“Is this for work? Or just for pleasure?”
Whenever I hear these words – uttered by my wife, Kim, usually shortly after she arrives home from work to find me puttering away in the kitchen and playing whatever the day’s musical obsession might be at considerable decibel levels – I know what’s coming next. The subtext is “If you’re not doing this for work, do you think we might turn it down, or put something mellower on?”
I begin counting the seconds, silently, until the music gets turned down, or shut off. Rarely do I end up counting past 60.
I find all of this pretty amusing, and the imp of the perverse on occasion will urge me to dig out some of the more, shall we say, challenging music in the collection, just to see how she’ll react. It’s funny how music can animate such seemingly inconsequential minutiae of day-to-day living.
I bonded with my wife over music long before we were dating. She’s a serious music lover with well-developed tastes. So when we find something we disagree on, things can get interesting.
As a couple, we are not alone. The expression “opposites attract” does not refer only to magnets. The world is full of otherwise happily married people who find detestable something their significant others finds delightful. (Have you ever seen James Carville and Mary Matalin talk politics? )
At my house, it’s music. Recently, my wife caught me in the shameful act of loving Canadian prog-rock trio Rush, preparing for a rehearsal with some friends by playing the new “Clockwork Angels Live” DVD at a glorious volume I thought was very appropriate. (For “appropriate,” read “concert level.”) She’s a fan of the band, too, but the Bills game was about to start, and she just wasn’t in the mood for full-on prog-rock pyrotechnics in 5.1 surround-sound.
Another fairly consistent point of musical contention between us is King Crimson. I find the band’s Steve Reich-inspired marriage of the avant-garde and progressive rock pretty much easy listening. It gets my brain going, I love the way the harmonies and melodies intertwine in a gorgeously random fashion, and it sounds pleasant and consonant to me. Kim? She immediately tenses up. “This music makes me incredibly nervous! It’s too intense,” she said, and I smile, because I knew it was coming.
“But you love Nine Inch Nails!” I protest, feebly. “How is this crazier than that?”
“That’s totally different,” is all I get. Hmph. Whatever!
None of these quibbles amounts to anything resembling a deal-breaker, obviously. I can only imagine what it must be like to be involved in a matrimonial fashion with someone whose taste in music ran in completely contradictory motion from my own. But then again, this would most likely be nowhere near as torturous as living with someone who didn’t care about music at all.
How we feel about music tells us a lot about one another. A study published in a 2011 edition of the journal Psychology of Music actually posited the notion that varying musical tastes have a direct effect on sexual attraction. The study found that a serious love of country music made both men and women less attractive to each other as potential mates. Loving heavy metal made men more attractive to women, but women less attractive to men. And, most interestingly, finding a mate with similar taste in music proved to be far more significant to men than it did to women. “The effects of sharing musical preferences also proved to vary with gender,” reads the study. “Men were more strongly attracted to women with whom they shared musical tastes than to women with whom they did not. The sharing of musical tastes had only a negligible effect on women’s attraction to men, however.”
So... it’s a guy thing? Maybe. But it seems to be more of a question of aesthetics, philosophy and world-view. A 2009 poll published by the Norman Lear Center underscores this idea. The poll found that “Liberals enjoy a broad range of music,” including “world, punk, Latin, hip-hop and rap, blues, reggae, electronica, R&B and soul, jazz, folk and traditional music,” with rock “the most popular genre.” Conservatives were found to “dislike most music genres” with the exception of country and gospel. Conservatives revealed the most aversion to “world music,” followed closely by jazz, reggae, Latin and electronic music. So our taste in music can reflect an open-mindedness, or lack thereof.
Having your tastes challenged can be fun. My wife rather often seems to take pleasure in taking me to task for some of my published views on mainstream pop artists. Kanye West provided us with some considerable debate fodder recently. I tend to view his music as, at best, creative collage art, a stitching together in quilt fashion of other people’s ideas, with a few of his own thrown on top. Invariably, the “other people’s ideas” are the strongest ones on a Kanye West album. My wife will have none of this. She thinks his music is brave and interesting.
Cool. We’ll agree to disagree. I suspect she’s at least as “right” as I am.