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Give The Pogues a listen, and you might learn to love one of the greatest drunken Irish poets of the past 50 years.
DISCOVERING The Pogues was a big moment for me, and not just because the music pushed all the right traditionalist and subversive buttons. A friend--a cool friend--introduced me to The Pogues, making me cool by association. Well, maybe not cool, but perhaps a bit cooler than I was before.
And that's the way people used to discover new music. You knew a guy who had an older brother who listened to Mr. Bungle, and a tape would eventually filter down the chain into your Walkman.
Music moved in fairly tight circles. If you wanted to hear something new, you had to find someone new, or maybe take a chance on an interesting album cover at the record shop.
A lot of music lived in the shadows, passed from fan to fan like a top-secret dossier. A road trip in someone else's car, a freshman year roommate, a new girlfriend--those were all opportunities to broaden your musical horizons.
Actively seeking out new music took effort. You had to go to a concert, or go early for the opening band. You had to buy magazines, go to the library or strike up a conversation with a stranger.
Times have changed. There aren't many shadows left in the music world.
You might expect me to lament the loss of personal interaction in the discovery process, or decry the effortless way people can tap into fresh wells of music these days. But I can't. As much as I want to be the cool friend exposing you to new music, you just don't need me. We are living in the golden age of music discovery.
A number of readers tell me that they just don't know the music that I mention here. Thirty years ago, it might have been cruel of me to simply mention a band or a song and not delve into the intricacies of their sound. These days, it really is easier for readers to delve on their own.
You might be surprised how easy it is to find and listen to music online. Many bands post songs on their websites, YouTube, Facebook or dedicated music sites like Bandcamp.com. More than likely, you will be able to find music from the bands I mention, if not the specific songs I write about. At the very least, information sites like Wikipedia can give you an idea of what the band sounds like, looks like or what type of music they play.
I don't say this as a way to shirk my writerly duties, I say this because ignorance is no longer an excuse. So many of the people who mention their lack of knowledge about music do it in a way that suggests futility, as if an old dog can't, in fact, learn new tricks.
I don't write about music so I can wrap myself in a blanket of holier-than-thou coolness. I write about music because I want to share it with you. There are always songs worth listening to, and I hope I'm pointing a few of them out. But you have to listen to them.
Listening to music should be a lifelong process. To paraphrase Muhammad Ali, the man who listens to the same music at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.
Thanks to the Internet, anyone can be cool when it comes to music. You no longer need to bother your girlfriend's older brother--just hop on Google and find out what Macklemore is all about. The velvet ropes have come down, and there's room in the club for everyone.
Maybe you should start with The Pogues. When I was a teenager, a friend's mom heard me playing their music.
"Sounds like The Pogues," she said.
I thought she was so cool.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036