The heir of mystery

24 May 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

The year 2000 seems like a lifetime ago. I was just 14, and my days consisted of playing football, being afraid of girls and listening to my favourite band — Green Day.

Towards the end of that year I remember saving my allowance for weeks on end to finally have enough cash to buy Green Day’s latest album, Warning.

When I finally made the purchase I hurried home from school, forgot any homework I had, and turned the volume on my CD player to full blast.

I remember listening to that album back to front. I memorised every lyric. I strummed every chord on my Wilson tennis racket.

When I got tired of jumping up and down to classics like ‘Minority’ and ‘Warning’, I sat on the floor examining the album’s artwork, running my fingers over the cover and gazing at the in-sleeve booklet.

I admired the photos of my hero, lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, and was sure he must have been the coolest guy in the world.

It’s funny thinking about it now, but that album meant so much to me at the time. My CDs were my most valued possession. And while I didn’t really play a musical instrument back then, there was something magical I felt when my door was shut and I tuned up that Wilson tennis racket and featured as Green Day’s lead guitarist. The audio waves would hit my ears and my imagination would run wild.

A decade on and it’s not difficult to see how times have changed. Back then, I’d be lucky if my favourite band released one album a year, and since I couldn’t really go to see them live, $30 on an album was money well spent. And yet today, we all seem to be over indulgent with our music given how easy it is to access.

So the question is whether the excitement and mystery, which once surrounded artists, still exists.

The most obvious impact on artists over the past ten years is the evolution of the internet. If I hear a song I like on the radio, for example, I grab my iPhone, do a Google search for the artist, followed by a quick look on YouTube and I could tell you almost everything about them.

And the best part of it is that it’s free.  The convenience of this is outstanding.

But where is that mystery about these artists that I once loved so much?

Last week, a friend posted a video clip on Facebook by an artist named ‘City and Colour’.  The song was called ‘The Girl’ and I fell in love with it immediately.

And so off I went into the bottomless pit of entertainment that is YouTube looking for more of his songs. I listened to another dozen tracks, watched some video clips and interviews.  I then ‘followed’ him on Twitter and found out what he did the previous day. Needless to say it gave me a real feel for the type of person this artist is and where his music comes from.

In half an hour I went from being completely in the dark about this artist to falling in love with one of his songs, experiencing the rest of his album, witnessing what his live shows are like and got to know more about him. All without spending a cent or leaving my bedroom.

There’s no denying that the convenience of this is attractive.

Call me old school, but there’s something about not knowing everything about the musicians I enjoy to listen to which is even more attractive.

Every so often, I go along to hear musicians play live that I otherwise wouldn’t have heard of. There’s one place in Collingwood, in inner Melbourne, where songwriters sit in a living-room style space and exchange songs. It’s an intimate night and one worth experiencing.

There was one night in particular where a female performer took my breath away. She was an amazing singer, very glamorous and an exceptional performer. Without her knowing, we shared an experience, which is what I think music is all about.

I searched the web for information about her but found very little. But I realised that I didn’t really want to know much more about her — my imagination can join those dots for me.

Because in that setting, everything I felt about her performance was real. The mystery was very much alive in that room, and all because the audience was watching the artists through a small window, and not a gaping skylight. I was able read my own meaning into the music and the people who were making it.

I do believe that music is just as powerful today as it has ever been. Look at those Justin Bieber fans sprinting after him crying wherever he goes. I have no doubt they feel the same passion my mother felt when she screamed and cried watching The Beatles exit their plane when it landed in her homeland of New Zealand in 1964.

While the convenience of the internet has made musicians more accessible and the mystique of mainstream artists almost disappear, nothing can damage the power of music.

But every so often it’s worth going to experience your favourite artists live — more often than not, you’re doing yourself a favour.

Because good music is worth more than just a moment of your attention.

Ryan Murphy is a student in the Graduate Diploma in Journalism at La Trobe University.  This is his first piece for upstart.