Narrative Music / Realizing that Your Parents Don’t Have All the Answers

Settle in for a story about my childhood relationship with music.

Narrative Music

In 2007 I moved back to Canada, and one of my first assignments in the new seventh grade class was to analyze a song that told a story. I still love taking advantage of fun assignments like this. However, having arrived late to the school year – in combination with a very primitive education in contemporary music – this assignment caught me off guard.

Ultimately I reached for one of my few personal CDs at age 12, the Soundtrack to the Lizzie Mcguire Movie, and settled on the song “Walking on Sunshine.” I knew immediately that this was a weak choice with a minimal narrative arc, but I simply did not have the pop culture savvy to make a better choice.

Today I was listening to Spotify’s playlist “Songs to Sing in the Shower” while drawing for my art site thereselikessnacks.com. For the first time I actively listened to lyrics in songs such as Rupert Holmes’ “Escape.” These days every time I pay attention to narrative in music I am reminded of my regrettable choice of song for that seventh grade project.

In a similar vein, my imagination is easily captured by narrative music videos. I was particularly taken with The Shins song “Simple Song,” the imagery of which is far from simple. I wish that I had taken a film studies course to help me uncover deeper analysis of media texts like these. Maybe I’ll just have to read a book or watch some educational videos. I still see something new every time I watch this music video.

Realizing Your Parents Don’t Have All the Answers

My parents were able to introduce me to a wide range of subjects and skills as a child, but music was never one of them. Growing up I remember our family listening to Bach, the Barenaked Ladies, the Beatles, Keane, and not much else. I am a child of the ’90s but have very little nostalgia for the music of this time and the early 2000s because pop music wasn’t played in our house. My first music memory is of being frustrated with the Bach CD because I disliked the album artwork. My second music memory is of a neighbour girl and I choreographing a short dance to Brittney Spears’ “Oops I Did it Again,” and feeling that I was at a great disadvantage as this was also the the first time I was hearing the song.

I remember being frustrated that pop culture and music were not subjects that my parents took a deep interest in. When I’d ask my dad “who is Brian Wilson?” (as referenced in the Barenaked Ladies song of the same name), my father replied distractedly that it was “probably just a name.” Imagine my astonishment when I finally researched the Beach Boys.

All of this to say that I realized that in order to understand contemporary music I was going to have to look beyond my parents as omnipresent knowledge authorities. Developing a basic cultural and historical understanding of music, let alone developing unique taste, is an incredibly important and daunting task that most pop-culture savvy individuals must endure as they grow up. Not to mention that this is a learning process that continues throughout one’s lifetime.