So, What Were The 90s Like, Dad?

Music rarely comes without preconceptions. Even if it’s new, we know the context. We know the channel, the genre, the album cover. We attend the show and see the flyer and know one of the bands and so there’s little to be surprised by.

January 2018: So, What Were The 90s Like, Dad?

  • “Stay” — Low
  • “Don’t Blame Me” — Taylor Swift
  • “The Unimaginable” — Murs (f/ Robots & Balloons)
  • “Acid King” — Malibu Ken
  • “The Melee” — Beastie Boys
  • “All My Friends” — Pavement
  • “Muscle’n Flo” — Menomena
  • “Ketchum, ID” — boygenius
  • “Captain Sandwich” — The Peanut Butter Conspiracy
  • “Tattooed Love Boys” — Pretenders
  • “Crazy” (live) — Pylon
  • “In the Jungle” — Kid Creole and the Coconuts
  • “The Man Who Has Everything” — Chance the Rapper
  • “Lifesaver” — Guru (f/ Baybe)
  • “Game of Pricks” — Shudder to Think
  • “Chasing Rainbows” — Shed Seven
  • “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” — Cat Power

And yet, here I was, listening to Discover Weekly and catching a song I’d heard before, wondering at how good it was. Turning my eye a little, feeling all of that context crash into place.

Taylor Swift. Huh.

Listen, I like Taylor Swift an okay amount. Some stuff is great. Some is … not. This song – “Don’t Blame Me” – is from her new album, which I’ve completely written off. Completely left for dead.

This is relevant because this is what Sierra does all the time. As a middle-school-kid learning about opinions and taste, she’s quick to decide when something’s amazing or horrible — never anything in between — because that’s how kids do it. The discovery of taste is a rush; the idea that you can create your own likes and dislikes lists leaves a kid drunk with self-definition.

It’s with this I’ve been able to start being a bit more open about my tastes. I have a strict rule (that I sometimes struggle to follow) that I’m not going to talk shit about music or movies or books because taste is relative — there’s nothing less endearing than hearing how much someone doesn’t like something. But now instead of blind compliance, I have shifted into a new prefix:

“You know, I don’t care for it, but…”

This happens a lot in the car, where Sierra’s most likely to ask about music. Both kids insist on listening to 101.9 KELO-FM, the modern day equivalent to what we used know as 92.5 KELO-FM, which is what I always knew as adult contemporary and Kerrie knows as “the channel my mother listened to when she cleaned the house.” One part Michael McDonald, one part Whitney Houston, one part Lionel Richie. Now it seems to be all parts Maroon 5.

They love this channel. I hate this channel. So we’ve come to an agreement: if I get into the car before they do, I choose the music. Some mornings it’s NPR, and the kids hate that — not because the news is boring, but because the news is awful — and so we still end up back on 101.9.

Today, I got into the car first and we listened to Revelation Records-era post-punk. Some days they win. Some days I do.

After picking her up from practice, Sierra asked me what kind of music was popular when I was a kid. Not, like, what I listened to, but what was popular. I began a wonderful lecture on the weirdness of the 1990s — on how, for a short time, the idea of a ubiquitous top hit fell away and we were given a look into wonderful and awful splinters of taste. I talked about how there were really two kinds of rock music — the stuff that was good, and the stuff that was popular. On one side lie Pavement; on the other, Semisonic.

She pretended to listen. Then she showed me some weird meme video that she referred to as “the music I like.” So I gave her homework. For a second, I became that dad and I said, “Listen to this 90s alternative playlist and find stuff you like.”

I don’t care if she hates most of it. I just care that she finds something she likes. Some bright ray; something worth remembering.

So much of what we think we hate is due to pre-assuming the context, to figuring it out before we’ve even experienced it, to preclude ourselves from wasting our time or feeling left out or being disappointed. There’s a line where we start protecting ourselves from things. When we double check to see if something’s cool or relevant , when we hide behind taste as a personal gatekeeper, when we let go of free association. As a music fan, I feel like I’ve spent years catching up, digging myself out of the hole I dug deep into my punk world, frantically searching for what I missed. There’s so much out there that we can all find something exciting and weird and sometimes even completely normal where we don’t expect it.

She did her homework, kind of. Her list of five songs included Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People,” but it also included Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” and some stuff from a Britpop band called Shed Seven that I’d never heard of until yesterday. She rushed through it, completed it to make me happy, and went back to her YouTube meme videos, but I guess it’s a start.

It’s a start, for sure. Context is always context, taste is always taste. We’ll still listen to 101.9. We’ll all judge something before experiencing it. And, hopefully, we’ll learn to appreciate that which lies just outside our lane.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 11th, 2019