The distinctive sound of whales crept from the boom box playing in the corner as we all downed our beers. With it, a familiar riff.
“Ah, ‘The Warmth’! I love this song,” I said, leaning back dramatically in my lawn chair.
“Wow, I’m impressed,” said my boyfriend, with his typical garish grin. I looked at him quizzically. “That’s an album track.”
This wasn’t the first time he’d acted like I only listened to Top 40 radio.
“Well, I own this album,” I said, the edge clear on my voice. He didn’t respond.
Not three months later, he left me for a girl named Brandi, fresh out of high school and much perkier in the breasts than I. Brandi, like I, frequented his shows where he played a combination of original songs and Beatles covers. I was devastated, but mostly so when he told a mutual friend that he preferred Brandi because “she loves music.”
Apparently, my endless support of his shitty music didn't count because I wasn’t groupie enough.
I grew up listening to what my parents did, which was a delightful mix of prog rock, Broadway, folk, and classic country. To me, Simon and Garfunkel, Bonnie Raitt, and Barbra Streisand defined the sounds of my childhood, along with the songs from Disney and Don Bluth movies. As I got older, I heard my fellow students talk about bands and pop stars they liked. For the most part, I was disinterested in Boyz II Men and En Vogue. I listened to Billy Joel, the Monkees, Bette Midler. Despite my range of tastes, I found no fellow fans among my peers. Rather, I was mocked.
Desperate to find common ground with my peers, I watched Total Request Live after school and bought CDs by Britney, Christina, N*Sync, and the Backstreet Boys. And yet I fell upon Savage Garden, B *Witched, BBMak, and other foreign pop groups. I had to endlessly justify my fandom to my American boy band-loving girlfriends, or, in Georgia, my die-hard country-pop listening fans. Yet if I had a nickel for every time someone told me they didn’t know who Dolly Parton or Johnny Cash was, I wouldn’t have student loan debt.
Despite training in musical theatre and opera and regularly performing pop hits at recitals, I found myself holding the unpopular preferences for music among my peer group. I remember earnestly applying to Hot Topic and with all sincerity listing The Rolling Stones, Matchbox Twenty, and Savage Garden as my favorite bands.
I didn’t get called. Later in life, when I was regularly listening to My Chemical Romance, AFI, and Evanescence, perhaps I would have been.
I remember my childhood best friend, who loved Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Eve 6, listening with skepticism as I tried to convince her that Savage Garden counted as rock. I remember my first college boyfriend, a music major, who scoffed at my love of “To the Moon and Back”’s gorgeous instrumental outro, refusing to believe that a pop song could be a musical work of art.
My post-college boyfriend had a gig at a local bar. He was playing “Send Me (On My Way)” by Rusted Root. I excitedly told him afterwards, “You played the Ice Age song! I love it!” He glared at me as though associating the song with a movie in which it had played a vital role was the gravest sin. That was but one sign of how much of a music snob he was. He regularly discounted my opinions on songs, instead mocking me for how I hadn't memorized the Wikipedia page for any given band. It was good that he dumped me for an alleged “real music fan.”
I moved away from that city shortly thereafter and joined a cover band. We covered The Cranberries, T.Rex, Modern English, Aerosmith, you name it. Here, I finally felt accepted for my eclectic tastes.
According to This is Your Brain on Music, your neurons actually reproduce a song’s signature in your neural patterns. That means a song actually guides your brain’s activity. Could it be that music defines who we are? I’d say so, and also that we listen to the bands that we need to. There are definitely some days that I need Dolly Parton or Liz Phair, and other days that I need Muse or Green Day, and other days that I stumble upon The New Pornographers or Of Monsters and Men and feel happier for it. I listen to Todd Rundgren or Hall and Oates and remember my childhood, or Paramore or Avril Lavigne and remember my angsty college years, or the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman and remember how I went to see the film with my aerial dance partner. Despite what my crappy music snob ex-boyfriend said, music can be anything to anyone. We’re all human, and we love whatever songs best match our experience. Is anyone’s taste truly terrible? Our brains decide.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.
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