The Islands We Live On, And Their Slowly Expanding Shores

by Nick Smith in


I haven't written anything here in quite sometime. Props to Kurt for calling me out on it. I need to take better advantage of this space to hurl consonants and vowels in the general direction of whoever will read them. I have been on a massive tear of listening to the Grateful Dead lately. Namely, I've been heavily focused on their earlier work, between 1968 and 1971, before Jerry changed his guitar tone getting rid of that big psychedelic blues sound in favor of a quieter tone without any of the distortion that really gave the Dead this huge sound at that point. I have been really excited about this rediscovery, but have had so few people to share it with, as an overwhelming majority of my friends have little to no familiarity with the Grateful Dead's music.

Most of my friends are my age or older, so it is far too late in their musical developments for me to say, "No you should really be listening to the Grateful Dead because they are doing some really special things." Especially with a band like the Dead. They've been around longer than you've been alive. If you're not on the bus by now, you're probably not getting on. Not to mention the myriad stereotypes keeping everyone at bay. And even if I do convince you to give a brief listen to something I thrust upon you, the impetus to make something out of that listen has to come from you.

For a long time I was really bothered by the fact that most of my friends just didn't get the music I like the same way that I do. This was back in an age when all of the music ever was slightly less at our fingertips than it is right now. Now that we have reached a point where you can literally go get anything you want to hear instantaneously without even putting on pants, there is no music that is too obscure, because it is all available all the time. I have filled at least a half dozen MASSIVE cd-binders with recordings of Phish concerts simply through the use of a high-speed internet connection. I am not the only person who has engaged in similar activities.

We are all these unique little snowflakes, who have our own very unique and very specific tastes. We get there by slowly annexing one new musician or band after another. The amount of work it takes to really dive into the work of a musician is quite sizable. Depending on the size of their back catalog (I'm usually discovering things that already have a large repertoire to digest) it can take anywhere from a week or two to 2 months. Last year I had a half-hour commute each way. I assimilated a few albums by burning them onto a cd and just letting them play over and over again for a week or two. By the end of that time, the music would seep into the fabric of my being and become a part of my musical tradition. I think there must be at least a brief period of obsession for a song or an album or a band's whole catalog to become a permanent part of who we are and not just some passing fancy.

Really latching onto some new group is a serious undertaking that I can't just do whenever a friend says, "You need to listen to these guys." Over the last several years, I have been very selective about the places I branched out. This has led me to create this strange set of tastes with islands in various genres where I listen to absolutely nothing related to this one act I have completely fallen in love with (see The Magnetic Fields, The Mountain Goats, Explosions In The Sky). I'm sure that there's a lot of other music like it that I'd love. But finding it and digesting it just seems like too much work.

So now I understand why my friends never really give the obscure things I like a chance. It's just too much work to add that one more thing on top of all the other music you're processing. It sucks that we can't share all the fucking awesome stuff that's illuminating my brain, but you've got your own thing going on. And if you're ever looking for something that I think is gonna make you go "OH SHIT!" I'll be here, ready to deal you the top card off my deck.

On the 1s and the 2s, Nick

Searchlight casting for thoughts in the clouds of delusion