good – something I will appreciate more and more as I listen to it – and what’s simply catchy. Is good music the same as cool music? I have real problems with the rock ‘n’ roll elitism that my friend Peter calls “indier-than-thou” where “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” is shibboleth for the new club of cool, and “sellout” is a four-letter word. But at the same time, I never listen to mainstream radio because I assume there’s nothing on it worth listening to (nothing cool enough for me). I’ve learned that I generally have to look a bit harder to find something I really like.
When I was 21, I spent nine lonely weeks backpacking around Morocco. I deliberately left all my music at home as a sort of ascetic exercise. I thought that maybe if I was all alone in the sand and sweltering heat without any familiar rock ‘n’ roll to distract me or make me feel a certain way, I might meet God. I’m not sure I did, but I certainly felt a holy comfort when I rolled off the bus late one night and walked into a little coastal café to hear Bryan Adams’ Wakin’ Up The Neighbours playing on the stereo. Had I been in a cafe back home I would have sneered, but so far from my own music, I was suddenly the biggest Bryan Adams fan in the world.
Music is not everything; not even Bono believes that rock ‘n’ roll will save the world. But life without music is unfathomable. We need more than just good music, but we still need good music.
Kurt Armstrong is a writer now living in Winnipeg, Manitoba.