How did you, hip and discerning Tiny Mix Tapes reader that you are, get into this music you read about on our site every day? Did you have an older brother or sister pass you Guided by Voices albums when you were younger? Did your parents play The Smiths and Joy Division for you in the womb? Did you find a friend early on who had either of these? No really, I want to know. Because when I was growing up, I didn't have anything to guide me away from the land of top-40 toward the underground light. I've been thinking a lot lately about how exactly I made my way to this point, writing and editing for a fun, irreverent indie website covering music I would have written off as “really weird” 10 years ago (trying to imagine my 16-year-old self listening to Animal Collective definitely produces a hearty guffaw). After much all-too-honest reflection, I've narrowed it down to two root causes:
1) Dave Matthews
2) Wanting desperately to be cool in high school
Now, before you all begin to boycott Tiny Mix Tapes for allowing someone who once aspired to be a part of the Abercrombie and Fitch crowd or ever thought “Crash Into Me” was the best song ever written to be even remotely associated with this website, much less an editor with influence, let me at least explain. I realize S. Kobak was spewed forth into this world listening to [insert underground noise band that no one's ever heard of here] and Mr P was writing extensive deconstructions of 1960s avant-garde music when he was six, but not everyone gets such early access to the scene.
Let's begin the examination of my journey from pathetic queen bee wannabe to slightly less pathetic hipster wannabe by taking a look at the only five albums I owned by the time I entered high school in the mid-90s:
1) PM Dawn - The Bliss Album
2) Boyz II Men - Cooleyhighharmony
3) Genesis - I Can't Dance
4) Janet Jackson - Janet
5) Mariah Carey - Music Box
Considering the only music I heard growing up came from my parents' car speakers (always tuned to the local adult contemporary station, “Magic” 98, or on occasion “Lite” 96), I don't think any more could be expected of me. My parents grew up in foreign countries, so even though they experienced adolescence during the psychedelic '60s, not even The Beatles ever quite made their way to the French farm country; needless to say, my parents had no record collection or musical tastes to bestow upon me during my formative years. We also didn't have cable, so the early days of MTV didn't factor into my musical development. I didn't even have a Walkman or stereo of my own; if I listened to tapes or CDs at all, it was on my parents' stereo, stationed in the rarely used formal living room (right below the “good china”), so you can imagine how often I hung out there.
If you couldn't tell by now, music was clearly not a priority in my young life. What was a priority was finding a way to be really, really popular.
My middle school years were tumultuous, to say the least. After coming into the dreaded 7th grade and being deemed “uncool” by the girls who must have deemed themselves cool five seconds earlier (the label probably a result of the fact that I wore ginormous t-shirts and tucked only the front part of them into my pants), I was left to spend the next two years futilely trying to insinuate myself into their circle instead of hanging out with the one girl who was actually trying to be my friend (because the only way to make yourself feel better when you've been spurned is to spurn someone else). So, of course, I learned a very important lesson, which I took with me straight to high school: Life sucks if you're not popular.
Hoping to start fresh, I moved on to a new high school where I knew no one; I was wide-eyed, innocent, and still totally rockin' the PM Dawn (I'd die without you!). Unfortunately, unlike in middle school, where popularity was seemingly assigned in homeroom, it was clear here which girls got to sit at the coveted corner cafeteria table. They all shopped exclusively at J Crew, while I had an entire wardrobe purchased by my mother straight out of the JCPenney catalog; they all had parents who gave them lots of money to spend at J Crew, while my mom would have disowned me if I'd asked her to buy me an $85 tank top; and they all listened to Dave Matthews, who I had never even remotely heard of. But it became obvious to me that without a DMB fire dancer patch on my backpack to prove my Dave love, I would never be prom queen.
Evidently, instant popularity was not to be mine, and my first two years of high school were pretty bleak as I tried desperately once again to enter the cool crowd from the outside. My lucky break finally came when I mildly befriended a marginal member of the in-crowd through a combination of the soccer team and French class. My constant attempts to obtain her true friendship and hopefully that of her Dave Matthews-obsessed friends eventually paid off, as they started inviting me to hang out with them on the weekends. Of course, by “hang out,” I mean “be their designated driver,” and I naively carted their drunk asses around town on the weekends. Naturally, at the time I took that to mean that they must really like and trust me (wouldn't it be nice to go back in time and slap some sense into your young, idiot self? But then I guess I wouldn't be here writing this article, huh?).
Anyhoo, all this hard work on my part eventually paid off in the form of an invitation to join the girls at a Dave Matthews concert in Alpine Valley, WI. I was on my way! Scalper tickets to the sold-out show cost me $85, and for grass seats (read: very far away); $60 to buy every Dave album, both studio and official live recordings, so I wouldn't embarrass myself by not knowing any of the songs he'd play; $40 to buy a t-shirt and a bumper sticker for my car from the Dave website to prove my Dave love; and my spot on the varsity soccer team, because the show just happened to fall on the night of the first-round game of the state championships. But my quest for popularity knew no bounds, and quitting my once-favorite sport was a small price to pay for having everyone in school know I was going to this concert.
So go to the concert I did, the first live show I had ever seen in my life. To be totally honest, I didn't even know musicians toured before I was invited to this concert; for me, music had always been totally contained in the vacuum of commercial radio. After the hour-long drive in someone's mom's minivan, we pulled up to the parking lot to find thousands of people tailgating, drinking beer, and blasting Dave from their car speakers. I was in shock; never before had I been among such a large community brought together by a common interest. Sure, it was a community of hippies and frat boys (past, present, future), but it was a community nonetheless, and up until that point I had been spending my adolescent years trying and failing to feel like a part of something. I'd had no idea music could bring people together in this way.
My awe only intensified when we took our spot in the grass and the show began. Seeing a few musicians fill an amphitheater that large with so much sound, hearing songs I'd gotten to know played in a totally different way, seeing how excited everyone around me was and getting excited alongside them, getting to share the experience with people I desperately wanted to be my friends (of course, nowadays I get much more pleasure from sharing experiences with people who actually are my friends, but one step at a time now) -- all of these things came together to make for a really great first concert experience. My life up until then had been pretty much dedicated to school, sports, and trying to be cool; finally, trying to be cool had provided some concrete results, albeit not the ones I'd been coveting for four years. Now I had a new outlet to explore, something else to take up my time, and I took off running.
I never did become prom queen, nor did I ever truly become friends with those girls, no matter how much I tried. Once I'd finally given up on that utterly stupid dream, my remaining time in high school was spent floating around between groups until I eventually made real friends... genuine friends -- friends who told me how lame liking Dave Matthews was. But that brief time spent with the inner circle did help me realize how much I really loved music. Granted, it was really awful music at first, but it was a breakthrough all the same. It was from that starting point that I began to make a conscious effort to seek out music and live shows on my own; early results were mixed (pop-punk, hard rock) until eventually I discovered that perennial link between the mainstream and indie scene, Radiohead (introduced to me by my friend Becky, not coincidentally the only friend I've maintained from high school). The rest, as they say, is history. As far superior bands came into my life, Dave Matthews went far by the wayside. Even so, long after I'd moved on, I held on to those dusty Dave albums for longer than I'd like to admit before finally selling them, though not even nostalgia could get me to listen to them ever again. Still, you gotta remember where you came from, right?
Sometimes when people ask how I got so into music, I take the easy, less embarrassing way out and tell them it started my senior year of high school when I discovered Radiohead. But really, how many of our musical journeys started with Radiohead? Seventy-five, 80% maybe? Who wants to read another article about how discovering Radiohead changed someone's life? I should be honest with myself and our readers; hi, my name is Nicole, and I used to like Dave Matthews. And I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't.