We’re thrilled to introduce Rachel Demy as The Fold’s music columnist. This Seattle-based portrait and documentary photographer has spent years coordinating and shooting tours for bands like The National, Death Cab for Cutie and St. Vincent, so she knows a thing or two about meaningful tunes. But she also has a particular perspective on the music industry, as she explains below, and we think it will inspire all of us to think deeper about how we listen to the music we choose.
When asked about my interest in writing a monthly music column, I responded with a thumbs up and a caveat - “I hate writing music reviews and I am not really interested in writing about new bands.” Leading with such a bold statement, I felt like I owed Amanda, my editor, an explanation.
Last year, my husband and I purchased 20 used cassettes to play in the van on our drive to Mt. Baker, only to find out, mere seconds into Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair, the damn tape deck didn’t work. Long rides in a car are one of the few times we both sit and listen to music with real attention, but this time we were stuck talking. After numerous rounds about the state of the music industry, he, a musician and overwhelmingly pro-streaming/pro-modern industry (and I, eh, not so much), asked in all earnestness and kindness, “How can you call yourself a music fan when you don’t listen to new music?” Fair enough.
I answered by telling a story about a cool 20-something I met at Bumbershoot the month before. Surrounded by friends in the Seattle music scene, we came around again to the good-natured joke about my curmudgeonly tendency to shrug off new bands. I am not on an anti-new music, “better in my day” campaign. I just find the constant barrage of new media fatiguing, to say nothing of the incremental erosion of my attention span. To be fair, I also feel this way about new shows and social media platforms, and I enjoy playing up my 35-going-on-85 schtick.
“I do not care. I don’t need another THING,” I’ll say, with righteous adult exhaustion.
“What the hell’s a Snapchat?” I’ll say, whistling through my gums as I dissolve a Werther’s Original in my glass of sherry.
You get the idea.
“Well, it sounds to me like you’ve stopped evolving,” the Millennial concluded after I told her my 2016 Summer Record was Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration. I also joked that I’m a closeted goth who will imminently be coming out to my family and friends at the age of 35, but she didn’t seem amused. Her earnest but misguided assessment of my personal evolution was a record-scratch moment worth addressing. I’ll admit the fear of becoming jaded (or being perceived as jaded) is a real one, stemming from a kid-era urban legend that you’ll inevitably grow out of what you love in your youth or, worse, never love again. It wasn’t long ago I was voraciously consuming any and all music, ravenous for everything this new world offered me.
My eyes narrowed and I calmly launched into a monologue about how new isn’t synonymous with great and certainly not a measure of how evolved a person is. I stopped short of quietly lighting the bar on fire. I think she heard me. But I heard her, too. It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that I’m no longer a horny teenager in more ways than one — fixated and indefatigable.
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This narrative, constantly retold and mirrored back to us in popular culture, is sweet but immature. “When you grow up, your heart dies,” a tearful Ally Sheedy whispers. Listen, I love The Breakfast Club with all its purity and youthful nostalgia, but I call bullshit on this. I love music as deeply as I did in my youth, and my capacity for love has only become greater with age. The pressure to consume the entire world rather than digest our own experience is what kills our hearts, not aging.
One’s personal evolution or fandom cannot, should not, be wholly summed up by how frequently one accommodates the new. After all, unquestioning reverence for the shiny new thing completely excludes a vital component of growth: depth, as symbolized by the old thing, the classic, the lifelong return to the well-worn favorite.
I have become more careful with what I let into my life and I am more inclined to deepen my knowledge of something I already love. It’s the reason I find comfort in following up ATCQ’s We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service with The Spinanes’ Arches and Aisles. The new gets contextualized by the old. Sometimes I get blown wide open listening to a new record but more often I will mine an album I’ve heard a million times for a microscopic shift in perspective. Not all revolutions are explosive.
The art that is going to matter for your entire life is the art you live by. Simply, I consider myself a music fan because I live my life to music, not necessarily because I hold opinions about everything that gets released. When I recall a memory, however inconsequential, there is always a soundtrack for it and it’s not always what people would consider cool or even good. But it’s mine.
I care intensely about a few things because it is physically impossible to care about everything. I am always on the lookout for things that can matter deeply and eternally — the great loves, not the one-night stands. I do not date music. I marry that shit like it’s my high school sweetheart. (Or so I hear. I never had a high school sweetheart. I DID, however, have three sophomore boys take me to Tolo my senior year.)
For an album to have personal meaning and depth, it needs to sit in a context greater than itself; among one’s own experiences, history, technology, other art forms and, yes, politics. It requires practice over time, and it’s been said that time is our most valuable currency. Music is inextricable from my lived experience and its meaning is constantly reshaped by everything that follows after. This is the wellspring from which I write.
Every now and then music fans should step back and get a broader view because it’s easy to get lost in the barrage of new music, as well as the minutia and speed by which said music gets judged to death. It’s best to turn down the volume and enjoy the silence, if you can stomach the clichés. Pace yourself. Remember, it’s really not about what you listen to but that you really listen. For a true lifelong fan, ultimately the only thing that matters is that the music is there at all.
And for now, a few well-worn favorites (or, the albums I always return to eventually):
- Broadcast - The Noise Made By People
- Catherine Wheel - Chrome
- Depeche Mode - Violator
- Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)
- Huey Lewis & The News - Sports
- PJ Harvey - Uh Huh Her
- Queens of the Stone Age - Lullabies to Paralyze
- Sonic Youth - Dirty
- Stereolab - Sound Dust
- Thom Yorke - The Eraser