Can You Learn To Like Music You Don’t?

GH CT_Concert

Can you learn to like music you hate?  Research suggests you can.  But I’m a skeptic.  Country music?  NEVER.  And I’m a country boy (of sorts), having grown up in Arkansas and having spent summers and my college days in rural NW Arkansas.  The truth is, I probably could learn to like music I hate if I tried.   According to a research study, people react negatively to certain kinds of unfamiliar music.  They may not recognize a particular chord structure in the music and simply can’t hear and process it.  Researchers argue that it’s like encountering a foreign language for the first time. In the study, subjects with no musical background took a crash course on music theory and then listened again to music they had previously rejected.  On the balance, the “trained” subjects were better able to process dissonant chords.  Now this doesn’t mean they loved the music, but they apparently understood it better which is the first step toward acceptance.

This brings me to an interesting question:  how does one acquire musical taste?  Need one be a musician to enjoy a diverse palate of music? I submit that it helps, but is not a requirement.  Think of the language acquisition analogy.  Children consistently exposed to rich inputs of multiple languages in the home or school stand a much better chance of acquiring the languages (and without an accent) than children from monolingual backgrounds.

I can trace my own musical tastes to early exposure.  Jazz.  My dad used to come home from work and play jazz records – Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck were two artists I remember.  I didn’t really like the music much as a 6 year old, but I liked my dad.  I wouldn’t begin to listen to jazz in earnest until my late teens, but my dad paved the way.  Same is true of classical music.  I didn’t like it much growing up, but it was around me all the time.  My mother was a musician and music educator – still is.  She sang in church choirs and chamber orchestras. And she played the piano, as did my sister.  They played a lot of classical music.  As a kid, I took piano lessons from a  world class bell choir instructor and arranger and church organist.  This lasted about a year because my older sister, who also took lessons, was a much better keyboardist than I – plus I didn’t like being compared to her, or to practice.  The only thing I can play on the piano today is “Strangers in the Night” (with my right hand) and I learned that by myself before I began taking piano lessons.  I daydreamed and doodled a lot during church services as a kid, but when the church organist played, often Bach, the music dramatically soared out of hundreds of pipes and caught my attention.  I didn’t begin to seriously listen to and buy classical music until my 30’s, which was right around the time the CD was starting to compete with and overtake vinyl.

Commercial radio, the Midnight Special and American Bandstand probably influenced my tastes the most as a kid.  I worked throwing a paper route and mowing lawns to feed my thirst for records – 45’s, and LP’s.  One of my first 45’s was Stevie Wonder’s “You are the Sunshine of My Life” and one of my first albums was his landmark Innervisions, which ranks up there as one of my favorite LPs.   My dad turned me onto Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake in my mid-teens.  I felt some liberation from commercial radio when my sister brought home a Jeff Beck album, Blow by Blow.  And that led to my interest in jazz rock fusion, back to Miles and on to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock.  I discovered a lot of music on my own, often quite randomly; sometimes I bought an album of an unknown (to me) artist for the cover art or photography.  This is how I stumbled across the music of the Pat Metheny Group below:

Pat Metheny_Fayetteville AR 1984

I often joke that I have musical genes but no gift.  I may have an ear for music, but apart from some piano lessons at age 7, no formal training.  I owe my ability to appreciate and understand jazz and classical music to early and constant exposure.  I am proof that an average person can learn to like music that he previously rejected. But this process takes time, in my case, it took years.  Will I ever learn to love country and folk, rap and heavy metal?  Probably not due to the lack of early and consistent exposure; respect yes, love…love is such a strong word.

Here’s another self-indulgent look at the influences on my musical tastes:

  • Rock, Pop and R&B – Commercial radio, the Midnight Special, American Bandstand, Soul Train, friends, record stores and album covers
  • Jazz – my dad, my sister, Guitar Player magazine (the John McGlaughlin edition), KUAF, and a Miles record
  • Alternative and Punk – MTV, KUAF and KRFA DJ M.A.
  • Classical – my mom, ML Thompson, church organists, music appreciation class in college (an easy A),  Menotti’s Amhal and the Night Visitors and Star Trek
  • Blues – Muddy Waters with Eric Clapton one night in Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  • Industrial, Ambient, Minimalist and Odd Sounds – the drone of the industrial strength fan on a hot day in elementary school, church organists, WZBC and the laundry room at home where I used to chill and listen to the washer and dryer.
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Snake Menu

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I don’t much like snakes, but I am fascinated by them and enjoy watching some of the snake and reptile handlers on TV shows like Austin Stevens Snakemaster, Rattlesnake Nation, Swamp Wars, Swamp People, Gator Boys, and Wild Things with Dominic Managhan. Growing up in a rural state with swamps and lakes and backwoods a plenty, I have seen a fair number of venomous snakes including water moccasins and copperheads but never had any desire to catch, kill or eat one.  However, some folks do prize snakes for their lean protein and chicken-like taste and in Hong Kong, snake soup is a staple but may soon be unavailable and not for the reasons you may think.  There are no shortages of snake.

Snake wrangling is an ancient art passed down through the generations in Hong Kong, but this practice has practically come to a halt as fewer and fewer people show interest in working with venomous snakes. After all, who wants to be blinded by a spitting cobra or painfully bitten and envenomated with toxins that rot away flesh, destroy tissue and shut down vital organs.  By the way, what organs aren’t vital? I don’t know about you, but I rather think all my organs are vital.  The old snake masters claim that the dangers are overstated once you rip out the fangs of the snakes.  Not only does someone have to catch the snake, but the fangs have to be removed and it is the art of fang removal which must have many of the younger generation spooked.  Now you may be asking why not just cut the head off, but I guess they want to keep the snakes alive to preserve their freshness and I suppose, though cruel, a snake can live without its fangs just as a cat can live without claws.  And de-fanging a snake makes it much safer for the chefs to handle.

I’ve never eaten snake, but I suppose I could in a survival situation.  And while I’ve never seen snake on a menu of a U.S. restaurant, I would guess you could find grilled or barbecue rattlesnake in places like Arizona.  If I were a culinary consultant to a start-up restaurateur who wanted to specialize in snakes, here’s what I would suggest for the menu.

Breakfast:  Scrambled Snake Eggs and Blood Python Sausages with Electric Eel Oatmeal, and a cup of Red Coffee Snake

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Stallone Supports Gun Control but…

Sylvester Stallone in Sweden to promote "...

Sylvester Stallone in Sweden to promote “Rambo III” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sylvester Stallone.  What position does the man who played Rocky and Rambo take on gun control?  Would you be surprised to know that the star of the new movie “Bullet to the Head” is for a ban on assault weapons?  I am.  As the killing machine in the Rambo series of films, he fired practically every assault weapon in existence.  Stallone hasn’t exactly portrayed restraint in the films he’s most known for but even Rocky eventually understood that enough is enough.  I’m glad Stallone weighed in on the issue criticizing society for “dropping the ball” on mental health resources and calling for a ban on assault weapons.  In a bit of irony, Stallone said, “who needs an assault weapon?”, but he did walk it back a little to say that guns weren’t the problem as much as “insanity” and “isolation”.  Not exactly the most delicate description, but I think we know where he stands.  Now I doubt he will call for a ban on “Over The Top” gun violence in movies and video games, which certainly have contributed to the problem, or call out the NRA, but his support of gun control may help some kind of legislation see “Daylight”.

The No-Work Workout

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The no-work workout – have you heard?  It’s based on those good whole body vibrations.  Good, maybe, but it sounds high voltage dangerous to me, like what I imagine would happen if you touched the third rail on the subway.  But it’s not electric shock therapy, which could actually help folks shed a few billion brain cells that just take up space.  Whole body vibration is nothing new really.  The concept has been around for years.  Sears Roebuck sold an exercise machine called the Fat Shaker.  If you’re as old as me, you’ll remember that contraption with the electrified belt.  You stood on a crude machine and put a conveyer belt around your waist, flicked the switch to jiggle all the fat away.  It was the silliest thing ever.  I remember trying it out when I was 10 or so and laughing hysterically.  I had no fat to shake off so the thing was like a toy.  On the high setting, it shook violently and made my voice sound like I was talking through a fan.  This new fat shaker machine at the heart of the new and improved no-work workout just vibrates fat right off your body.  You stand on a platform of a machine that looks like a treadmill without the mill. As the platforms begins shaking, so too do you and your jiggly parts.  It’s a real hoot and folks are sold on it.  No impact. No lifting. No running to stand still. No hanging upside down or pretend cross country skiing.  Just some good, good, good, good vibrations.