Music and Silos

Right now, I’m listening to a bunch of old songs by The Smiths, who at one time in my youth, were a favourite band. I used to have “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” on repeat in my headphones…and by “repeat”, I mean, play, take the tape out, flip it over, fast forward, take it out, flip it back over, insert…listen, damn, wrong spot, repeat process again…until the tape was worn out, batteries too and I had a sudden urgent need for a Bic pen.

But as I was saying, I loved The Smiths. It has been suggested that The Smiths or Morrissey are kind of like a phase that you go through in your pre-teens and early teens, when everything seems dismal. Supposedly, when you have matured, you grow out of The Smiths and Morrissey because you realize shit isn’t all that bad. I never found it to be that way (about the appreciation being a fad that is…I realized quite later in life that yes, shit quite often IS that bad)…I just liked the songs and something about Morrissey’s voice. Maybe it was the fact that it’s a voice I can mimic quite accurately. Some people can do complex mathematical equations, others develop scientific breakthroughs, a few accomplish great athletic feats, but me? I can imitate Morrissey. That’s my contribution to the world.

Anyway, in listening to these songs, I was transported back to middle school and early high school and at first I thought of these times with some sort of fondness, maybe even appreciation, but then I remembered that my musical tastes at the time often caused me a lot of grief. You see, I will listen to pretty much anything. I have always been like that. There’s so much good music around (sometimes you have to dig, but you know what I mean) that you’re doing yourself a disservice not to listen to different types and realistically, when you start to listen to more music, you can almost instantly recognize which bands have influenced others or where samples are coming from in some songs. You can appreciate each kind of music more because you have a better understanding of what the artists are trying to accomplish…the sound they are relaying to you.

But when you are in middle school and you’re a black kid listening to The Smiths or Depeche Mode, look out. It didn’t matter that I also listened to De La Soul, Paris and even NWA, I was selling out by listening to the other stuff. I kept listening to whatever I liked, but some days the comments would wear on me. Throw in the fact that I played hockey and you knew the “Oreo” comments were sure to follow even though I could spit Big Daddy Kane lyrics from memory better than any of the other black guys (still can). Kids can be cruel, that’s nothing new.

As you move through high school, people all find their niches and while some people still make comments, it tends not to be as outright or maybe that was just the situation for me. I wasn’t really what you would call popular, but I wasn’t a complete nerd either, I was just somebody who most people knew. I could kind of move between the different groups and the comments didn’t seem to be as frequent, but by then, I also didn’t care very much anymore. After a while, you get used to the barbs and they don’t sting anymore.

The great thing was that when I got to university, I met tons of people who were just like me, but from all different backgrounds. It was great. I got to occasionally help out on a radio show with a white guy who knew funk inside out. Black friends who knew country, Asian friends who were hip hop junkies, it was amazing. We all loved every kind of music and were at all kinds of concerts, bars, parties (or at least I think so, with the mixture of drugs and alcohol we may have just been sitting in the library for all I know…but I’m pretty sure it all happened).

Looking back, there were a lot of girls that I ended up hooking with whom I had absolutely no business hooking up with simply because I knew a lot about music (and I can kind of sing…which I don’t really do very often for people). For some reason they found that interesting (Jesus, I just realized my wife is reading this). We would go to classical recitals that other students were putting on in the music hall (anybody performing Mahler and I was there) and then that same night, we would go to see Jazz Pharmacy. My ever growing music library was a constant conversation piece. I would spend hours in record shops looking for things or at music conventions going through crates of LP’s. One of my prize possessions is my Isaac Hayes “Hot Buttered Soul” LP, one of the best album covers ever in my opinion (and if you want some influence, listen to the beat and bassline on “Walk on By” that starts around the :45 second mark and then listen to anything on Portishead’s first two albums…I won’t go near the number of hip hop groups…not enough time). I also picked up another all-time favourite album AND album cover, Chet Baker’s “Let’s Get Lost” at a convention for $11 after going through crates for 2 hours. I almost felt like I had stolen it. $11 for a great album on vinyl with a cover like that? That made my month. It really did.

Now my music collection is in the thousands. If I combine vinyl, CDs and electronic files, I probably have over 3,000 albums. It’s crazy. Sometimes I think about all of the money I have spent and all of the things I could have bought, but I don’t regret any of the money I have spent on music. It’s funny, but early in life, the things I listened to ended up causing me grief, but then I used those same songs to get me through those times. I can escape through music, but sometimes I just love to enjoy other people’s talent. Recently, my wife and I had a great night just by sitting on the computer listening to live performances from KEXP radio in Seattle via YouTube (give yourself a gift and check this out, then subscribe to KEXP radio on YouTube).   Something she said to me has stuck in my head and I hear it almost every day.  She said, “This was a cool night…and I think I understand you a bit more too.”

One of the things I love about heading back to Montreal to visit friends and family is the opportunity I get to visit one of my friends who is also an avid music fan.  We always make sure that when we get together, we have a bunch of good things ready to share with each other and most of the time we try to schedule in a trip to do some CD shopping.  The great thing is that our musical pasts have taken us along completely different paths, but along with our appreciation for the music, we also appreciate the stories we have that go with each song, album or even artist.   Pain, happiness, confusion (for confusion, the first and only time I saw Bloodshot Bill in Montreal…that posed a serious WTF?), we have stories for almost everything.  It’s great.

Anyway, this post is getting really long, so I’ll cut it here.  I talk a lot about music, so I am sure that at some point I am going to bring up a lot of these things again…but there’s a reason I’ll do it.  You can take what you want from it, you may even identify with it and if you get nothing from it, well that’s okay too, because sometimes that also happens with music.


  1. avatar Gwen Styles Says:

    Hey Jay! I linked to you on my website! Check it out:


    Jennie (Gwen Styles)

  2. avatar Jay Says:

    Thanks Jennie, I appreciate it! I dig your site and you have just inspired me to get around to updating my links. Of course, you’ll be on there. Later!

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