Tuesday, August 8, 2006

The birth of music appreciation...

I feel I should mention that I really grew to love Jeddah in the years that we lived there. I knew that I had been given an opportunity to see a closed culture, one that only certain Americans would ever get to see. After already having to leave all that they knew in Europe to move to a strange, new country, my parents were savvy about what it took to make the transition to a new country: don't expect it to be anything like the country that you came from. Expect the differences to be extreme. Learn from them, adapt, and then you can enjoy it. I took their advice to heart and it made a huge difference on my outlook.

Moving to Saudi was to change many things in my life, but one of the things that I found was an appreciation for a large variety of music. Up to that point, I got my musical tastes from the same place that everyone else I knew did, which was from the radio. But in Jeddah, there was a venue that changed my outlook on music forever: The 747 Superstore.

747 was a black market music company from somewhere in Asia and the 747 Superstore was full of racks upon racks of black market cassette tapes of music from all over the world (this pre-dates CD's). For about $2 a tape, provided you bought enough of them, you could load up a shopping basket with just about any kind of music that you could think of. What a deal! Well, provided that you weren't very particular about the quality of the recordings. Among their odd quirks were the "special guests" on some tapes where a couple of songs from another artist were added to fill up space (like "Depeche Mode" with special guest "The Police"... you get the picture). These odd additions were not always very well matched in music type and it could be a very jarring segue, kind of like audio whiplash. Sometimes the special guests were even better than the featured artist and you wished that you had a whole tape of them instead. Then there was the cover art. Sometimes it was censored or changed altogether (being considered offensive), so there was no guarantee that you would even recognize the album when you actually saw it back in the States.

The problem with music shopping was that I was searching for music in a place nearly devoid of western culture. No western music stations. No internet. No satellite TV. No magazines. Nothing. If you hadn't been to the US in a while, you had no idea what was going on in the music world (and for a teenager, that's a problem), so you had to rely on the Billboard charts that they had in the store. However, these listings were not always the right ones and were not always current. This led to a lot of random buying of anything that looked "interesting", which was a total crapshoot. If you got lucky, you would find something that you really liked and you would spend months listening to it, incorporating it into your identity (as is often done with music), only to find out later that your friends in the US had never even heard of it. Or the kids that you hung out with on your compound were from another country, so you ended up absorbing things from them. This isn't that great for fitting in with your peers in the States. Musically, though, it opens up a brand new world. And so it was for me, the beginning of the great search for new things to listen to.

This was only the beginning of my love of finding new music... the other big influences were hanging out at a college radio station when I was in high school and, when I lived in the Midwest, seeing a lot of amazing live music shows. But those things were in the future. In Saudi, the seeds were being sown and I was suddenly exposed to a wide selection of music. I would never worship the "Top 40" again.

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