Music, Identity & mixing up the medicine

I have always enjoyed music, whether dancing with my cousin to Jason and Kylie’s Especially For You while donning a feather bower and my mother’s oversized high heels, or realising that I wasn’t like the other girls who swooned over Mark and Robbie in Take That.  I had a harder edge, I was rock and roll. I was an East 17 girl.

Along with my ever-evolving fashion sense of my early teens (think peddle pushers and rainbow coloured lycra slit tops) to the finding of my true identity as a Mosher (because nothing says you’ve found yourself more than DC trainers, dungarees and a beanie). I would say my taste has moved on somewhat but I am still partial to dungarees, whatever the occasion. 

Fashion and music is intrinsic and no more so then for the teenager who is looking to form an identity. As our taste evolves so, it seems, does our style and how we categorise ourselves. We are a jigsaw puzzle made up of thousands of pieces and music has the potential to help us put some of the pieces together. Music has the power to not only shape how we dress but also becomes the lens through which we view society and ourselves. We don’t just find ourselves through music; we find others.

I remember the moment when, for me, politics, culture and music merged. It was a dreary Wednesday afternoon. Wednesdays were a non-day; not quite Thursday, where my band of cronies and I would make plans for the up-coming Friday antics. Wednesdays would present themselves as a day with which to ‘wish away’. Sat in a Media Studies lesson, the lights dimmed and our teacher placed into the VCR a video of the 1967 documentary film by D. A Pennebaker entitled Don’t Look Back, which covers Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour in England.

I watched with awe as this slightly scruffy-looking singer songwriter appeared on screen with what can only be described as a non-committal but still charismatic persona. He was presenting me with words; words chosen from the lyrics of the song. 

But why?’ was my first question and after that I kept questioning. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was watching and what he was trying to say, but I knew that this man was saying something that he felt was important.  If he felt this strongly then maybe I should listen, not with ears eager for the immediate satisfaction of entertainment gratification, but with ears that pricked with curiosity.  Instead of turning off at the end literally and mentally I badgered the teacher for more information …and so began my lifelong love affair with Bob Dylan.

It dawned on me that music had the power not only to inspire my choice of clothing but also to be a voice – that the lyrics of specific artists might more eloquently say what I had been thinking and feeling but had been unable to express articulately as an awkward teen. Looking back this was me starting to craft my own identity through music.

Later on, in my post-university 20s I realised that, when I met people, the first question I was asked was ‘what is it you do?’. Now I have no qualms in telling people what I do.  I’m very lucky to fall into the category of loving what I do, but it dawned on me that the introductory questions of those I met had changed. 

Throughout university, I was often asked ‘what bands do you listen to?’ That question is steeped in meaning.  You are not merely telling people what you listen to; you are essentially giving a C.V. on who you are, your style, politics, the art you love and the films you watch. Now this isn’t a rule (it is merely a theory), but ask a Punk or Ska fan why they listen to the genre and I guarantee the answer won’t be simply ‘because the music is entertaining’.  

For me, answering this question was about so much more.  It was me trying to forge connections to people through music.  Looking back, this approach was limiting but at the sensitive age of 16 I was limited in my approach to forging these connections and music was a gateway in which to hold conversations that felt more ‘adult’; more ‘me’.

As Education Officer at the British Music Experience, I try to constantly keep in mind that the young visitors I encounter today may also be looking for ways to express themselves, and music helps them to do this so elegantly and simply.  Therein lies the power of music – in its ability to speak for those looking to form a voice, to connect people through mutual beliefs, interests and passions or simply and quite beautifully, to just be entertained.

Maybe next time you meet someone, open with the question ‘what bands do you like and why?’ and see which way the wind blows?

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