Music has turned into a status symbol. I’ve seen people force themselves to like a certain band because they got a high rating on Pitchfork or because they’re “hyped.” You must like this band to be cool, you must dislike that band to be cool.
However, this kind of superficial relationship with music diminishes the medium’s true powers and beauty. Music has proven to be far more substantial than ratings and facades during the trials of high school and college.
Freshman year of high school was the worst year I’ve had so far. I became painfully shy and anxious. My previously fun, hyper and outgoing self scurried away, leaving self-consciousness and doubt in its wake. I had trouble making new friends. I walked through the halls hoping no one would talk to me.
Music was my solace, my escape, and it accompanied me on the otherwise lonely weekends. Most notably, Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak” whispered out from the speakers and did a melancholy waltz around me — enveloping me like a blanket — as it connected with me on an intangible, emotional level that went beyond any artificial notions or scores placed upon it.
Then, gradually, as the pages on the calendar flipped through my high school career, The Strokes’s music took hold of me and dragged me out of this hole. If “808s” gave me company, “Is This It” and “Room on Fire” gave me a giant jolt back to life like defibrillator paddles to the heart. The shredding guitars and the bad-boy persona exuded through their songs made me feel energized and cool. Once I felt cool, I was cool. By graduation, I had a whole group of friends that loved me, and I loved them. I was back to my ways of singing and dancing throughout the halls and classrooms because somehow The Strokes made me want to. I was back to living.
Then, I was in a dorm room at college. The girl I love was thousands of miles away in Paris. I had no idea what my major was or what I wanted to do with my life. There were times when I really did not want to be at Berkeley and felt trapped.
Radiohead’s “Kid A” welcomed me inside its sonic paintings and let me meander within the gilded frames. On the track “In Limbo,” Thom Yorke croons, “I’m lost at sea, don’t bother me,” and that’s exactly how I felt at times. Somehow, it gave me hope despite being a somber reminder of my current state of being.
I would send the girl in Paris Norah Jones or Ella Fitzgerald songs that accompanied memories we had together and would dream of twirling her along to them once more, until I found myself doing exactly that in the living room of her apartment right up the street from the Arc de Triomphe. I would go immediately back to those ballads after every teary-eyed goodbye at the airport.
Now, I sway my head along to Sidney Bechet or the score from “Her” and I feel inspired. They, along with others, have displayed to me what I am meant to do, and that is to create something with my words — a movie, a novel, a column, etc. — that gives people some sort of emotional connection like these songs have done for me.
Music goes beyond the ratings some pretentious critic slaps on it. It goes beyond how obscure it is or how hip it is or how cool it will presumably make you appear. Music is a sanctuary, a savior, a connector, an inspirer. Let it be those things.
Taran Moriates is the arts columnist. Contact him at [email protected].