Discovering Music in Retrospective Real Time

Around a year or so ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about each of our entry points into music. In a pause between beers, I muttered something along the lines of, “I kind of discovered music in retrospective real time.” Sometimes I say things that are gibberish — like that, but it stuck with me. I typed the phrase out in one of my note apps and didn’t think about it again until I was writing a paper for a music industry class at the start of my senior year this past fall.

I think a lot about how our music tastes are developed based off of where they begin. For example, I didn’t grow up with music in my home from my parents. Sure, I loved Britney Spears just like every other adorable and respectable Jewish child in the early–2000’s, but The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Bruce Springsteen, and all the others were as foreign of a sound in my hallways as exceptional math grades were in my report card [1]. That lack of “musical upbringing” has certainly had an effect on me today when it comes to music. Hell, I know so little about what the rest of my circles deem to be essential music that we’re kicking off a new feature next week under the code name “Teach Zack.” I’m ignorant to “the classics,” and it’s become a running joke among friends and the Internet. I’m not necessarily alone in this camp, but I think I’m one of the relative few.

How did I get into music then? My best friend, Matthew, showed me “In Too Deep” by Sum 41 when I was nine or so years old, and suddenly I kissed my Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne CDs goodbye[2]. Matthew’s three years older than me and naturally taught me about cursing as well[3], but really the best gift he ever gave me was a soundtrack that I could hold on to and grow with.

Sum 41 quickly lead to blink–182 and New Found Glory, and by the time I was a freshman in high school, I started finding what I would describe to someone in ten years as the “true essentials” — music that was far removed from all those heralded artists from decades ago. By ninth grade, our music scene was deep into the neon era. Fall Out Boy had transcended us, Metro Station and All Time Low were turning out their hits, and Cobra Starship were selling out. I missed all of that, though. You would have imagined that finding pop-punk early would have meant I was an explorer, but instead it stunted my growth. I listened to blink in 90% of my free time for years until another friend suggested I look into Brand New and Taking Back Sunday, and that was a second shift for me.

After that, I spent the rest of my high school years finding every band from 2000 to 2009, in order, album by album, through discographies and sub-scenes. The Long Island scene was followed by my findings in New Jersey emo and then by more California pop-punk. My music tastes weren’t very developed when I was 14, and going from Your Favorite Weapon to The Devil and God took years, just like it would have between release cycles. My maturation through the discographies was almost parallel to how the eras they originally came out in unfolded. At the same time, it made me mostly oblivious to the music that was coming out around me until 2010 with The UpsidesReal Talk, and Keep This To Yourself. If anything brought me into present day, it was those three releases.

How did you find your way through music?