I don’t know the music protocol in your car, but in mine it’s fairly easy to learn. The driver of the vehicle is considered “The Captain,” and because of this designation, he or she is in charge of the music selection. In my opinion, the driver is a position with a lot of responsibility. So in return for making sure that the passengers get to their destination safely, the Captain must be provided a comfortable driving environment that includes determining what the music itinerary will be.
Considering this, there are some major lifestyle changes that occur when one gets married. I completely ignored this for several years until one time, while perusing thousands of cd titles before leaving on a car trip, my wife matter-of-factly advised that I pick something that she likes.
Now I have eclectic tastes in music, but I’m also blessed with a fairly wide pallet. What this means is that I would not dream of forcing you to sit in a car with me as Captain and listen to the Boredoms seminal Chocolate Synthesizer album at full roar. No sir, I’ll save my noise rock for the solo ride and I’ll play some universally acceptable tunage that will, hopefully, get you to inquisitively ask “Who’s this?” along the way. That’s part of the pride of being a music geek, and my further expectation is that you would actively seek out a few of the titles spun on our mutual roadtrip.
My wife doesn’t do that, and it has nothing to do with the vast supply of source material that resides in our basement. She has different priorities and while she would declare that she is a music lover, she is a breed of “music lover” that I cannot understand.
To give you an idea: aside from a few dozen properly purchased titles, her entire collection consists of cdrs. And on the oft-chance that she does actually own a proper release, the jewel box is missing and the disc itself is housed in a substantial cd carrying case.
She listens to a pair of rock radio stations almost exclusively. They have the kind of format in which every band sounds like the musical landscape hasn’t moved a fucking inch since Nirvana‘s In Utero and almost every lyric could’ve been cribbed from some sap’s high school journal. Personally, I find it hard to tell the bands apart, and find even more difficulty figuring out the song titles. I was so proud on one occasion that I was able to identify one band—Buckcherry—after nearly thirty minutes of not having a clue of who or what was being broadcast.
My wife also couldn’t name most of the songs or artists playing either. At the same time, she knew all of the lyrics to these nameless songs sung by faceless bands. I found it hard to believe that she could efficiently recite the words—and some of them were hard to understand underneath the ridiculous vocal treatments that some of these bands liberally use—but not know who was singing them. This is a far cry from my own formative years: When I heard a song I liked, I immediately determined who it was, and after purchasing it, I would religiously sit down and study the liner notes.
Any music geek can confirm that this is when the real fun begins.
So not only does my wife’s idea of what a “music fan” is not align with my own, it makes a simple request like “Pick something I like” even more difficult. I would bring things like Aerosmith Rocks thinking “Everybody likes Aerosmith Rocks” only to learn that she couldn’t recognize one goddamn song from an album that I thought was handed out with every 10th grade class schedule.
So the next trip I started to consider some of the music that she liked and looked for any possible connections. I brought along Guns ‘N Roses‘ Appetite For Destruction, which seemed to work during the radio hits but she would put her nose back in the new Cosmo every time a song she didn’t recognize came on. We sang a duet during “Welcome To The Jungle,” but she let me go solo on “Mr. Brownstone.”
I came to the conclusion that anyone under the age of thirty no longer listens to albums in their entirety.
Considering the “hits only” approach, I got huge props for bringing Black Sabbath‘s We Sold Our Soul For Rock ‘N Roll compilation, which comprises all of the band’s most popular Ozzy-era cuts. She even laughed when I made fun of the keyboard-era Sab during “Am I Going Insane (Radio)”
I back ended this disc with another Black Sabbath compilation, The Dio Years. It was received with a curt “What is this?!” After making an impassioned speech about the underrated Ronnie James Dio era of Black Sabbath, my wife needed additional clarification by asking if Dio was “that short, freaky looking guy.”
On our most recent jaunt, I was dumbfounded when after a perfectly good Squeeze album, my wife asked “Can we listen to some of my music?”
She had secretly brought along her huge wallet of cds and zipped open the pouch before I could even protest.
I glanced over while driving and saw some of the handwritten titles that I was in store for: Stone Temple Pilots, Godsmack, Staind…nearly all of them sounded totally unappealing and could easily be used as grounds for divorce.
I immediately made a mental note to bring Chocolate Synthesizer on our next trip as a form of aural punishment for what she was about to put me through.
She suddenly began to lay down a democratic style music selection, where I would get to listen to one of my cds and then she gets to listen to one of hers. I’m still in shock at the mutiny that’s taking place as she allows me—the Captain—an opportunity to acknowledge if she comes across something I actually like.
“…System of a Down, Korn, Ozzy Osbourne…”
“What Ozzy cd is it?” I asked, hoping for Diary Of A Madman.
“It’s called The Ozzman Cometh.”
Fuck! Another compilation!
We listened to it and I tolerate the choice, enjoying the Randy Rhodes era stuff and gritting my teeth at everything else. I make another mental note about how much I hate anything past Bark At The Moon.
Afterward, I’m in such a music purgatory that I don’t pick my choice fast enough. She pulls out Monster Ballads, a 1999 compilation of hair metal power ballads that was prominently advertised on many cable channels late at night.
The moon roof is open in our Toyota 4Runner as we make our way down the interstate on a beautiful summer evening. I acquiesce and allow the sounds of Warrant‘s “Heaven” to continue to play from the cd player.
I even let out a laugh as the next track, Poison‘s “Something To Believe In,” begins playing. I’m surprised at how I remember the words to it, and continue to chuckle as Bret Michaels waxes on about a “suicidal Vietnam vet.” It’s from a time that the Poison singer can’t remember, but evidently, the protagonist can’t forget. The audacity of the lyrics, the fact that Michaels tattoo artist misspelled “believe” on Brett’s arm when he went to get the song title inked on it, and the notion that I am allowing a 16 track disc of monster ballads be played in my role as Captain is all starting to gnaw at me. The brief moment of nostalgia has passed and the entire situation is starting to make me mad.
My wife continued to sing. I endure her karaoke versions of Mr. Big, Extreme, Firehouse, and Great White Lion Snake until I reach over and turn down the cd player, using the last weapon that I can think of.
I start to talk about music.
It begins with a diatribe of how formulaic the entire notion of a “power ballad” is. It may have started with a legitimate, heart-felt creative urge, but by 1985 and beyond, the era that Monster Ballads pulls from, the power ballad turned into a requirement that nearly every record company demanded from their hard rock roster. The formula was to have the “rock” track as your lead-off single and immediately follow it with the obligatory power ballad to hook in the female market share.
My arguments were sound; there was little room for her to counter with a rebuttal.
I went on to declare how part of my problem with power ballads—and 80s metal in general—was the way producers took all of the life out of the drum sounds. Nearly every song on Monster Ballads featured snare drums with so much gate and compression that they sound like artificial percussion. These bands probably spent tens of thousands of dollars to get this type of sound, a technique that rendered any humanity completely out of the song.
Clearly, I’m on a roll. I pause giving my wife a chance to voice her opinion, but she ignores me.
The song “Never Let You Go” comes on and I suddenly begin to wail just like the dude in Steelheart does, sensing that my over-the-top performance will get a reaction from her.
“O.K. honey! I get it! Go ahead and play what you want!”
But I didn’t want her to give up, I wanted to talk to her about the music she enjoyed. I wanted an explanation as to how she could know all of the lyrics of the songs on rock radio but couldn’t identify who was playing them. I needed to know how these songs made their way into her life…and possibly how I could purge them from it. I hoped to understand how someone thought that buying a compilation like Monster Ballads was a good idea.
Then a familiar keyboard pattern began to play. I recognize the song from my past and I realized that I only had a few, short seconds to push eject on the cd player before the singer began singing.
“Sometimes I wonder / How I’d ever make it through…”
It’s too late. My wife is pouring her heart into Bad English‘s “When I See You Smile.” I immediately begin to inform her that the song is merely a re-write of the singer John Waite‘s solo hit “Missing You” which is itself merely a re-write of his song from his first band, The Baby‘s “Everytime I Look A You.”
She ignores me, continuing with “And when the rain is falling / I don’t hear it / Cause you’re here with me now.” She looks at me every time the chorus hits, melting my heart a little bit with this embarrassing display of affection. She knows that she’s winning, and while it’s not enough for me to change my opinion on Bad English, or any of the shitty songs found on Monster Ballads, it’s enough for me to leave the disc in and let her have her moment.
I’m not a heartless bastard, and the soundtrack of my life is filled with as much guilty pleasures and shitty music as everybody else. My wife, admittedly, has way more shitty music than most, but then again, my own world is tainted by a disproportionally large amount of music snobs and critical geeks. My diatribe against Monster Ballads would have been met with laughter and nodding heads if I were in the court of my fellow musicologists. It is hard for me to disassociate myself from that way of thinking and contemplate that there are people, large numbers of them, that enjoy this tripe and do not take music as seriously as I do.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I happened to marry one of those people, and based on the strength of other things in our relationship, I believe that I can handle listening to a few shitty records.
Or as that English poet John Waite put it: “Sometimes I wanna give up…I wanna to give in…I wanna quit the fight. But then I see my baby, and everything’s alright.”
Video: Monster Ballads
Image via Five Oh Threads.