The Ultimate Sentimentality

kurt cobain

Many times have I heard throughout my teens and adulthood that certain music genre’s don’t qualify as ‘music’. Instead it’s “just noise”, screeching and screaming; “how can anyone listen to that?” people would say with their noses upturned in disgust and sheer hatred. Disgust towards others that actually voluntarily listen to such racket, and, worse yet, identify with it. It breeds violence and psychopathic behaviour, they think. They picture the depressed and alone outcast, sitting and spiralling into an uncontrollable maniac. The ‘freak’ kid at school with the grease-ball hair, living in a breeding mould extravaganza in his parents loft, the shoe-box of a bed surrounded by cut out posters and scribbles on the wall of a shooting at his school. Staring into the glossy eyes of his grunge rock idol, rocking back and forth to the blaring concoctions of highly strung and untuned clash of instruments and wailing miserably to ‘stop the voices in his head’.
Because that is how severe music is, listen to the wrong kind and you’re knocking on asylum doors. No one could possibly enjoy to listen to such noise, like a dog whistle that works on a different frequency, they must be hearing something different to what you are… that’s the only explanation.

But nothing feels more like music to me than sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s van, the summertime sun tanning his arm out of his window whilst his other hand and fingers whack on the steering wheel to the blaring instrumental concert that is exclusive just to us. My little fingers hurt from trying to copy his drumming technique on the dashboard, so sometimes I just played guitar. There was only room for one drummer in our two-man band, and that was dad.  I can’t tell you I know all the words to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album, but I certainly know all the ones I made up when I shouted along regardless. I didn’t know the words and what they meant a lot of the time, but that didn’t matter to how I felt. It didn’t matter to anyone but us when I stayed in the van whilst my dad waited in line to pay for the petrol in Tesco’s station. It didn’t matter that he could still hear the heavy bass and drums through the thick panes of glass as others stared at the rocking vehicle that contained an unruly 9 year old girl screaming along to ‘Lithium’. I could see him peering over the chocolate aisle and carefully selecting a twix or a twirl for me and the journey ahead, still bobbing his head to the music. 

Rewind forward ten years, and I’m driving a little shed of my own and about to rinse my pocket for any spare change so I can buy a kitkat with my petrol, when a car of slightly younger girls pull up in the slot next to mine. I don’t know what they’re playing, but I’ve heard it a hundred times on the radio. It’s impossible not to know because the words repeat themselves over and over and over again, in fact I’m unsure if the song has any other lyrics. I wince as the driver gets out and skips to fill up her car and the blast of music that had been muffled prior offends my eardrums. What actual nonsense, how is this music? What on earth is this expressing? Manufactured, good-for-nothin’ mush, I thought. Yet I looked over at the girls in the car, laughing and dancing and singing along in the crazy way I did in my dad’s van when I unleashed my seat-belt for the precious two minutes of stopping time to truly lose my shit.

That’s what music is. It’s a platform for you to express yourself, for your body to dance and spasm spontaneously. Music is something that speaks for you, music understands you and identifies with you when people can’t. Yet interestingly, music is the invention of bringing people together. Music makes us stretch out our arms in brethren to those who listen to the same bands or artists that we do, because we like to associate ourselves with like-minded people. We make bonds with the people in our lives who are on the same wavelength, the ones who can relate to the same songs that you can. Music is an example of our humanity, of our endless search for validation amongst our peers, friends, work-friends, or strangers in the carpark.
So I smiled as I walked to pay for my petrol. Not because I liked the girls’ music, but because I recognised what they felt and their happiness in that moment that their song happened to come on the radio. That they felt the same euphoria that I do when ‘Come As You Are’ comes on the radio, and not just because of my sentimental roots with my father.

Music digs up in each of us an element of sentimentality. The nostalgia of an old tune takes us back to long-forgotten days, whether they were sad or happy. I certainly have just as many miserable music memories as I do joyous. But just because you don’t listen to or can directly identify with what I choose to listen to, doesn’t mean it is “not music”. We are still human first, and we are similar because we all enjoy the exhilaration that music endlessly and so generously gives to us.


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