Essay | Biomusicology

When I was in elementary school, the first music I listened to was whatever my older sister and friends liked: Early 90s rap and R&B. That meant Boyz II Men, 4PM, Blackstreet, Ini Kamozi, Aaliyah, Skee-Lo and other names swallowed by time. I hated rock music because no one else listened to it, even in the mid-1990s when Nirvana blew up. I grew up in an industrial suburb with a 10% white population. Accusing someone else of listening to KROQ was an insult.

Some time around the turn of the century, the interesection of Dragonball Z and Linkin Park in culture made alternative rock, nu metal, and whatever label you wanted to use okay for kids to like by high school. I had morphed into a much more captivated KROQ follower, with bands like Something Corporate and Finch and occasional punk bands like Jughead's Revenge on my Winamp playlist.

Then, one night, I was going through my sisters MP3s on the family computer in high school one day and heard Bright Eyes and Cursive. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. Everything was raw and powerful and bare, songs like “The Martyr” or “The City Has Sex.” I remember wanting to burn a CD right away so that I could listen to it in bed instead of sleeping. Today it may sound cheesy and oversensationalist, but that's what it felt like at the time to an impressionable 16 year old.

From there, I was slowly exploring the avenue of "indie rock", which most people call by the term "emo", which I refuse to use because no one identifies with it and it has a specific stigma. Bright Eyes, one of bands that is always pidgeon-holed into that genre, just so happens to write a lot of emotional songs. But all music is emotional, and the emotions in a Bright Eyes song can range to inspiring optimism. Either way, they were the doorway that got me into the rest of Saddle Creek, and that label led me to pillars of the genre like The Decemberists and Neutral Milk Hotel.

In the indie fandom community, there are many people who loathe everything Bright Eyes stands for. I can see why, though I don't agree. Bright Eyes is so damn self-indulgent, whiny, raw, and sometimes pretentious. But I can't help but feel drawn to its naturalness and strength. It's forever hardwired as an untouchable band because means something to me. It made music more important in my life.

Because of this heightened status, I tried and failed to be eclectic. We like to think of people who listen to "everything” as being worldly and knowledgeable about all the right music to listen to. So I tried to do it. I tried to listen to everything. I made sure to have an equal amount of rap and rock artists in my playlists, as if those were the only two genres. I kept up on the pop on MTV. I even went through that phase where I told people I listened to classical (Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky) even though I only forced myself to listen to an MP3 while I was doing homework. 

But at that time, it wasn't what I had wanted. I'd like to be eclectic, but I can't pretend to like things as much as I did this newly discovered indie rock. I loved it, and I wanted more of it, and everything else felt like time wasted. So I resigned to my narrow tastes, fell behind on pop and most rap, and indulged in an entire back catalog of emotional, yelping music. I don't hate any type of music, I don't judge the tastes of others, and I won't object to any radio station in the car. But I know what I want, and that's all I need right now.