Friday, January 26, 2007

Why I Hate Christmas Music

Most of my family thinks I'm a curmudgeon because I hate Christmas music. Generally, I don't bother to go into the full details of why I hate it because it is long and drawn out, and chances are slim that they would understand anyway. But here's why.

Music has a special place in my life. Like a lot people in the software industry, I have an intense relationship with music. Ever since I discovered music in a big way when I was in the 7th grade, it has been a constant companion. Literally. I always have some music playing in my head, always in the background. There is no way for me not to have music playing in my head. I wake up with music, spend my whole day with it, and go to sleep at night with it. And therein lies the problem.

I hate catchy tunes because the stick in my head and won't go away. What most people like about pop music is the very thing that makes me dislike it: the hook. The problem is that those little snippets of music get stuck in my head and persist. Hours later, I find the same track playing over and over, an increasingly irritating background noise. After a while, I have almost a sore spot in my conscience, a groove worn deep by the same little track playing over and over. The catchier the tune, the harder it is to exorcise. It's like a cut on the roof of your mouth: constant low level irritation.

This explains several things about my music taste. It explains why I have 1000+ CDs and counting: I must have variety. It also explains why I like so much music that most people find disturbing and discordant. I crave complex music all the time. My wife, Candy, complains that I don't like any "happy" music because I have such a taste for the unusual: the anti-catchy tune.

And that also explains why I don't like Christmas music. By definition, all Christmas music features catchy tunes, designed for humming and singing along. When I was a kid, I enjoyed it as much as the next person. But is has a cumlative effect. Every year, the grooves in my head worn deep from the past get worn deeper. I find myself in a constant bad mood around Christmas because the music is inescapable. This last year, they were playing it on the airplane as they taxied, at exactly the time you are forbidden to use some other music player to drown it out. My head was filled with those tunes for hours afterwards, boring their way through my gray matter. I defensively wore my iPod in every store that I went during the holiday season

Christmas music isn't the only thing that affects me. At the client where I am currently stationed, some fool has his cell phone play "When the Saints Come Marching In" as his ring tone. For the first few weeks I was here, I would wonder why, at the end of the day, my head was full of that irritating tune, playing over and over, drilling its way through my head. It's like inadvertanly stepping in something sticky, and now every step pulls irritatingly on your shoe. I figured that it must be a cell phone somewhere, so I started listening for it. Sure enough, someone in the vast cube farm over my right shoulder gets about 10 calls a day, polluting the air around me with that insidious song. I wondered why coming to work here put me in such a bad mood: now I know. Because I know it's there now, I try to fight it off everytime it rings with some other music that is soothing (to me at least) that I can summon from my mental reserves. It's not cool here to were my iPod or I would, all day, every day. And the worst part is, I can't really complain because I can't find this person (the office is large enough so that I can't home in on the signal before they answer it) and they would think I'm crazy. Just like my family thinks I'm a scrooge.


Charles Finkel said...

lighten up, homey

BHG said...

I personally like coding to Leo Kottke, Rush, Tool, Miles Davis, etc. for just this reason. I find the "unstoppable groove" effect of hook-laden music is much worse when experienced in conjunction with something else as my main focus (i.e. coding, studying, etc.)

It's notable too, I suppose, that the aforementioned bands above are some of my favorite for "active" listening when I'm not do anything else but enjoying music.

NickGiac said...

I might be speaking from 5 years in that post's future, but I came here from a Google search for "i hate catchy music", and I can really identify with most everything you wrote. I can hardly bear to listen to any radio station apart from college and other public ones, because I need to avoid songs which I have heard too many times and never liked in the first place. Music is not a huge part of my life, but I enjoy the weird niche things I find, and my musical memory is just unreasonable. It feels like I have jukebox access inside my head to every song I've heard multiple times, and I don't particularly enjoy it. Sometimes a song suddenly becomes stuck in my head even though I haven't heard it in over a month. I'd prefer to be able to better remember my own life.
In the off-chance that you'll actually read this and haven't abandoned this blog years ago, which bands/artists/composers do you enjoy? Some of my favorites are Jana Hunter and her band The Lower Dens, The Books and descendant act Zammuto, Dan Deacon, and Syd Barrett. When I have done a listening-marathon of music that I actually like, often rather than unpleasant stuck-in-head, I sort of subconsciously develop medleys and remixes as the memories of similar musics blend. This is enjoyable when it happens.

Neal Ford said...

which bands/artists/composers do you enjoy?

I'm a huge fan of anything performed by Kronos Quartet, lots of modern string quartet music (David Lang, Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe), Bang on a Can. I'm also a huge minimalist fan, which is based more on rhythm than melody: Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams. I also like some serial music, like Alban Berg, Schoenberg and Webern, but selectively.

Glad to find others with my same predicament!