Growing up in the 80’s my friends and I took our taste in music very seriously. I preferred music from the 60’s and 70’s whereas some of my closest friends were devotes of what was called “New Wave,” which was a kind of danceable, electronic, if somewhat emotionally inscrutable rock and roll. While I wasn’t the kind of guy who would get into arguments with friends over bands, my feelings about what constituted good music were strong enough that if someone insisted on playing an entire Police album at a party I might have to leave the room. What would never get were certain overtly poppy artists like Madonna or George Michel or Hall and Oats. If you tried to play one of these artists you might not get invited to the next party.
Chris was one of my closest friends at the time. I loved hanging around with him and listening to his stories and just generally talking about life. I tried to avoid talking about music, however, as he was all in on New Wave. Chris was an enthusiast. If he liked something he wanted to celebrate it, which was great when we liked the same song. Talking about a song we both loved was like remembering why we were friends. But when he brought up Kraftwerk or The Cars or Devo, no matter how much I tried to share his enthusiasm, I couldn’t, and he’d feel a little like a stranger to me.
One summer night after my freshman year of college he gave me a lift home from my job. “Bill,” he said as we pulled out of the parking lot, “you need to listen to this.” He fished a tape out of his glove box.
“Don’t look at it though,” he instructed. “Just listen to it.” I agreed to just listen to it and he popped it in and the song began. It sounded like dance music of some kind, and I thought I recognized the female singer. It was different listening to a song both having no idea who the artist was and knowing that Chris liked the song. If it had just come on the radio I might have turned the station, as it didn’t immediately fit my aesthetic, but I wanted to like it because Chris did.
“Listen to that bass line,” he said. “Listen to that groove. Isn’t it awesome?”
I listened to the bass line and the groove. Awesome wasn’t the first word that came to mind, but seeing the joy and Chris’s face I understood how a person could find it awesome. “It’s good,” I said.
“You know who it is?”
“It sounds familiar . . .”
I stared at the young man behind the wheel. What the hell was going on? We had by this time arrived at my house, and he was still talking about how much he loved this album and how people underestimated Madonna. I was so confused that I just agreed that it was pretty good all right and thanked him for the lift home and staggered out of the car and up to my room.
I tried to make sense of what had happened. I honestly couldn’t tell if I had liked the song or not. For a moment, reality felt off kilter because I depended on what I liked or didn’t like to guide me not just across a radio dial but also through life itself. What if my “taste” was just a lot of label snobbery? I tried to think of one thing I knew for sure that I liked. My mind drifted back to the car and Chris behind the wheel loving Madonna. I don’t know if I like the song, I thought, but I do love how much Chris loves it.
That, I realized with some relief, was true, and reality aligned itself again, and I quickly fell asleep.
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You can find William at: williamkenower.com