Reverse your morality, listen to bands
That play only music you can't stand.
--Brave Combo, "Do Something Different"
I make a point of listening to music that I don't like. I should clarify; I don't go around all the time listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks, because there is a difference between music that I don't like, and music that is bad. There is a lot of music out there, in all sorts of genres, that is generally regarded as good or great, but that has never really clicked for me.
The works of Wagner, or Prince, or Phillip Glass, or Ornette Coleman get wonderful reviews, but generally, I don't like them. It's not a matter of genre--I'm an opera nut, I like good pop, I'm a fan (to the Real Doctor's chagrin) of American minimalism, and plenty of post-bop Jazz. There's got to be some reason that such folks are held in such critical esteem--something they alone can communicate, in some dialect of the language that I yet don't have an ear for. I figure that it must be worthwhile to get that message.
So, if I have the time and the space between my ears, if something comes around on the radio that is good but that I don't like, I try to give it a listen. Sometimes it doesn't work, despite my best efforts. I remember driving the length of the Sacramento Valley one night listening to Die Walkure and just not getting it at all. Some other folks report feeling deep insight into human relations and duty to family and honor when listening to this piece. I felt tedium, the perfect musical equivalent of driving the straight, flat, barren stretch of I-5 on a moonless night.
I think I started feeling strongly about some music in my teens. Decades on, there are pieces I love so much that hearing them causes a physical reaction. There are pieces that I've studied, and played, that I appreciate more and more every year. But I'm never going to hear the Goldberg Variations for the first time, and have it knock me on my ass, ever again. That only happens once and it happened over thirty years ago.
Nonetheless, I keep listening, and once in a while I come upon a treasure--I get to re-live that feeling, the emotional wallop, of hearing something great for the first time. It's why I keep listening, both for something I haven't heard, and to good music I don't like. Yesterday I had to drive to Portland and back, a six hour round trip. The folks who run the show at Sirius Radio's opera channel decided they should play a vintage performance of Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor, with Sutherland and Bonynge. It's classic stuff, critically acclaimed; it's also been proven by experience to leave me unmoved and bored. I never really loved Sutherland's voice or the whole Donizetti schtick. What the heck, though, I decided to give it a listen. Well, I got it, to the point where I wanted to stop the car and applaud at the end of the mad scene. Whooooo-ah, that's some singing there. And now I want to hear it again.
So I'll keep listening to music I don't like. Maybe I can't say that I don't like Walkure. Maybe I should say that I don't like it yet.