As I desperately try to clear a Bon Jovi song out of my head (fingers feel weak, brain is numb), I wonder about just how those sorts of songs (music in general, of course, but we all have our tastes) carve spots in our brain.
This conversation comes about not just because I loathe not only Bon Jovi but the idea that I can’t get Bon Jovi out of my head. As my daughter (who’s 13) tries to swim through the raging tides of adolescence, I watch her wrestle with music, and the music she favors is the pseudo-gangsta rap of Lil Wayne and Eminem (he might have been authentic at one time, and I will always love “Mosh” for its political boldness and sense of humor, but he sucks now) that promises parties all the time, constant alcohol and drugs and sex in a world without consequences or complications. Newsflash to myself: that’s always what that music has been about, and the only difference now lies in the degree of exposure and relaxation of the censor button. Still, her obsession reminds me of a time like that…
I remembered the desperateness I felt as a seventh grader when I didn’t know what the other kids were talking about (I think the songs were Gerry Rafferty, “The Summer of 1963,” and something else equally cringe-worthy now). My lack of social status became glaringly apparent – what the hell was I listening to, and how could I hope to participate in the social pecking order determination that seventh grade is?
The obvious answer was that I could not hope to participate (and didn’t, as an outed nerd long before that term had any cachet at all). However, I was convinced that all I had to do was to learn those songs, and I would jump up in social status. I listened to the top 40 every Sunday morning after that – Casey Kasem to the rescue! – and became immersed in that element of pop culture. In the end my knowledge of that music did not matter – I retained my place as an over-intelligent dweeb, so much so that a recent look at some of my old classmates’ Facebook pages triggered not so much longing or nostalgia but a queasy sense of “why reawaken those old nightmares?” Still, the sense that somehow knowing something about music made by other people would set me free seems to have been triggered in my brain.
My tastes ended up being quite different, ranging from a reggae and punk period to an intense techno time to my current hard-to-define tastes. But I’m wondering what got triggered in my brain chemistry by all of this attention to music that made music such an important part of what I consider my identity. I often think of myself as a wannabe-punk rocker, and that identification somehow feels right.