You Remind Me of a Song I Once Knew

12/09/2008

We’ve all heard terms such as, coffee house music, garage rock, chill house, smooth jazz. With these terms we’ve created our own associations, whether with ideas, places, feelings, or people. In past articles I’ve written–particularly, “Music and the Moment” (Oct 23rd, 08) and in “It began” (Oct 19th), I’ve extrapolated to some extent how music can describe an individual and can reflect feelings in a moment. In further exploration, this article is meant to question the labeling of music and how we then perceive it.

Once upon a time, I listened to smooth jazz. Yes–I admit I listened, though unaware, to Kenny G. The music is described as “easy listening,” which if you’ve ever listened to a station which might play Kenny G, you probably forgot because you weren’t actually paying attention to the music. What does “easy listening” mean: not intended to be analyzed, played at clubs or even relished, unless you’re painting your house or washing the dishes. It’s not substantial or anything difficult/special.

The thing is, when I first heard smooth jazz, with a name like that, I felt sophisticated. I thought, this is enjoyable and not challenging to the ear. Later, when I divulged my secret favoritism, someone asked me bluntly, “Are you a carpenter, why would you listen to that?”

When and where did this association with easy listening and housework manifest?

Today, I was in a coffee shop, with the plan to write my concert review of the night before, and to enjoy a cup of coffee. I put my headphones over my ears, put the Ipod on shuffle, turned on the computer, and began. Then I heard it: Brazil 66 and Sergio Mendez’s “So Nice.” This song might be described as as Bossa Nova or Brazil’s smooth jazz, except, a lot cooler.

Listen Here to: Brazil 66 and Sergio Mendez’s “So Nice.”

As I listened to this song, sitting in a small coffee shop, facing the sunny street, I smiled because in that moment, the song fit. By fit, it made sense to me. Here in this moment, my mind had created a new association of how to hear this song: coffee shop music. It’s subtle, not overwhelming my task at hand, but it’s gentle rhythm encouraged me to continue writing like a cat’s monotonous pur serves as a positive reinforcement. Okay, yes–this description is overdone, but nonetheless, I can assure you that System of a Down would not have aroused the same feelings, or even Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue.”

Coffee shop music became a “thing,” during the mid 90s with chains like Starbucks selling their mixes. Artists like Sarah MClaughlin and Rufus Wainwright became poster boys/girls of this phase. Then airplanes started to do the same thing. It became a phenomenon–or at least, a worthy rant on my blog.

It might be argued that these associations with “coffeehouse music,” were superimposed. As I wrote in “The Music and The Moment,” the associations of fighting/anger might be a result of connecting images with music in the form of movies. Past conditioning, what movies one has seen, encourages future deductions of time and place.

The question I ask: why does something just “fit?” Why does that “one jam” just make you want to boogy? How does that one song remind you of something else? Can the SFCritic be taken serious after admitting to listening to Kenny G?