Musical Watershed Moments (Long, but worth it)

It’s been fun and exciting to notice my musical tastes changing lately. It has happened without my asking, but I will take credit/responsibility for the direction I’m going.

I think it started with Lou Reed’s death last month. It affected me a lot and I realized what I’d been missing in his energetic and unconventional sounds.


Or maybe it started in college in 2004 when I heard “Black Dog” in my friend Aaron’s dorm room and just could not believe my ears. That led to all of Zeppelin, the Stones, Floyd, Hendrix, Doors, Allmans, the works.




 Or it could have been the time in high school in 1999 while we were researching in debate class and my friend Amarie played NOFX – on really cheap portable speakers – but it just sounded so exciting and edgy and original. This got me into Anti-Flag, MXPX, Bad Religion, Bouncing Souls, RX Bandits, Pennywise, and Rancid. Her debate partner Brian also had a Rage Against the Machine sticker and an upside down American flag on his main filing tub of debate cases. Maybe that was it.



 Or maybe it was when I was 8 or 9 and my Dad played Tusk on his awesome old speakers in our mobile home and it literally shook the floor.



 I’m not sure when my love for a forward-posture, hard-charging, edgy, energetic, intelligent music REALLY began. But for whatever reason, I’m 29 now and am rediscovering all of these musical roots I have. And I’m ready to open myself up to the newest development in my musical journey and see what new direction unfolds.


 But wait!


Haven’t I been something of an Americana aficionado (my wife’s words, not mine) in the last five years or so? Isn’t this blog pretty much all about that?


Well…. yeah. That too.


That all started when I saw Hayes Carll open for the Old 97s in summer 2008 and, again, could not believe my ears. He was hilarious, wry, unkempt, irreverent, AWESOME. Having been raised on Garth Brooks and Shania Twain I didn’t know country music could be like that. That led me to The Highwaymen and Townes Van Zandt and Cash, Cash, Cash and the Crazy Heart Soundtrack.


Then while we were living in Rwanda  my friend Jacob brought back the Low Anthem, Joe Pug, and the Avett Bros from one of his trips home. And I thought “hey, that sounds kind of like all this old country, but it’s like, fresh! Those harmonies, wow.”





Then there was the time that my boss/bandmate/friend was moving back to America and gave me Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years and my wife listened to it and said it was something special. It was, and it got me through 5 weeks living alone in Rwanda while she lived back in the states, pregnant.



 So there was born my love for sad folk and harmony-filled Americana. It made me feel at home, or replaced a feeling that was missing in the present. After Josh Ritter came  Andrew Bird, the Head and the Heart, Dave Rawlings Machine, the O Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack, Tanya Tucker, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Willie Nelson, John Prine, and what you’ve been seeing lately – Lucius, Deer Tick, Gregory Alan Isakov, Wild Feathers, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Spirit Family Reunion, etc.


But then Lou Reed died. And while I always enjoyed/respected his stuff, I didn’t really become borderline-obsessed with it until he died and all the features and tributes came pouring in. (You never know what you’ve got til it’s gone, said every folk song ever).


I became obsessed with his pioneering sound, his honesty, his total disregard for convention. And it made me realize how much he had influenced music and how much he represents rock n roll.


And then I realized – wait – Lou Reed isn’t a folk musician. Not even close. He despised California and the Laurel Canyon and Haight Street.


And then I realized that I don’t have to FEEL FEEL FEEL and be SAD SAD SAD in order to absolutely love a certain piece of music. Joel Freimark of The Daily Guru totally affirms that as well. I love his vlog, the fast-paced intelligent music analysis, and the energy that just doesn’t stop. And his theme song by Wirepony is freakin’ great.


So I’ve learned that best music isn’t necessarily what reminds me of all the romanticized parts of home and what makes me feel like my “old self.” Apparently I also enjoy music that pushes me forward as a person, that makes a little uncomfortable, makes me stretch a little.  I can get back to enjoying music with a more healthy mental and emotional integration that reaches out instead of always trying to reach back for that perfect nostalgic feeling.


Even though a big-feelings nostalgic song is awesome, other less nostalgic songs can be awesome too. Sometimes even more so. And the less folky nostalgic stuff helps me live eyes-open in the present more, which is exciting.


So here we are. Turning leaves. Growing – with new local Portland artists like the Woolen Men, Brooklyn train-station buskers like Moon Hooch and basically-new-to-me legends like Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop.


And, for my Dad, Kansas.


Carry on!

2 thoughts on “Musical Watershed Moments (Long, but worth it)

  1. This is indeed something I’ve pondered: why I seem to gravitate toward music that makes me a strange mix of melancholy but grateful. And alive. An ex-boyfriend is a jam band fanatic and that really prompted my pondering: what he (often) got from his music was so different from what I (often) got from mine. For one, he could give or take singing along . . . and lyrics were never occasion for reflection. But then he sure lived and listened in the moment, which I could admire. And even envy.

    Anyway, I surfed in here owing to your mention of The Animal Years. That album changed my life and gave me a LOT of fodder for writing and reading. My blog, for example, poses an explanation of what Katy *did* (beneath the pyramids) in Monster Ballads. (

    Which songs off The Animal Years pulled you through?

    • amyrob says:

      Wow, impressive blog! The top two songs that pulled me through, in order, are Monster Ballads and Good Man. Monster Ballads “you turn it off but then a still small voice comes in blazing from some vast horizon.” That was my go-to comfort lyric for weeks upon weeks. Good Man – the horse in the road, “my hands held on, my mind let go / and back to you my heart went skippin’…” and “all those glances that we stole / sometimes if you want them then you’ve got to.” So, so romantic.

      Although Thin Blue Flame endlessly reminded me of our home in the PNW, which was so poignant/painful/beautiful while living in the middle of Africa. And Idaho, I still can’t get over “That single word it landlocked me / Turned the masts to cedar trees / And the winds to gravel roads / Idaho oh Idaho.” When we finally got to see him back in March, Idaho was the very first song he did and I was a happy, happy person.

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