For my father, the most fascinating innovation of the early 21st century was the mix CD. In 2001 — a time when MP3 files were suddenly ubiquitous and accessible — my dad became obsessed with burning discs of music. By embracing technology, he had finally found a superior alternative to the painstakingly made song collections that were the mixtapes of his 1970s childhood — and he rejoiced in it.
I was in first grade when my father made this momentous discovery, and each morning drive to elementary school that year was accompanied by a new set of songs from his nostalgic past. My ears were exposed to the mystical jazz of Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” the punk-rock sounds of The Clash’s “Train In Vain” and the rough vocals of Bob Dylan as he belted out the chorus to “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I struggled to appreciate any of it.
At the time, I was an eight-year-old brat with a steadfast affinity for the band Smash Mouth and a needle-thin scope of acceptable music. I dreaded seeing my dad in the driver’s seat of his silver Dodge Intrepid because I knew it meant that I would be further subjected to his musical totalitarian rule. Despite my complaints — “His voice sounds like he’s dying!” being a common one of Bob Dylan — my dad sat there behind the steering wheel with an unwavering commitment to his CDs and a fascist control of the radio. I spent years hating my dad’s taste in music.
Then one day in seventh grade, it all clicked. I was in Social Studies class, and my bizarre, old hippy teacher played Joni Mitchell’s song “California” while we were walking around the room and doing a project. I stopped dead in my tracks and listened intently. Joni’s beautiful falsetto hit me like a right-hook from Muhammad Ali in his prime, and I was overcome with emotion and appreciation for the song as I realized that it was Track One of my dad’s most-played mix from back in the day.
In the weeks following this sudden revelation, I spent hours digging through my dad’s dust-covered vinyl collections and CD racks. I began hoarding his albums and uploading massive quantities of this music that I had once disdained onto my library. Suddenly, my iPod was bursting with content and my taste in music was diverse and seasoned with maturity. My dad’s favorite band, The Smiths, became my favorite band, and Bob Dylan’s vocals went from being the bane of my existence to a beacon of truth.
The origin of my taste in music, however, dates back much further than my father’s mixes.
Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is a song that will unfailingly bring me to tears if no one else is around. I’ve had a deep emotional connection to it for my entire life, but until recently, I had no explanation for why it meant so much to me. I was driving with my mom one day this summer, and “Crazy” came up on my iPod, and she started singing it with me. I asked, “You like this song too?” and she said, “Are you serious? This is one of my all-time favorites. I used to sing it to you when you were a baby because it would help you fall asleep.”
It’s fascinating to think that my taste in music may have been conceived in infancy with the soothing notes of a Tasia Lynch rendition of a 1961 country ballad, and it’s for this reason that I am currently enthralled by the science of shaping one’s musical tastes. I believe that songs are like viruses that can penetrate the mind and fester there and grow into something that can define a person’s life.
I hope to infect my children like my parents have infected me. My kids, for example, will be injected with a daily dose of the two Franks (Sinatra and Ocean). I plan to bombard them with Vampire Weekend and torment them with Radiohead. Someday, when they are stopped dead in their tracks by the beauty of an Andrew Bird song, they will remember my relentless efforts and thank me for giving them the finest of musical tastes.