Friday, October 08, 2004

On Musical Obsession

If you live with a music lover you'll know that there's something not quite right with them. They're damaged goods.

By music lover I mean 'real' music lovers, the kind that Nick Hornby loving depicted in High Fidelity. The main reason that novel is so loved is its systematic mapping of the emotionally stunted psyche of the 'real' music lover. The novel appears sharp and knowing because, in essence, it's a self portrait; the terrain of musical obsession is Hornby's daily minefield. We all know these music lovers and have to deal with their many foibles. (The book inspired the less funny John Cusack film, I've raised my objections to the film previously).

The 'real' music lover (typically male as empirical evidence shows) is someone who is plumbing the depths of musical obsession, who'll engage you in all sorts of musical obscura, evangelizing some middling (from your point of view) or unfailingly under-promoted (from their point of view) artist; he'll be constantly drawing up Top 10 lists on any topic (desert island disks, best B-side, best break up music, best make up music etc), reorganizing their music collection by genre, alphabetically, by mood, by theme, or by date bought, by girlfriend or by some contrived criteria.

They'll kick you out of their record store because you're looking for Stevie Wonder's I Just Called To Say I Love You, while at the same time furiously insist that MC Hammer's Turn This Mutha Out is the shiznit ("You know Early Hammer was quite revolutionary really"). Their bigotry or unerring snobbishness cannot be questioned.

Of course, in this our iPod and file sharing age, their old standby, the mixtape, is dead and rather it's the playlist that matters. Even if it is easy enough for anyone to download 26 versions of Besame Mucho, on the whole though, most of us are content with shuffle serendipity. Still though, the real music lover has embraced these trends and will put the same craft into turning out playlists or into amassing "The Complete Story of Roxanne", those 103 responses to UTFO's 1985 novelty hit Roxanne, Roxanne.

And so, in addition to my other peculiarities, I plead guilty to musical obsession, to Top-10-listopia, to hearing lyrics everywhere. Others can attest to some of my obvious weaknesses. On any given day, I could be going on about Omar, the Crown Prince of soul music in this our millennial age, or declaiming the virtues of the Johnny Kemp's Secrets of Flying album (unfortunately overshadowed by the swingbeat single Just Got Paid - there's a lot more in there, he's a complete artist) or insisting that the peak of Jam & Lewis's Minneapolis Sound was Alexander O'Neal's Hearsay and Cherelle's Affair album as opposed to their production efforts with SOS Band or the higher selling Janet Jackson joints. And so on...

A month ago, on the Chinatown bus returning from New York after vibing with Abbey Lincoln, my cousin was increasingly irritated with the two loud ghetto women sitting behind us. You know the kind, they just hadn't been socialized: "It's inconsiderate cell phone man" with the urban twist. The loud music - it sounded like a boombox not a walkman, the gooselike laughs at how Meldrick has been dealing with his baby momma, their snide cell phone conversations with Bobo and LaFanqua about distressed, shark-skin jeans (I kid you not) and, the last straw, Cousin Ray-Ray's toe operation.

All of which was interesting to me as a cultural anthropologist of sorts, but even I have to admit that their performance was a rising crescendo for the almost 4 hour trip. When it looked as if my cousin was finally about to lose it (we were still an hour away from Boston) and turn around, fists ready and prepared to take off her heels for the imminent combat, she made the mistake of loudly saying "What Have I Done To Deserve This?" Of course that elicited this from me:

"Oh yes. What Have I Done To Deserve This? I know... Hmmm... From the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield? That would be late eighties or so... 1987 I think."
I immediately begun singing their mantra:
What Have I, What Have I,
What Have I Done To Deserve This?
What Have I, What Have I,
What Have I Done To Deserve This?
And then I started composing a Top 10 list of songs about irritation or annoyance: some favourites: True this outburst served to defuse the tension, but for the whole trip, I had been so lost in my thoughts comparing Abbey Lincoln to Amel Larrieux that I hadn't intervened earlier or nudged our neighbours into toning down their aural invasions.

And musical obsession doesn't only intrude in the mundane as above. I live with 24 hour music, it's pervasive in my mindset, at work, at play, and even in love. I assume that it's especially annoying to "The Girlfriend" when it comes to intimacy. From my point of view though, it makes evident sense to quote the occasional lyric, or four. After all, how can you be original in this day and age? Thousands of years of evolution have brought us to down to this. What haven't men and women said to each other before? What haven't Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Al Green or Luther Vandross, those lotharios of longing, whispered carelessly in the dark. Turn Off The Lights, Teddy Pendergrass insistently demanded; Truly I Adore You, Prince almost leered...

But anyway I try to make the effort at least in affairs of the heart, but it's hard to be original... It's so easy to slip in 'I Love More Than You'll Ever Know' as Donny Hathaway put it... A work in progress...

Just last night again, when the same cousin remarked in passing that her roommate would be away for the next few weeks, I was immediately compelled to start singing Wyclef Jean's Gone 'til November.

See You Must Understand
I Can't Work A Nine To Five
So I'll Be Gone Til November
Said I'll Be Gone Til November.
Yo. Tell My Girl, I'll Be Gone Til November
January, February, March, April, May
I See You Crying But Girl I Can't Stay
I'll Be Gone Til November, I'll Be Gone Til November
And Give A Kiss To My Mother.
Then I started thinking about autumn songs. First the obvious: And then onto November songs, what about Kenny Garrett's November 15 from his Songbook? And of course I remembered my favorite November song, Troop's Sweet November
Someday Soon, I Know We'll Come Together.
Even Though I Feel A Change Of Season's Due,
But Maybe Sweet November Will Tell Us A Story
That Will Bring Us Back The Love That We Both Knew.
As you can expect, the conversation degenerated from there on. First she giggled, sighed in exasperation, then just before she hung the phone, pointedly put it:
"There's something not quite right with you, Krantz".
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