The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 4, 2013

Jeremiah Tucker: New Year's reflection reveals power of pop music

JOPLIN, Mo. — It's a new year. Nothing actually changes on Jan. 1, but the idea of a fresh start is a nice, perhaps even necessary, fiction.

If Christmas is about momentarily stopping the churning cogs of routine life to spend a few days relaxing with family and friends, New Year's Day is about taking stock and making those cogs run more smoothly going forward. It's the one holiday when we experience self reflection.

A few days before New Year's I was cleaning out my childhood bedroom, and I kept throwing stuff in the Goodwill pile, which my dad would pick up and say, "But you used to love this." One time he was referring to old "Garfield" books, then a copy of "Atlas Shrugged," both of which I now regard to be equally sophisticated. But he was right -- at one time I liked them.

I liked "Garfield" until I was about 8 years old and discovered "Calvin and Hobbes," whose collection of comic strips I put in the save pile. I liked "Atlas Shrugged" until I went to college and realized the book has the lamest super heroes in fiction -- a bunch of rich, middle-age guys living in a secret valley with an oversized solid-gold dollar sign set high atop a ledge as their rallying symbol. Plus, the douchey waiter in "Dirty Dancing" who gets punched out by Patrick Swayze liked it.

If you did any looking back this week, I'd like to point out that it's interesting to note the ways in which you change, but it's even more interesting to try to pinpoint the line between your younger self and the person who greets you in the mirror today.

I got rid of nearly all my CDs years ago when I began listening to music more on my iPod and buying vinyl. Today, I don't know how much I would enjoy my teenage music collection, but there is some.

I also know my teenage self would profess hatred for most of my favorite music of 2012. But, back then, I was really into ska-punk, which was oddly popular in Southwest Missouri, so I was clearly confused.

The earliest songs I can remember listening to and loving are oldies. I remember buying a cassette at the mall, a cheap compilation of '60s hits, and repeatedly listening to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Lil Red Riding Hood," a song I still love. I also loved The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," which I heard because it was on the aforementioned "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack. It remains one of my favorite songs.

In college, I realized I really like pop music, which had been a word with a lot of negative connotations when I was in high school. Now, I would much rather listen to TLC than the Buck-O-Nine or The Urge CDs I played in high school.

Now, I've realized what I generally respond to musically is an attitude, mood or emotional release expressed in a concrete way that can be earnest, nuanced or over-the top and artificial.

Whether it's Ronnie Spector's desperate pleading over that iconic drumbeat, Nick Drake's pretty, acoustic melancholy, the juggernaut chorus of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or the twinkling synths bubbling beneath Future's mouthful-of-Listerine, AutoTuned voice on "Turn On the Lights," to me it's all great pop music. When there is an intellectual or musically formal idea that gets in the way of emotional expression, such as strict adherence to genre conventions or gross experimentalism, that is the music that tends to lose me.

I think what I liked about a lot of the music I listened to in high school is that there was a scene around it. You could go see it live, and there were other people who enjoyed it. I didn't know anyone else in Joplin who liked the Brit-pop band Pulp, so that was the music I tended to listen to alone in my room. Maybe that's why Pulp remains my favorite band.

Or maybe this is all classic revisionism and human beings are much messier than this. We grow, change and become unrecognizable to ourselves countless times over our short lives for reasons mostly unbeknown to anyone, let alone ourselves. Who knows?

Still, just to be safe, I think it would be prudent to not play Puddle of Mudd around young, impressionable children.

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