Tame eclecticism: Think outside the box inside this box

Friends have picked on me before, saying, “He’ll listen to any kind of crap!” Meaning they thought I enjoyed some music that was unquestionably bad. Far from it. I judge music just like anyone else does: Is this good or does it suck? In fact, some of those people enjoy bands that I would describe as sucking. What they REALLY meant was I liked some music they didn’t see how anybody could like. I will cop to that.

I love a wide variety of music and often describe my musical tastes as eclectic. A friend recently noted however that the term eclectic seems to be evolving into a genre of sorts, one that doesn’t exactly have the same meaning I give it. He describes it as “liking music no one can deny has some universal quality.”

He bases his observation largely on a KUT radio show called Eklektikos (on Austin’s NPR station on 90.5 FM) and an online station called Radio Paradise (which describes itself as “eclectic rock radio”). I’ve listened to Eklektikos a lot more than Radio Paradise, but I can say I enjoy both immensely. I can listen for as long as I have time, and I will hear music I might not have heard otherwise. I can also just about guarantee I will like every song they play.  And the fact that I do like every song makes me think my friend might be onto something.

While they do play a lot of different types of music — especially Eklektikos — I know in my bones that If I subbed as a DJ and played what I wanted to play, I would very quickly put something on that would cause the people in charge to say, “Don’t you ever play that again.” (I’m thinking of things like Coil, Lustmord, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or even Mr. Bungle. If I found people who wanted to play those, I’d probably piss them off by wanting to play the Eagles or ZZ Top. That’s how I roll.)

There does seem to be a restriction on those examples that i can’t exactly put my finger on. While the fans of Eklektikos are very open-minded and enjoy being exposed to new music from unexpected directions, there are probably some directions most of them wouldn’t want to go. I think what it might come down to is the music shouldn’t be too challenging.

My mind is now open to the point that I don’t just enjoy listening to music from many genres or from genres I didn’t expect to like, I actually get a big kick out of artists who give me something I actively hate when I first hear it, who are able to convince me that I should love it. I like to be challenged. Of course there are times when I like to stick with old favorites and things that sound good from the beginning, but if that’s all I listen to, I will eventually get bored. My brain has to be spanked occasionally or I’m not happy.

I’m not sure if the two examples I mentioned are enough to judge whether eclectic is becoming a genre or not. In the spirit of questioning labels, however, I’m not going to cede the territory. Until I can think of something better, I’ll continue to call myself eclectic and mean what I think it means.

And don’t get me wrong. I highly recommend both the Eklektikos on KUT (and other great KUT shows as well) and Radio Paradise.

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