Trundling reluctantly (but alertly) into the blogosphere, I offer up my entry into the “I’m going to do something vaguely strenuous for a year and write about it” genre. I have cleared my schedule for 2012 in order to listen to all 500 of the Greatest Albums of All Time, as selected by Rolling Stone Magazine. My involuntary companion on this mission will be my beautiful baby daughter Charlotte (“Charlie”) McGuire.
Charlie is but a few months old, and is the sweetest thing on earth. Do I relish the prospect of exposing her delicate little ears to Black Flag, Rage Against the Machine and Metallica? Or, which is worse, to Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and The Eagles? I do not. Neither do I look forward to making myself take seriously various musics I have spent a lifetime avoiding, when I could be listening to Otis Redding, or Loretta Lynn, or The Beatles or The Band. And yet that seems to be the plan I have signed on for.
Listening to music is the only thing I have really loved, and done well, my whole life through. I believe, as does any serious music lover, that I have a much, much better music library than, say, you do. And yet I detect the disconcerting vastness of horizons of music out there that I know almost nothing about. “Licensed to Ill” is probably the only rap album I’ve ever listened to all the way through. Anything whose DNA is derived from the punk end of the spectrum is a bit of a gray area for me. I couldn’t name for you a single song by The Smashing Pumpkins, or Pavement, or any Pearl Jam song that wasn’t on their first record. Instead, I have pursued the music that feels right to me, however anachronistic or idiosyncratic. It mostly falls into what I would regard as some crucial main stem of American vernacular music–soul music, essentially, whatever the official genre.
In 2011 I got married, became a father, and turned 34. If I’m not an adult now, I guess I never will be. Accordingly, I am beginning to experience that slide toward a benighted middle aged complacency wherein I like what I like, and don’t much care for this whole notion of being “challenged” by things, aesthetically or otherwise. Actually, it’s been that way for years. So if I am to make a stab at giving the broader musical spectrum (or my own capacity for change) a fair chance, it’s now or never. Come hold me tight.
The time is right in other ways as well. Winter’s coming on, the wife is back to work, and I am hunkered down at home with a baby and a dog–a condition which has not exactly stopped in its tracks some prior seriousness of purpose in life. I’ve been puttering around the house for years, but have recently been given the raison d’etre of stay-at-home dad. There are responsibilities to the job, and general favoring of my daughter’s needs above my own, but there’s a lot of downtime involved too. At the same time, her irregular schedule of need, and the general state of sleep deprivation that accompanies it, are not conducive to some more resolutely attention span-requiring activity such as reading the great novels, or learning a foreign language.
So this is what I can do: listen to 500 albums, chosen by someone who is not me, that are alleged to comprise the finest recorded music existing in the popular genres. Many are by artists I already know and love. Many are a big question mark for me. A handful I hate so vehemently that much of my personality could be understood as a reaction formation against them. But I will listen to all of them–in full, as actively as possible, and with as little presentiment as I can muster. Each will get a write-up of variable length and investment. As time and inclination permit, I will write otherwise on the subjects of music, parenthood, and so forth. Or perhaps the rapidly evolving demands of raising my baby will overwhelm me, and I won’t have time for this shit at all. That could happen too. But I’m gonna try.