As a child I grew up listening to my dad blare out the melodies of Elvis Presley into a microphone. Over and over and over. And I hated it, especially when I had friends over. He was obsessed with it. Very often it would happen late at night as I was trying to go to bed. My dad had his own karaoke system set up in our utility room. He liked to record himself, replay it, improve it. Over and over and over. I didn’t know at this time what karaoke was. Years later I would discover it in a bar when I was 18 and scoring pitchers of rum and coke from friends who were legal. Love Shack. I strayed every now and then. But my good friend, Chris and I would sing the duet nearly every time. Chris gave me my stage name, Amilicious. It means ‘a force to be reckoned with’. That’s only funny if you’ve witnessed me sing karaoke.
At any rate, music entered my life very early and it was ongoing. In addition to priding himself as an Elvis impersonator, my dad played guitar. I always enjoyed it when he would pull it out of its case. It had a beat up leather cover with a bright pink velvet liner, worn only in one spot; it was antithetic to the case’s rough exterior. And the guitar itself… a beautifully crafted instrument that had clearly been treasured for years. I can remember how shiny the gloss made it look, the duo toned wood of the body, ivory bridge and pearly fret markers. I liked the knob on it too and the embossed leather strap. When he opened up that case, somehow it smelled like opportunity; it smelled old and new at the same time. To hear him strum through the strings with his pick, casting a sound through the air – It was the closest I ever felt to him.
It was then that I learned how powerful music could be. Here was a man shackled by his inability to overcome himself, someone who had long lost the ability to draw anyone close. He had shut that door and put up those walls; he wasn’t letting anyone in. Yet here he was, singing of love, remorse, and desire. What I quickly figured out was that through Elvis and other rock & roll/country legends, my father could escape. Through their songs he could communicate things he otherwise couldn’t say. I remember being confused and outraged internally over the hypocrisy of it all. How can you talk about love in the songs you choose to sing to yourself, but not express it to your own family?
But then… music does the same thing for me. It allows me to escape. It was, is, and will always be one of my favorite forms of communication. Music is an art. And just like any other art form, it is there to say something, to convey some meaning, to reflect what someone was thinking or feeling. Music has the power to take me somewhere I would rather be, somewhere connected.
I love a good, intricate rift. And I pay attention to lyrics. That’s why I think most popular music is crap. It’s too simplistic and redundant. It doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t seem to come from a place that is rich and full of passion, angst, and strife. When pop music talks about money, it doesn’t imply a struggle. When it glamorizes sex, it doesn’t go beyond a 17 year old’s interpretation of it. It isn’t inspired by the experiences of being human, but rather the experiences of being a cultural icon. That doesn’t interest me.
I want to listen to music that rips my heart out, throws it on the floor and buries it endlessly into the ground. I want to feel the chords bleeding through the air waves. I want a guitarist who sounds as though they’re making love to the notes echoing through their fingertips; a drummer who can entice me with their quick, subtle pulsations and yet demand sudden movement of my body with every loud bang, baNG, BANG! I want to feel in a song what I have felt my whole life; a song that makes me feel like I have been heard through someone else’s lyrics or melody. One that speaks every truth I’ve ever known.
Elvis may have been the King of Rock & Roll in his day. But I’d say music has progressed a whole hell of a lot since then. Even so, Elvis did more than shake his hips while he was performing. He shook an entire nation. My grandparents referred to it as ‘devil music’ when my mom was growing up. But by the time the music of my generation started hitting the air waves, they had a different view–Elvis wasn’t such a bad influence afterall. I have a feeling my opinion of pop music will not waiver, however. Something that lacks substance will always lack substance. And even though Elvis’ music has never been anything more than catchy and fun to sing along with (when I wasn’t busy resenting the fact that I felt forced to listen to it more than I wanted to and my dad seemed more interested in trying to be Elvis than be my dad), for me it represents a gateway through which I learned I could safely enter. My brother has been obsessed with Elvis his whole life. It’s pretty ridiculous actually, but I get it. He’s always been as desperate as I’ve been to connect with our father and our father has always been desperate to be taken seriously as a musician. Perhaps he was hoping to live his dream through Elvis Presley, a true rags to riches success story who was loved and adored by women everywhere who wanted nothing more than to let him be their teddy bear. In an era of strong sexual rigidity, Elvis had the power to transform “good girls” into desperate, horny hellcats. And this is probably what frightened the older generation more than anything else. Women weren’t supposed to feel that way. But that has certainly changed.
Music today seems to be filled with nothing more than discussions about sex, some explicit and some more illusive. Then again, I grew up listening to the likes of Sir Mix A Lot, Salt-N-Pepa, Madonna, and Tone Loc. Yet it’s not the kind of music I identify with, even if I do find myself singing along. And I’m hoping, as a parent, the same is true of the music my kids now enjoy. It’s all very catchy and may not state the obvious, but I know what they’re implying. Not to say all pop music is about sex. And not to say I think all popular music is terrible. There is some that I enjoy or can at least tolerate. And so, while I respect my children’s personal music preferences, I also consider it my duty to expose them to different kinds of music that they wouldn’t normally listen to on their own accord; music that has found me in times of pain, suffering, sorrow, and despair when I felt lost in a world I didn’t understand. In hopes, I suppose, that they may one day learn to appreciate it; if for no other reason than to know how important music has always been to me and to learn how powerful and transformative it can be for them.
Music is like love. It’s constantly progressing, blending old and new elements. At times it tries to mimic itself, giving way to monotony, leaving less room for spontaneity and creativity. Nevertheless, if you have an appreciation for a certain artist, predictability is not always a bad thing. What was once your favorite song can be over played and begin to bore you. You may even grow sick of it. On the other hand, there are those songs you will never tire of hearing, no matter how many times you set them on repeat. They will continue to take you everywhere you wanted to go and leave you breathless, heart pounding, yearning for more of the same.