Change Sucks, But So Does Travis Tritt

You’ll have to forgive getting a monthly playlist ten days into the month: it’s vacation season, and that means things fall into a hazy mess, where days are no longer measured and instead time is marked by general states of being. In a car. Camping on a mountain. Listening to the ongoing rumble of last week’s Independence Day fireworks.

July 2018: Change Sucks, But So Does Travis Tritt

  • “Puddle Splashers” — Cap’n Jazz
  • “Your Life in France” — Ceremony
  • “Black Moon Rising” — Black Pumas
  • “Ihop” — P.E.E.
  • “Summer’s End” — John Prine
  • “Isn’t It a Pity” — Galaxie 500
  • “Our Love” — Sharon Van Etten
  • “Evolution of a Man” — Q-Tip (w/Al Kapone)
  • “E=MC2” — J Dilla (w/Common)
  • “Country House” — Blur
  • “Cheerleader” — St. Vincent
  • “Civilized Worm” — Melvins
  • “Betty Wang” — Hospitality
  • “Sign ‘O’ the Times” — Prince
  • “HEARD ABOUT US” — The Carters
  • “The Rip” — Portishead
  • “Don’t Stop Me Now” — Queen

Music isn’t a going concern at my grandmother’s house, where we spent the last week. My kids are very much into the soundtrack for The Greatest Showman, so when we’d get into the car we’d hear either that or the Broadway soundtrack for Matilida. Every once in a while we’d get the theme to Family Feud, or we’d catch a song in the grocery store. Otherwise, we were music free.

This wasn’t always the case: I spent a half dozen summers in Jackson, where my grandparents used to live, and they were formative in a way that still surprises me. Sure, my grandparents were country fans — I learned a lot about country music in car rides to the National Forest — but, because I was a quiet kid in a strange town with few peers, I found myself diving into my own music, discovering both nuances within my own collection and branching off into anything I could latch onto. It was at my grandparents’ house that I borrowed an old stereo from my aunt and discovered Def Leppard. I wore out my copy of …And Justice For All. I recreated live sets from Rush’s three live albums, and I bought my first bootleg — an In Utero-era Nirvana concert.

I discovered Green Day on MTV. I made mix tapes because, sometimes, that’s all I really had to do.

Last week, though, the music didn’t come from the destination. It came from the drive. Two states worth of driving, and with those two states came dozens of hours of pushing noise: the window isn’t sealed correctly, so there’s that, and there’s the rolling hum of four very cool minivan tires (one of them is brand new!) and then there’s the mix of sounds from two backseat iPads.

During those summers, I sometimes made good choices on new music (Green Day, Jane’s Addiction, Violent Femmes) and I sometimes made very bad choices (Candlebox, Gin Blossoms). On this most recent trip, I was proud to have made choices at all. I don’t listen to new music that often. The tracks that work their way in are roughly two or three years old by the time they land on my desk. Whatever this means — whether this is an unwillingness to change, or simply a reservedness that needs an extra level of vetting — it means that when it comes to trends and changes and new superstar albums, I’m always at a loss.

I am, probably, if you think really hard about it, afraid of change and frantically work through life trying to avoid it. There is definitely a psychological thing here.

I saw that psychological thing in my grandmother’s den, where we slept and where she keeps three things: my grandfather’s old artifacts, a bunch of bills and papers, and a bunch of old burned CDs. They’re all what are called (thanks to a quick Google search) Neo-traditional Country, which sounds a bit like a fake-but-still-very-real political movement but is really just what I’ve always known as “that late–80s/early 90s stuff my grandparents listened to.”

Though they cut their teeth on Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and George Jones, these are the artists they heard on commercial country radio — the songs that would sit heavy as we drove around Jackson during the summers: Travis Tritt, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis.

I don’t begrudge anyone their musical preferences, but I toe the line with neo-traditional country. I’ve never quite understood the allure: with so many great country artists able to handle the genre with nuance and musicianship, these radio-friendly carbon copies are and always have been too-safe options. These weren’t groundbreaking; on the contrary, they were solid, easy choices, where the shine of a new album would never threaten to overshadow the familiarity.

I know now that my grandparents had simply … stopped evolving. No judgement here: I think we all do this, where we reach a certain point and we just give up. We don’t actively look for new music, or we don’t have time to dive into live bootlegs and find hidden gems. We make excuses, because listening to new music puts a strain on our mind; new artists and new albums and new songs force us into cognitive recognition, where we can’t just blindly recite lyrics, where we have to make considerations on how it fits into our life, where we can no longer ease along.

This is a long way of saying that a love of music doesn’t always last. Just like my grandparents never moved away from neo-traditional country, just like I spent a few years stuck on the handful of songs I picked up in the late 90s, just like some people never move past the same classic rock or the same punk bands or the same hip hop.

It’s not about staying relevant, and it’s sure not about trying to know it all. It’s about doing what we always have to do — stretch our mind, consider new angles, understand that what is wonderful now won’t always be wonderful later. Fighting not to know and judge every critically acclaimed band, but simply fighting the boredom that will eventually envelop us all.

So. Anyway. That new The Carters album is straight up amazing.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 9th, 2018