My favorite band when I was in Junior High School was the pop-rock group Styx. This was in the late seventies when their popularity peaked after the release of the single Come Sail Away, which I thought was just an awesome song. It was sort of romantic and poetic and very dramatic, though it was a little weird that a space ship shows up at the end of it – but no matter! They were my favorite band and I bought all three of their albums.
Then I went to high school. I made many new friends there, including Con, who was two years older than I, had a beard, whose father was a famous journalist, and who said things like, “This Tom Petty album is the most important record of the year.” I didn’t know how a record could be important, but it impressed me that Con knew that one was. When he asked me what kind of music I liked, I said, “Styx!” He was oddly silent. A couple weeks later we got into a little argument about taste that ended with him saying, “Well, at least I don’t like the Muzak you listen to.”
About the same time Styx came through town on tour. I didn’t go to the concert, but a music reviewer from my local paper did, and my mother read the review aloud to me one evening. It was as if Con himself had written it. The critic wasn’t so much reviewing the show as posing the question, “How could anyone possibly like this music?” It wasn’t long after that I couldn’t listen to Styx anymore.
To be fair to myself, high school was a time of big changes for me, including my taste in books, poetry, music, and movies. All the stuff I loved to read or listen to when I was a freshman no longer fit who I had become anymore than the clothes I had worn my first day of high school. But I always felt a little guilty about how I moved on from Styx. This didn’t stop me, however, from rolling my eyes at the kind of person who would like such bland, plastic music if someone mentioned the band – which only left me feeling guiltier.
Many years later I was fishing for something to listen to while driving when I stumbled on the opening refrains of Come Sail Away. I nearly turned the dial, but something stayed my hand. I let the song play. It wasn’t easy to do. At first I still worried, even alone in my car, that someone would find out what I was listening to. Soon, however, I could remember being thirteen, and why I once liked the song, how I was able to hear in the song’s poetry and romance and drama the beginnings of something I would eventually find more completely elsewhere. I was reminded that when it comes to taste, you simply couldn’t get it wrong unless you try to live by someone else’s.
So I let the song play all the way through, and while I wouldn’t want listen to it again, I decided it wasn’t such a horrible song, really. Though I did agree with my thirteen year-old self on this: when the space ship showed up, I thought, “That’s still a pretty weird ending.”
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You can find William at: williamkenower.com