Time once again to blow the dust off of the Way-Bac machine and fire that bad boy up. The destination this time, early July. The specific year is not all that relevant, although it will land somewhere between the early-to-mid-1960s and a decade later. On the map, look to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near the community of Wilson, located either between Powers and Bark River or Iron Mountain and Escanaba, depending upon your familiarity with the territory. This was where my Mom grew up…the same place where the rest of her family still lived. Every year somewhere around the Fourth, Dad would pack the seven of us into the car – three in the front seat and four in the back – and take the four-hour trip (including break time), and we would once again get to visit Grandma and Grandpa and all of the aunts, uncles and cousins on Mom’s side of the family (and for a few years, one set of great-grandparents as well). Before every trip, Dad would tease us that we were going to a “foreign country”. Looking back now, though, and revisiting my impressions as a kid…well, it may not have been a different country, but it certainly was a different world.
And that was not necessarily a bad thing. There were any number of things that were different from what we experienced in the day-to-day back in Wisconsin; whether their charms came from the things themselves or from their association with our visits and with everybody up there did not really matter…they were what they were. Of these things, one that came to be associated specifically with our visits was the music that could be heard coming from Grandma and Grandpa’s living room. To be sure, some of it was country music of the sort that could be heard on the radio at home or in Dad’s car. But there was another type of music – distinctively different from country, although not diametrically so – that was heard more often. This was the sort of music that was known in various circles as traditional, folk, or old-time (not to be confused with the “old-time” associated with polka dances, which was a very different genre indeed). In fact, this was music that one just did not hear on the radio anywhere near where I lived. For those unfamiliar, the best way to describe the sound is somewhere between bluegrass and Appalachian folk music…a sound that was, in fact, one of the early precursors of country music. Whether this music appealed to me on the basis of being associated with our visits or simply on its own merits, there was no denying its appeal even then.
Back home, though, there was none of it to be heard anywhere. And, in fact, even if it were, it certainly would not have appealed to kids my age. For most of those my age – certainly the cool kids, although I never came close to qualifying for that particular label – rock music was where it was at. The Beatles and the British Invasion hit the airwaves when we were in second grade, and quickly became “our” music – meaning that of kids our age…or, more specifically, that of the kids that mattered. Country music (which was the soundtrack of my home growing up)…the traditional music that my Mom’s parents listened to…the polka music preferred my Dad’s parents …even the sock-hop rock ‘n’ roll one might associate with American Bandstand, which was just a couple of years older than what kids my age were listening to…all of that and everything else was “their” music. And, if you listened to “their” music…well, were you really one of “us”?
Given my apparent inability to grasp what was and what was not cool over the years, musical taste was the least of my worries. That outlook changed, though, when a local FM station changed its format to rock in the late 1960s. Suddenly, the FM station was cool, and the AM station – which really had not changed its programming at all – was just as suddenly uncool…with all the baggage attached that one might expect. That well over half of their playlists consisted of the same music was irrelevant; in matters of music, like so much else, you were either one of “us”, or one of “them”. And admitting to liking anything that did not conform…well, you had better have some damn solid credentials to offset that music. But somewhere around then it dawned on me that, by limiting yourself to one genre, to one radio station…to immediately brush something off for no other reason than because the others condemned it sight unseen…by doing that, you were denying yourself a whole world of music that might just appeal to you in ways that you might never expect.
And I never looked back from there. Now, that is not to say that I feel any obligation to like a particular song based solely on the fact that it might be of a particular type that I normally do not listen to. At the same time, I will not blow a song off based simply upon genre. I do not like “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony because it might fill a hip-hop slot on my playlist. No…I just like it. Period, regardless of whatever label might be attached to it. And were I to reject it based simply upon its genre…well, I would be denying myself a little something that I like, for no other reason than a label. There are nuggets of gold in every genre…old-time traditional to current alternative, classical to hip-hop, and everything between. To me, there is not “old-people” music or “young-people” music…there is not “our” music or “their” music.
There is just music. Enjoy it. No guilt on your part. No guilt on the part of your friends when they like something you may not.
Just enjoy it. Please.