If I were to look back at my life and choose the one thing that has mattered the most and defined me as a person, without question it would be music. I’m not sure when it started but somehow, imagined or real, I have this vague but powerful image of myself as a child riffling through the records housed in an antique armoire belonging to my parents and stumbling upon the curious cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I asked my father to drop the needle on the record, and within moments my life changed. The scratchy, groove worn melodies began to flow from the old speakers right into the rest of my life. I was transfixed, or so I imagine it to have been.
Ever since that day, music was the one thing I could always depend on. Music is a drug, any drug you need it to be at any given time: Prozac, ecstasy, aspirin, vicodin, dopamine, or caffeine. Despite the fact that taken in the right doses it is often habit forming, music is not a pill. Those familiar sounds carry with it memories, the times and places all but forgotten, triggered by a few notes or choruses. It transports you back to great loves, crippling breakups, perfect summer nights, endless road trips, or the birth of a child. There is nothing in this world that even comes close to the associative power carried in song.
Beginning with REM’s “Chronic Town,” the mournful optimism of anything by the The Smiths, Nick Drake’s gorgeous “Bryter Layter,” Jeff Buckley’s heroic “Grace,” Neutral Milk Hotel’s astonishing “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea,” Midlake’s soulful “The Trials of Van Occupanther,” to the blissful eponymous Fleet Foxes debut, these are a few of the records that comprise the soundtrack of my life. Everyone has one but most people they don’t play theirs enough.
The first thing I did after getting my drivers license, was drive 30 miles to Cleveland to a record store that was light years better than the one in my small Ohio town, or the chain store in the nearby mall. This was a ritual that continued until recently when I finally relented and began to embrace that infinite record store in the sky. These trips were literally journeys towards self-discovery. The vinyl and CD fruits of each of these voyages changed my life a little bit every time.
There are also those incredibly transcendent moments when you find yourself standing before a stage of musicians who are so completely in the moment, so at ease with each other and the crowd before them. If I were religious, I suppose these moments would be those moments. You are somehow transported to a different, better place, at least for a short period.
My eldest child has been sick for years. When I look back at how I have dealt with the helplessness that I have felt there are only two things that helped me get through it: the smile he wears so effortlessly and music. I have no idea what else I would turn to in its place. Somehow the two together have helped me see life in a different way than I could have possibly expected.
But music is also a game. For some it is the game of “I discovered that band first.” This is ammunition of hours and hours of spirited debate. For others it is the game of trying to figure out another person, and steering them towards that perfect record that they didn’t know existed. There is no better feeling than turning someone on to that album that might change his or her life, or at least brighten a day. The best part of the game of music is that it never ends. Every day there is another great band or album to discover. For every current artist there is a new record or tour to look forward to someday.
And so, after four decades of trying to fit a passion into a profession, TastemakerX will launch, beta warts and all. It’s a game about music, for anybody who cares about music, or wishes that he or she still had time to stay tuned in like they did when they were young. If I were a doctor at the top of the list of daily musts, along with fruits and vegetables, I’d prescribe at least one uninterrupted song a day or one album a week listened to front to back, away from the internet, just the music playing. It doesn’t matter what you choose, music is a kind of food for your soul. Just listen intently, voraciously and to as much as you can.