Thursday, August 14, 2008

That's Right (You're Not from Texas)

We've been having a spirited conversation over at Meet me in Montauk's site about new music vs. old music, why we love the songs we love, CD vs. digital, and other such things. All of that "chatting," along with my increased opportunity to listen to MY music this week (driving back and forth to work sans kids -- which ends this coming Monday), has given birth to a new thought/theory: the musical litmus test.

If you could pick one album that would provide insight into your musical compatability (and probably your overall personality compatability, as well; who are we kidding?) with the various people in your life, what would it be? For me, hands down, it would be Lyle Lovett's Road to Ensenada. I've said many times that Lyle would be my desert island artist, for nobody else comes close to capturing all the moods I'd want to tap in my solitude. This album demonstrates his ability to effortlessly go from the most free-wheeling, funny songs (such as "That's Right") to the most enigmatic and haunting ones (such as the title track).

If a potential friend were to listen to this album and think "eh," I would know immediately the chance of our friendship deepening was slim. On the other hand, when somebody listens to a song such as "That's Right" and immediately "gets it," (as Maddie and Daniel did when I first played it for them, and they insisted that I play it again and again), then I know it's all going to work out just fine. I adore Lyle Lovett for his voice, his wry sense of humor, his full musical sound (horns and fiddles and pianos and guitars) and his compelling lyrics. For all these reasons and more, if we're going the musical monogamy route, he's my musical life partner. And this album is my musical litmus test.

34 comments:

meetinmontauk said...

This is a tough one for me. I don't know if I have one definitive album that covers all the bases.

The Road to Ensenada is certainly a good choice, and it definitely fits the bill in my househould (one of its songs is partly responsible for my youngest daughter's name, after all).

I find that a lot of my music is more personal than universal, so something like Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister is the bee's knees in my mind, but I don't expect others to follow suit, and it doesn't bother me if they don't.

That said, in order to provide a definitive answer to your question, I will go with Ben Folds Five's self-titled debut album. Anybody who isn't blown away by that puppy probably isn't for me.

Amy said...

Whew. We can still be friends :-)

I love that album, particularly "Philosophy" and "Alice Childress"

And I agree that there are some artists or albums that appeal to me that I wouldn't expect to appeal to my favorite people, but I do want my favorite people to appreciate my musical significant other. So I'm glad you and Alex and Sophia and the two-eyed Fiona do :-)

Dana said...

I like both of your picks, so I guess I can be both of your favorite person.:) I may need to ruminate on my desert island choice, but some of the ones that come to mind off the top of my head include Joe Jackson's Big World, Billy Joel's Nylon Curtain, Paul Simon's Graceland (with Saints not far behind), BFF's first (and second) album, Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense, Gabriel's So and perhaps a few more. But if you put a gun to my head as you were escorting me to the island--I would go with....Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom. Costello is my favorite artist by a long stretch and I find this album to be his finest achievement --which is really saying something since I love a number of his other albums to death (in fact King of America would be a very close second). I just find the musicality, production, lyrics, etc of IB to be about as close to perfection as any record could be. So, there it is...Imperial Bedroom.. So, who get's me?

Amy said...

Yippee! I'm musically compatible with my husband (makes sense, I suppose) and my brother. Good thing I don't have to make any major changes in my life yet. Though Dana, you didn't say whether you fully appreciate Road to Ensenada! Hmmmm.

Dana said...

I love Ensenada, though my passion for Lyle starts and stops with the first half of Large Band, first half of Pontiac, and then Joshua Judges Ruth. I wouldn't necessarily take JJR on an island though--and Ensenada might well be the better island pick for Lyle.

Amy pointed out during our lunch that my pick for a favorite album (Imperial Bedroom) might not be the same as the one I would hand someone to test compatability. Perhaps, though it is hard to argue that the 2 albums shouldn't be one and the same. If you don't "get" my favorite album, how could you be musically compatible with me? At the same time, there are arguably other artists and particular songs from those artists who might need to be part of my litmus test. For example, if you didn't get why I love a Randy Newman album like Trouble in Paradise, you probably wouldn't get me either.

meetinmontauk said...

I'm certainly on board with Imperial Bedroom. In fact, I almost picked it as my choice before settling on BFF's debut.

I think you can have favorite albums that you wouldn't use for a litmus test. For example, Rufus Wainwright's Want One is definitely on my short-list for favorite albums ever, but I know he's a love-him-or-hate-him sort of artist, so I wouldn't choose that for a litmus test.

Amy said...

Shouldn't that be exactly the criteria for a musical litmus test, that one either loves him or hates him? If Rufus, the French torch singer, is your favorite artist, then you must embrace him and deal with the fact that Alex and I will never be musically compatible with you :-) I, however, believe (hope?) that he is one of your fringe favorites (another blog entry?) and that Ben Folds Five more fully represents you. At least that's what I tried to convince Dana, but he's not having any of it.

Maddie said...

Well... hmmm.... Gosh, it's hard for me! I dont think one album could possibly show why I am compatable with my 3 or 4 friends. There was some music that I begin to like more because of Andrea or Laura. They begin to like some of the Beatles and Counting Crows songs because of me. So... I guess the people I am compatable with, are the people who have the ability to affect my musical taste. wheww! That was alot of thinking! ^_~

meetinmontauk said...

Not sure what a "fringe favorite" is. For me, a favorite is a favorite. I have many, but if I had to list the cream of the crop, it would include both Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds. Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Belle & Sebastian, R.E.M., Josh Rouse, Stew, and so on... all of them essential, none of them fringe.

But I fully expect, and accept, that some of those favorites will appeal to others and some won't.

Amy said...

But which most fully represents you? Which of their many albums appeals to your sense of humor or particularly moves you? In other words, which of those albums would you regard as a "musical litmus test," one which if some random person were to think "eh" when she heard it, you would think "eh to you; we clearly have nothing more to talk about." That's the game, fella.

meetinmontauk said...

I don't accept the premise of the question.

When people don't like certain albums, I know for sure that we're not musically compatible. But that doesn't carry over the other kinds of compatibility.

If it did, Alex and I would have to divorce!

Amy said...

That's just silly - you not accepting the premise of the question. You sure you want to risk that? ;-) Obviously, there are lots of albums (shows, movies) that we might not expect or care whether our significant other (or friends and family) "gets" or appreciates as much as we do. The premise of the question is to pick one where you do care. I'm guessing you initially picked BFF and not Rufus, not because you knew you would get a better result but because BFF is more fully representative of you. No?

Amy said...

By the way, I think Maddie brings up an excellent point. Perhaps the litmus test is not as important as our ability to affect the musical taste of the people we care about. We always want to share that which we love, whether it's a film, a book, or an album. If we put it out there and it's not embraced with enthusiasm, then maybe we start questioning our taste, the person's taste, or our overall compatability with that person. Which is why I divided "the game" into core essence music (that which defines you) and "fringe music" (that which you enjoy, maybe very much, but you wouldn't say is symbolic of who you are as a person). Maybe this is a difficult question, but I find it a fascinating one :-)

meetinmontauk said...

No, I picked it because it's more likely to be appreciated by a wide range of people. I don't think either is really representative of me as a person.

Also, different music appeals to different sides of us. I'll listen to different music when I want to laugh than when I want to cry, different music when I want to dance than when I want to think.

Amy said...

OBVIOUSLY :-p

Stop trying to avoid playing my game. Not all music represents you, but my premise is that there is probably an album (book? movie?) that does. For me, it's Road to Ensenada. Whether I want to contemplate or dance or cry - doesn't matter. There would never be a time when I would not appreciate that album, so I would seriously wonder about my compatability with someone who didn't like it. It makes me laugh; it makes me think; it makes me dance (in my car); it makes me cry (or at least tear up)... so it must speak to me on a fundamental level. That's the game, fella!!

meetinmontauk said...

I gave my pick... Ben Folds Five's debut album!

I picked it for many of the same reasons. It has humor, pathos, depth and it's very well-performed as a piece of music.

But I also picked it over Want One, which does all of those things as well, because I know none of my loved ones are crazy about Rufus Wainwright (or at least not as crazy about him as I am).

If the premise is that this album defines me and anybody who doesn't like this album should exit my life... well, I'm sure not gonna pick an album that none of my loved ones likes!

Amy said...

Fair enough, Mr. "I don't accept the premise of the question." For the record, I'm pleased you went with a selection that doesn't make me cringe :-) That may have affected my choice on a sub-conscious level as well. If I had had my epiphany while listening to Mariah Carey, I probably wouldn't have been so eager to post this blog entry.

Scott said...

First of all, I have to say I really like the question. Sort of. I mean, I think it's great to focus on albums as whole works of art when it's so tempting to buy our music one song at time, like french fries.

But, I do have trouble figuring out how I distinguish 'favorite' albums from those that 'represent' me. I consider the Counting Crows' first album, August and Everything After to be damn near perfect. Musically a little daring in spots, lyrically rich. It's also rather bleak. It's clearly a favorite album, but does it represent me? Depends on when you ask. Same with Fiona Apple's first album.

I will say, here among the Lyle and Elvis fans, I'm in full agreement on all that you've said. I like the whole of Large Band as much as any album. And King of America is my favorite album all time, all artists. I still remember when Dana gave me his copy of Imperial Bedroom, another brilliant disc.

So, I don't know what it adds up to. But it's fun to think about.

Amy said...

I think I may have overstated it a bit when I used the word "represent." I don't mean to suggest that Road to Ensenada is me is some symbolic sense. Just that its overwhelming appeal for me must suggest more than that I simply enjoy listening to that "type of music." Dana was remembering last night how he and Ned bonded over music; I think the same is true for Dana and Clay, for that matter. The passion for the music illustrates something about the person who is feeling that passion. Maybe another fun twist would be to pick the album in your collection that least "represents" you.

Dana said...

I have to jump in to ask Clay to play the game as proposed! Does BFF's first album represent so much of your core, your essence, your Id, your passion, your taste to such an extent that somebody who didn't like/get the album would probably not be a close relationship of yours? This is not to suggest that you can't be friends with somebody who doesn't share your taste because, of course, you can.

But Amy's theorem is interesting nonetheless. In thinking about it, I am friends with some people (I will leave names out to protect the innocent), but not super close, and many of those people simply do not share enough common interests or tastes to create enough of that bond. There is one person about whom I am thinking who loves slapstick screwball comedies for which I have no use...I'm not saying that this alone is why we are not closer, but is it part of the reason?

So, I think if I understand Amy's game correctly, she is saying that Ensenada is so intertwined with her taste and what she is "about" that a person who completely does not get it would probably be someone with whom she is not extremely close.

I think the same could be said for my pick of Costello's IB, although, I must admit, that I may not have fully understood Amy's question when I made the pick as I too looked first to my favorites. Perhaps a more interesting selection for me would be something like Joe Jackson's Big World, which is less known by most of my closer relations (save Clay perhaps). That album has always hit me on a gut level for some odd reason. The production. The sentiments. The themes. So, if I played that for someone and they just completely didn't get it or like it, would that person be a close relationship in my life? Not sure. Of course, if I did consider the person a close relationship in my life, then Clay is right that the premise may be flawed. But, who knows?

So, Clay, please re-assess, and don't pick an album becuase it is safe and likely accessible to most of your close relations. To do that fails to comply with the rules of the experiment! Indeed, you need to do the opposite, look for the album that reaches you at that gut level--that, in some way, is emblematic of who you are--and then consider whether those closest to you get it (if they have heard it) or don't.

Of course, if this does result in divorce, remember this: Amy started it!:)

meetinmontauk said...

But you see, I live this experiment on a daily basis. As I've written on my blog, the person closest to me likes only about 10% of the music I do, and the other 90% includes many albums that speak to me (and about me) on a very personal level.

Instead, I find we bond much more over TV and to a lesser degree movies. If Alex didn't love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, then we might have issues! Or if she was so-so on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Coming at your question from the side you propose, I wind up with a few albums: Ben Folds Five, Rufus Wainwright's Want One, Fiona Apple's When the Pawn..., Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom.

Of all those, the first two (as I wrote earlier) are probably the finalists in this particular contest.

Dana said...

Now why is it that if Alex didn't like Eternal Sunshine or Buffy you would have issues, but this doesn't hold true for Rufus, particularly where I believe your passion for music ranks a fairly close 2nd to movies, and probably higher than TV?

I say you need to force Alex to hear the Rufus album, lyrics in hand, in your room...and let us know how it goes:)

meetinmontauk said...

Well, because she does like them, of course!

To be honest, if she didn't it wouldn't be a big deal, just as it isn't a big deal that she doesn't like many of my favorites. It is nice to have those shared passions, though... a few in each medium.

And, if I sat her down and forced the Rufus album on her, she probably would divorce me!

Dana said...

Now, come on! There has to be a point where common interests or lack thereof in things you adore, whether it be music, movies, art, books, etc...says something about your relationship. You can't say that if, in addition to disliking 90% of your music, she also didn't like the TV, movies and books you love, that this wouldn't matter? Of course it would!

But I think where Amy's premise may be flawed (as suggested by your relationship with Alex) is that one can totally not have a connection with music, but have so many other connections (with film, art, books, politics, etc) that it overcomes the music incompatability.

Amy said...

I would like to go on record that I will accompany Alex to the divorce attorney and hold her hand during the entire proceeding if Clay (lyrics in hand or not) ever forces her to listen to a Rufus Wainwright album. While there, I would likely consult said attorney on my own behalf, as it was my dear husband who made the barbaric suggestion in the first place.

meetinmontauk said...

(ignoring Amy, who clearly has no taste and should probably have her 'sister' license revoked)

Dana... you're right. If Alex and I didn't have these cultural connections in other places (with TV and movies making up for the musical void) that probably would be an issue. And as you can see from my blog entries this week, music did play a memorable role in our courtship.

I also believe that music is the easiest thing to enjoy alone, because I normally listen while driving to work, cutting the grass, etc. TV is the hardest to watch alone (unless your spouse spends hours on Facebook, I guess!).

Scott said...

I'll keep it simple. Christine hates most of my music, and generally I don't like hers...

Amy said...

I'd like my "sister" to decide whether my license should be revoked. Of course, I'd provide a shoulder to cry on and remind her of all the good times you had, but if you FORCED her to listen to Rufus, then you clearly crossed a line. That wasn't my doing.

Amy said...

Christine hates "most of" Scott's music and "generally" he dislikes hers. Clay and Alex have largely differing tastes in music. Still, there is common ground, and I would suggest that it is one of the albums that falls into that common ground (think the intersection of Venn diagrams) which would and should be your musical litmus test. Since none of us is starting off without significant relationships with friends, spouses (well, one spouse, unless any of my readers are Mormons), etc., we can sort of work backward. Think of all the people with whom you have the strongest connection. Now imagine which album that you love would likely be appreciated by those people. Voila - you've found your musical litmus album.

So, Scott, what music do you and Christine both enjoy?

meetinmontauk said...

But then you're working backward, and you're most likely to wind up with something safe. The Beatles or Paul Simon's Graceland, maybe.

But how much can an album that's loved by everybody say about you in particular?

Amy said...

Well, I would suggest that you start by listing only those albums that would speak to you on that deep, representative level. So you should have a shorter list to begin with. Besides there are people in the world who don't like The Beatles; we just don't happen to associate with any of them (hmmm). There are also people who would find thrasher heavy metal bands filling their intersected Venn diagram, and I'm so happy those people have found each other. It's not safe to go backwards; it's cheating ;-) but for the sake of saving marriages, I'm willing to look the other way.

meetinmontauk said...

In other words, you'd suggest what I did right off the bat! Which was narrow it down to a couple and then list the one (Ben Folds Five's debut) that everybody I know likes too. :-)

Amy said...

Exactly! Glad we've cleared that up.

Scott said...

I guess I did kind of overstated the case on our differences, as I think about it. Christine and I do agree on Lyle and on Fiona Apple and some others, here and there. Alicia Keys is another...Though generally, our common ground on such things is where one of us is stretching from his or her real zone, if you will. Which is, actually, kind of cool.

But as Clay said, music is in many ways the most personal of art experiences. And if left alone to choose, as we often are, we choose very different music. In fact, when I told her last night about this intriguing question she said, "Could I choose Donna Summer?"

Now, on movies it's entirely different. We almost always agree on movies, even if our deeply personal favorites aren't exactly the same. To Amy's point that started this whole thing, we both can appreciate what the other sees in those particular films.