Musings: Nomadic Lifestyles

At the moment, a maximum of 4 people actually read this thing. One of those people is me. Of course, it isn’t fair for me to just expect people to come running to read my blog, so I started to read some other blogs as well, including the blog of 25% of my readership. It was here that I read a post that got my mind running a bit. It discussed her impending return to New Jersey and the fact that however badly she had wanted to go back, it’s still a little panic inducing.

I know this feeling well. As we all know, I feel like a part of my soul dies every day that I’m not in the Garden State. It’s like the combination of Jersey’s sea breezes and industrial waste have formed some sort of drug-like compound that I was born addicted to. Going cold turkey for 5 years has not been easy.

So if I miss New Jersey so much, why don’t I just pack my bags and go? There are two reasons. One is that I need to keep my job for a little while longer before I bail for whatever is next. The second is that I don’t really know where to go if I go back. As much as I would like to cruise back into my hometown, where everything is familiar, I know it would never make me happy. Not in the long term at least.

There are few things I enjoy more than laying around my house in NJ on random weekends or going to my favorite beaches, but no matter how much I hate it, that’s really not my home anymore. It was my home, but now it’s just my parents’ house. I brought my bed with me to my apartment, so I sleep on the floor in my room in NJ and I know that I’ll probably never move a bed back in. Even if I did, would that be what I want? As long as my bosses permit it, I will always go back for a few weeks at Christmas and for some time in the summers, but beyond that wouldn’t be for the best.

I’ve felt like a nomad for a while now; a man without a state. I really enjoyed College Park, but that was a fixed, 4-year deal. It’s still fun to visit (I did yesterday), but it’s really an accelerated metaphor to what our hometowns become. The places are all the same, but none of the people who made it memorable are still around. If any of them still are, it’s sort of sad. They just don’t look like they fit anymore. (Edit: While on the topic of how weird it is to go to the same place and see how nothing has changed except the people, check out this website. It’s awesome.)

I moved to DC after CP, which has been an exciting experience. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the city and I’m pretty bummed about leaving it. It’s hard to just pick up and move on when you’ve only just started to find things you really enjoy somewhere. Still, no amount of appreciation will ever change the fact that it’s not really for me.

Yeah, a little too refined for my tastes.

At the same time, I’m excited about moving to Baltimore. It’s something new and it will demolish my commute; however, it’s hard to get too stoked about discovering a new city when I’m positive I’ll only be there for one year.  I’ve seen enough from coming here on a daily basis to figure out that it’s cool and a little more like Jersey than DC, but still not 100% what I’m looking for. So where to next? At this point, I haven’t got the slightest clue.

Also, this guy drank himself to death to GTFO of Baltimore, so it can't be too great.

The good news is, for the moment at least, I feel like I’m on one of those really long, fun, late night drives with friends where you’re exhausted, but don’t want to get home just yet. In my mind, I’ve already got the destination picked out; I want to settle in Jersey one day, probably in a town similar to where I grew up, but just different enough to make my own life there. I’m just not ready to finish driving yet.

Now it’s time for my shameless Jersey plug (Although this whole blog is starting to seem like one). One of the many great things about Jersey is that it has so much to offer. No two towns are exactly the same. From the farmland to the beaches to the full blown cityscapes, you can always find something unique in the Garden State. I’m not sure if I’ll move back immediately after Baltimore or if I’ll keep peddling cities for a while before I make my triumphant return, but it’s nice to know that my options will never be limited back in Jersey. Part of what excites me so much about getting back there eventually is that I’ll have a chance to live in some of the awesome places that I only briefly encountered while growing up there. Even if I move back well before deciding on a place to settle for good, there will always be more than enough places to try out.

Although the whole moving thing is a major pain in the ass, it’s also extremely exciting. It’s a good kick out the door; a little thrust to keep you from settling into a comfortable but underwhelming life. I would much rather move on a yearly basis, with a little bit of fear for the unknown constantly sitting in the back of my head, than waking up one day at 40 and feeling like I missed out. Life’s supposed to be an adventure and I’d hate to miss out.

Stuff That I Like: Unpopular Music

A lot of the music that I listen to isn’t very popular. I place a lot of the blame on the fact that it’s not as immediately accessible or instantly gratifying as most of the music on the radio. Popular music tends to be heavily combed over, to the point where only a very particular subset of the music being produced ever reaches listeners’ ears. This is a shame, because it means that a lot of people are only exposed to overly-produced songs about a rather limited number of topics (love, drinking, loving drinking). While this isn’t necessarily a universal truth, I’m confident in saying that the average listener is rather limited in what is presented to them.

I can’t really blame anyone for it either. It can be nice to have a distilled selection of tunes handed directly to you. There’s a fair amount of popular music that I like as well. The problem I have with it is that a lot of really great music gets missed.

In addition to the mainstream things that I like, such as Bruce and the Beatles and some rap, I listen to a good amount of ska and somewhat obscure indie/punk/difficult to classify bands. I don’t really like those labels, especially the indie and punk ones, but thems the breaks. Also, before I sound pretentious talking about my non-mainstream interests, please note that I would love for this stuff to become widely popular. By no means do I want to fall into that “Look at how cool I am, you’ve never heard of my bands” stereotype.

Carrying on, I fully understand the issues that most people have with the music I listen to. It takes a lot of time and patience to find what’s good. A lot of the time, it just takes repeated listening to really start enjoying it. For example, ska tends to all sound pretty similar if you don’t listen closely and try out a bunch of different bands. With that said, the genre has far more to offer than the goofy Southern California jams that people listened to in the mid-90’s. I’ve long said that there was something for everybody in the genre and I frequently try to sneakily play a bunch of different stuff until friends admit to liking something.

Another element that keeps people away from some of what I listen to is the singers. It’s a strange common theme, but a lot of the bands just don’t have singers who are very good at singing. The good part is that, probably due to their less gifted vocal cords, they write some exceptional lyrics. For those of us that are into it, there is nothing better than a song that you can really relate to, or at the very least, that paints a vivid picture.

Take for instance Bomb the Music Industry. Jeff doesn’t have a very good voice, but he writes songs that I can straight up relate to. Have you ever been irritated by hipsters, punks, or straight edge kids? Does life get you down sometimes? Does life get you up sometimes? His songs aren’t all that poetic, but most of them are intensely satisfying. It’s like working out some of your irritations by hearing someone else sing about them. The same thing goes for Atom and His Package, the one-man-band who combines plenty of nonsensical humor with sharp criticisms of the world around him. Sure, his voice is nasally, but at least he doesn’t try to hide it. He just keeps on doing what he does.

Then there are the Mountain Goats, of course. The more-or-less one-man-band that were initially well known for their lo-fi albums (recorded solely through a tape recorder). John is probably the best song writer that I’ve ever heard. A lot of people walk away when he starts singing, but he provides his expertly written songs with such emotion that it’s difficult to care, once you’ve adjusted.

Finally, there are the bands that don’t always have the most relatable or well written lyrics, but are just damn fun to listen to regardless of the singer. There’s a lot of hate out there for ska music based on this one. While I’ll disagree that all ska bands have crappy singers, I think it’s still possible to enjoy them when they do. Big D and the Kids Table fall squarely into this category for me.

These are all the types of bands that you want to play for your friends, but know that it will probably fall flat. They’ve never heard them before, and no matter how much you nag them about it, they’re unlikely to take the time to really listen and understand why you love the songs. Again, it’s not a slight on them, but an unintended consequence of the music industry as a whole.

I seriously doubt that it ever happens, but I sincerely hope that one day, the industry is more open to the obscure and inaccessible. It may not be the most outright pleasing, but it’s got a whole lot to say.