Recently I had the pleasure of running some errands with A, my older son. I always enjoy our one-on-one time because I like the opportunity to glean something of what is going on in his life. Sometimes he throws out the most interesting opinions, and I get to hear whatever he is ready to share that day. As he has gotten older, these chances get fewer, so I cherish the times I get.
If he rides with me on these occasions, he usually brings his own music and politely asks if we can listen to it. He has learned what I like (and what I don’t—“That one would make you too nervous, Mom”), and his taste in music is so broad that what he brings to my car is always something that broadens my interest, too. This day he brought a mix, and my favorite on there was a tune by Vampire Weekend (check them out, I really like them). Now I happen to have my own Vampire Weekend CD.
Anyway, about this particular day, we were discussing the music on the radio (which is what I usually put on), versus his Indy band music. He has strong opinions about pop music. He began telling me that he can't listen to a lot of the music on the radio because the way they mix their sounds irritates him. Really? “Yes, they put the vocals really high in the mix, because in our culture, the focus is on the singer, but for some reason producers seem to think that they need to fill up lots of empty space behind the vocals with whatever they can find, like a few improvised ingredients in a bad casserole.” I was shocked by this, not because of the music, but because of the bad casserole. How does he know about those? From my kitchen? Oh, I hope not . . . but I had to ask about that later, because much more followed.
“When you try to listen to what's behind the vocals in most radio pop songs, you'll find that you can't really pick out what's being played, but it's likely a boring, inoffensive mixture of several dull-sounding guitars playing four chords, a bass playing four notes, and a superfluous string section that you have to listen very hard for.” Ooohhh. Wow, this dude is really listening. I think he hears things most people don’t hear. Does he listen to all my wisdom this closely? Hmmm.
“I'm not trying to tout the superiority of technical musicianship over vocal skills - the human voice is one of my favorite instruments. Go listen to "Jolene" by Dolly Parton - you can hear the urgent guitar-picking, drums, bass, and piano and fiddle coming in and out as needed. Obviously Dolly Parton's voice is the most important feature since she is the singer, but her producer didn't feel the need to fill the space behind her vocal, like some last-minute dinner dish being filled out with bad ingredients to serve more people.” (More shock. Have I ever done this?? He is making some excellent points while I try to make this about me.)
Now I have to listen more carefully and see if I can get this. But I did also need to check on my son’s perception of the meals that come out of my kitchen. He ended up saying he had not had a bad casserole from his mom, but could not say exactly where he had had one. Makes me wonder. I’m going to go listen to Jolene. She wouldn’t serve you any bad casserole.
Here is Jolene if you want to listen, too.