What's A Little Isolation Among Friends

By melissa

I'm lucky. I live in a city absolutely overflowing with music. I've got my choice of analogue and digital radio stations giving me more music than I can possibly ever listen to in a lifetime. There are so many quality gigs in a week that I often need to make a festival-esque "ooh, should I see X or Y?" decision just on a random Wednesday night. And perhaps best of all, I'm lucky enough to have a job where I listen to new music every day.

Right, let me switch gears here before you start throwing things...

It wasn't always so - I used to live in an area so rural we didn't have a single traffic light or parking meter, and I'd happily drive five hours to see a concert, at the very most once a month. My radio choices consisted of 5 country, a few mixed pop, one oldies, and one commercial RAWK station. So, as you'd expect, I listened to cds, or in a pinch, the oldies channel.

But therein lies a problem - if your only musical exposure are cds you already own, then how can you find anything new? You're left stagnant, listening to the same cds over & over, until an outside source intervenes. For me, this came with the expansion of a local ISP in 1995 (we still didn't have a McDonalds, but by god, we had the internet!). Suddenly I was able to find groups of people who liked the same music I did, and get recommendations off them for other artists in a similar vein. By now, I think we all know what a brilliant concept this is, but in my teens, this way of discovering new artists was a new turn of events for me, and forever changed the way I listened to music.

Fast-forward to 2003.

I still have friends completely isolated in their music exposure, through no fault of their own. In February I visited a good friend of mine who was teaching English in a small town in rural France. His town was too high in the Alps to get any radio signals apart from a sole classical station (not a bad choice, I think, if you're only going to get one signal), he needed to travel to the next major town an hour away to buy a music magazine (France's incredible "Les Inrockuptibles"), and he only had access to a shared dial-up internet connection. That is until the two computers were stolen over the winter holidays, of course. So where did this leave him? Waiting for my text messages, phone calls, and humanitarian packages of new cds. He was a man starved when I appeared for a visit with my 40 gigs of rescue supplies, greedily wanting to hear anything new that I had, even staying awake with headphones long after I'd gone to sleep. He's since moved back to the US, but to a situation not much further removed from rural France, the only improvement being that he's now closer to the few concerts that trickle into Philadelphia each month.

My mother is another prime example, still living where I grew up (see desolate description above). When I was still at the house, she listened to everything I did, and out of that grew a deep and lasting love for Belle & Sebastian, Mull Historical Society, and Bjork. Now that I'm gone, she still listens to those groups, but she's grown a bit tired of listening to the same few cds on the drive to work each morning (fair enough, really), but has nowhere to turn to for anything new. I'm ashamed to admit that, as a daughter, I may have abandoned her into the clutches of what after-school specials call "the wrong crowd". I mused when she told me she was going to see Cher and Cyndi Lauper, but I didn't fully realize the extent of my neglect until she told me how great Bon Jovi and Goo Goo Dolls were live (ok, so my reaction was more a matter of "NO! NO! NO!"). She may be living in the middle of nowhere, but that's no reason to let her standards go into freefall. Obviously my help was desperately needed...

That brings me to my main point, really. If you're not getting a steady flow of new music into your ears, after a time you're not going to be able to distinguish between quality music and just the best of what you've overheard in the supermarket line. Familarity does not equal quality (a point I'll go into in much further detail another month). Isolation, whether it be geographical or just that you don't have a steady internet connection and the knowledge to use it, will cripple your music taste unless outside forces intervene. I like to think of myself as giving to the less fortunate, since I've been blessed with such an ideal musical landscape from which to fill my basket. But as much as I'd like to give to everyone who needs me, I'm afraid the situation is too dire for me to handle on my own. After all, I'm just one girl.