Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

the incomparable traits of comparison

"We knew it was a time for a change,
a time to think you said that night,
and I lied and said all right,
I left you in the morning,
I watched you in the window,
and Mexico will never be the same"--old Bonnie Raitt song.

"A red red rose saw a big pig pose
On the edge of a silver dollar
The end of his tail
Was a long-necked nail
And in place of his face was a scholar"--old Residents song

I remember on a church choir trip to Florida during my high school days, getting into a bit of an unintentional tiff with a girl whose devotion to Aerosmith proved so great that saying "they have some great singles, but they're not quite my cup of tea" was met with an angry rejoinder to the effect that one either liked Aerosmith, or one held the girl in question in contempt by association. Teenage years are a bit extreme, but it's certainly true that folks take their music pretty darn seriously.

I ran a poll a day or two ago in which the first question was asking the voters to answer the resonate-o-meter as to "Residents" or "Bonnie Raitt".

My theory was that those tuxedo wearing San Franciscans with eyeballs where their heads should be are liked by someone completely different than the folks who listen to blues-adoring, roots-raised Bonnie Raitt.

I think, though, that musical tastes are such a curious thing. For instance, on paper, Bonnie Raitt, who likes to recycle standards and whose own work could be termed "traditional" is in some ways a modernizer in her genre, particularly in her pop phase. The Residents, by contrast, who play synthesizers and do song parodies and who frequently play discordant songs with discouraging lyrics,
in many ways follow in traditions which date back to Partch and Sun Ra, Nancarrow and Cage. Much of the Residents' work is in the form of back-handed homage to 20th Century musical forms, particularly through their distortion and deconstruction.

So I cannot put into words just why it is that when someone answers "Raitt" over "Residents", or vice versa, I add one more card to my Clue deck of mystery solution about that poll respondent. Of course, far more folks have heard of Raitt than the Residents, which makes the test uncertain.

So many times it's easy to make these comparisons, isn't it?
A "sci fi" person is one way. A "literary fiction" reader is another way. A listener to reggae must be of one sort; a listener to gamelan music of another sort.

The narrowcasting of taste is something I awaited for years.
My own tastes often do not match the mainstream flavors of the month. The use of narrow distinctive sound means that everyone's taste fits someplace in 1000 channels.

But although I say "vive la diversite", or however this phrase might be spelled, I realize that all comparisons are in some ways limiting.

It's funny how the comparisons all do mean something, though. In my poll, Human League and Men Without Hats were both part of that curious 80s movement known as "synthpop". Yet, one tended toward mildly broody songs while the other had a famous "one hit wonder" hit which was an upbeat emotional release. In my mind, one's taste for one over the other is revelatory, but really, it IS synthpop, not fortune telling.

I wonder sometimes if these little choices are not re-arranging Titanic deck chairs. But nothing feels better than a song that I especially like, and I must admit that knowing that only a few people know it has a bit of allure. On the other hand, I love the sense in July that 1,000 cars with their windows rolled down simultaneouly play "The Boys are Back in Town" or that ten thousand Summer southern porches have "Free Bird" playing.

I think I will write what I believe is called an "exegesis" of my poll, so that everyone can find themselves in their own answers with as much surety as any newspaper horoscope.
but in the meantime, I want to find my kazoo, and hum "Sweet Home Alabama".

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