Why is My Music Collection Your Problem?
Today, I made the long-awaited switch from a Samsung Galaxy 3 to an iPhone 5s. I had switched from Rogers to WIND last year after being up to my neck in expensive phone bills with not enough data to justify the monthly expense. But when I switched, iPhones were unavailable with my new carrier.
Great, I thought, and settled for the cheapest thing I could find.
When I finally got to unite my new phone with my iTunes, all my old music came back, and I decided to throw some more songs on there. But as my old music played in the background, it reminded me of the long road I travelled to arrive at such a diverse-and problematic-taste in music.
Growing up, my dad was the most culturally confused guy I had known. He was a black guy that rode a motorcycle, wore cowboy boots, spoke a little bit of Portuguese and Hindi, and only listened to 80s new wave.
My mom, on the other hand, was a white woman who was so into funk and disco that her parents “rolled in their graves”, as she called it. She had a thing for Shabba Ranks, and Flow 93.5 was, for as long as I can remember, her favorite station.
So when people asked me what I listened to, I would tell them, “everything”. They would often laugh this off, in the way someone would laugh off a person thinking having a few Shania Twain songs in their iTunes meant they listen to country.
It was just one of those things. I was mixed, but too black to be white, so I was just black. And that determined the type of music that it was “okay” for me to listen to.
Maybe I’m being very sensitive, but I recall making playlists to listen to for the different hallways in my high school. My Chemical Romance couldn’t be blaring when I walked past the cafeteria. And if I was stopping to chat with the white kids, I didn’t want them asking me what it meant to “roll up de tassa.” I thought this wasn't such an issue anymore. But a few weeks ago, I was bartending at a rugby club when Blink 182's "What's My Age Again?" came on. I sang all the lyrics as I poured drinks and the people on the other side of the bar, mostly white, looked like they'd seen a ghost.
But truthfully, I was never a fan of rap. Or hip hop. I listened to it, but it didn’t get me going in anyway. And for the longest time, I was made to believe that this was because I was “whitewashed”, or “not from the hood”. People tried for the life of them to figure it out; to come up with a reasonable, logical diagnosis for this thing that they likened to an illness, a disease.
Why don’t you listen to your music?
So one day, I asked my dad this question.
“Dad,” I said. “Why don’t you listen to your music?”
“This is my music,” he said, acknowledging Tears for Fears on the radio. He may have even played the imaginary guitar to the solo that comes towards the end of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
I found my mom in the kitchen. She was hopping and bopping to the music on the radio as she cooked us dinner that day.
“Mom, why don’t you listen to your music?” I asked.
She laughed a hearty laugh and looked at me. “Honey, trust me. This is my music.”
I had no further questions. In that moment, I understood.
I was part of the same school of thought that had inspired the confusion in my own musical taste. I had heard so often that certain music wasn’t for me, that I was beginning to believe it. This was the same type of ignorance that had me mislabeling my dad as confused, when really, he seemed to have it all figured out.
When I scrolled through my music today, I saw everyone from Foster the People to Mac Demarco. I saw the Cold War Kids and Krosfyah and even some Ashanti (back when she was good). There was rock, there was reggae, there was a lot of soca and a lot of good music.
Imagine being told that the only thing, universally, that unites us more than food, I would argue, has its own target audience, and those audiences are based on skin color.
And imagine growing up and actually believing that. Because I did.
But I don’t anymore. And thank God for that.
I’ve come to realize that this constant over-compartmentalization of things and people and music and food and experiences is just a way that people come to terms with their own discomfort; their own misunderstanding.
It’s a way for them to organize grey areas into darker greys and lighter greys.
Because people fear what they don’t understand.
And an open-mind is one of the scariest things a closed-minded person might ever face. Because it poses the challenge of having them, too, open their minds, and see life beyond their black and white disillusioned realities that got them here in the first place.
I don’t listen to the music I do because I “must have suffered some traumatic experience to this specific genre that has me turned off of it for life,” and I don’t listen to it because “my parents obviously didn’t raise me right.”
I listen to it because it appeals to me. I listen to it because it’s my music. Its not up for questioning, and its not up for debate. This is the music that speaks to me.
Every so often, my dad and I compare our music libraries. He introduces me to bands I have never heard of, and songs that become my favorite, and I do the same for him. But there’s this really beautiful thing that happens sometimes where he’ll tell me he has a song that he’ll know I love and I already have it. And I already love it.
Art is art. And music is music. And like all the universal things that unite us, it’s meant to be enjoyed by everyone and for everyone.
Open your minds. And open your ears. You might really like what you hear.
enough to make even the bravest soul feel safe.