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One of my least favorite jobs is ironically the one I look back on the most fondly. While the job was tedious and left me with back problems for years afterwards, it was a period where my tastes in music evolved the most. And I owe that to my manager at the time, Dave Gunderson.
Dave was five or six years older than me, and was a huge music fan. He had been playing bass in local bands in Seattle for a number of years and had a fairly eclectic taste in music. We both shared a love for a lot of classic rock: Zeppelin and the Stones were in constant rotation on our portable cassette radio. Because of my love for the Stones he introduced me to Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
I knew a little about Gram from his stint in the Byrds. But I’d never listened to his post Byrd’s band (Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels) or his solo material. Gram is my favorite country artist. I eventually introduced my father to Gram’s music. His love of Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash was the basis for my own appreciation of country music.
For my part, I turned Dave onto Badfinger. He knew of the band of course, but hadn’t listened all that much to them. Whereas I had pretty much everything that was available at the time by them. The two of us went through a pretty heavy Badfinger phase. Dave told me that if I liked Badfinger I should check out Big Star. I’d never heard of Big Star. So, Dave brought in a tape one day and after that I was hooked. After leaving that job Dave and I remain friends and he has turned me onto a lot of great music over the years. It seems like every time I see him he’s got something new to listen to.
A number of years ago he gave me “Special View”, a best of CD by a band called The Only Ones. I knew nothing about them, but Dave thought it was something I’d dig. So, I took the CD home, copied it into iTunes and from there to whatever mp3 player I had at the time.
The first time I actually listened to the CD, however, was in my car driving around L.A. And I didn’t get it. There was one cool poppy-punkish tune on it. But past that it didn’t really resonate with me. And the CD went into storage, more or less.
Some years later I was going for a run, and as was my habit at the time I put my player on shuffle. Somewhere along the way a song called “Another Girl, Another Planet” came on. And I couldn’t figure out who it was. Running along thinking “Who the hell is this?” I didn’t recognize the song at all. But I loved it.
When I got back from my run I scrolled back through the playlist to see who the song was by. It was The Only Ones. How had I missed this gem of a song? I immediately went back through my library and listened to the whole album. Dave had been right, I loved it!
I happened to talk to Dave a few weeks later and mentioned how much I was enjoying the album. He recommended I buy their second album, “Even Serpents Shine” which he felt was their masterpiece. A lot of the songs from “Special View” were on it, but a lot of great songs weren’t.
I tracked down the CD and loved the album, which prompted me to buy their self-titled debut album. Again, incredible. Eventually I tracked down a double CD called “Darkness and Light” which contained their complete BBC recordings. This album was a revelation. There were songs I’d never heard, as well as early versions of songs I knew and loved. Within a matter of months, The Only Ones were my favorite band and I was playing their music to a number of close friends who I thought would like them.
When I started buying vinyl again I went to great lengths to track down their records for my collection. But what’s always struck me as odd – and this isn’t a new phenomenon for me in any way – is how I missed this the first time around. While it’s not uncommon to hear a catchy song you initially disliked, but later discover has grown on you after repeated listens – or for that matter, the inverse, a song you loved initially you grew to dislike after hearing it so many times – but this was different. It’s much rarer to discover a song or band that initially made no impression at first, but then you came to love.
I wish I could recall what was happening in my life during that first listen. I tend to put new CD’s on during road trips or otherwise long drives so I can listen to them without distraction. And if that were the case, I wonder why I didn’t connect with it? Were there other things going on in my life at the time that caused me to be distracted and inattentive? Was I somehow not emotionally ready for the album, or had my musical tasted not matured or evolved to where this made sense? Or was it a matter of expectations? Because I was told I’d like them, was I expecting to be blown away from the first note? Were my expectations too high to be fulfilled from the start? And then, once that expectation had dimmed over the years I was able to hear it with new ears and no pre-conceived notions?
Admittedly, The Only Ones are an acquired taste. After playing them to my friend Jay he told me he didn’t like it because the singer was “Too English” as he sings with an unmistakable accent. But I’ve listened to plenty of other bands with English accents and that’s never affected me. They’re an obvious influence on the Libertines and Baby Shambles, both of whom I’d gotten into in that intervening time. Had I needed to hear them to prepare me?
It’s a mystery to me why some music affects you instantaneously while other music you need to learn or grow to appreciate. That sometimes, no matter how great a song or band is, we just aren’t receptive to them at that point for some reason. Is it the difference between having a visceral versus an emotional or intellectual connection? I don’t know. But I suppose if we didn’t have discriminating tastes, we also wouldn’t have an appreciation for music. Worse yet, if we all only liked the same music we wouldn’t get the pleasure of discovering new music to share with each other.