On the long and mostly brown drive from Spokane to Seattle or Spokane to Portland, there are essentially three kinds of stations that come in over the FM airwaves: Pop country, Top 40 and contemporary Christian. On solo trips to visit friends and family in these big, shiny cities, I've tuned into them all, trying to get a grasp on why people are drawn to this music.
I try to understand how people can listen to Taylor Swift attempting to "Shake it Off" or RaeLynn warble about how "God Made Girls" (not boys, apparently) and enjoy it. But I mostly strike out.
But people do like this stuff, and it's not them with the problem, it's me. It doesn't make you a better person for liking obscure, indie and/or avant-garde music. In a perfect world, we'd all listen to what made us feel deeply without fear of judgment, because even the staunchest music snobs tend to have guilty musical pleasures.
Richard Terzieff, owner of Spokane's Recorded Memories record store since 1990, doesn't quite fit the High Fidelity holier-than-thou music store owner stereotype. When it comes to his customers' musical tastes, Terzieff does his best to cast judgments aside, bringing in everything from Britney Spears to the Everly Brothers to his Hamilton Street shop — just as long as customers refrain from making fun of his extreme devotion to KISS.
"All music is my drug," Terzieff says. "People truly loving a song and being touched by it? That's what music should be. If people are tough enough that they don't worry what their friends think about their music choices, then their life is a little more enjoyable."
Last year, the Spokane Arena embarked on a new campaign, asking Inland Northwest music fans which artists they most wanted to see. What came out of that is now known as the Bucket List, a guiding directory that proves the area's taste in music is somewhat worthwhile (the top 11 acts selected include Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Metallica, Prince and Justin Timberlake). While they're not my cup of tea, the list has aided in booking country superstar Luke Bryan (No. 2 on the list) and 1970s easy rockers the Eagles (No. 13), both of whom are coming to the Arena next month.
It goes without saying that people have a deep affinity for country music in these parts.
"Country is never going to go away," says Becca Watters, marketing manager for the Spokane Public Facilities District. "Country is a big touring industry and Spokane is a country town."
Furthering this sentiment are Bucket List requests for Garth Brooks, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw (coming in September), along with Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, who already have played the Arena stage to huge audiences.
While other Spokane venues have booked Neutral Milk Hotel and Death Cab for Cutie for this year, it's hard not to feel alone in a sea of crazed cowboy-booted fans. I'll never quite understand that music, but I also can't properly explain my high school-aged appreciation for emo act Dashboard Confessional or crunk rappers the Ying Yang Twins.
Growing up, we're never told to find the music that inspires you; rather, it's about what your friends or family like, or what Rolling Stone writers deem worthy. But you've grown up, so think for yourself.
As Terzieff suggests, do some homework. Flip through a bin of vintage albums and select something new to you. Talk to your friend who likes pop country music and ask him why it moves him. Maybe you can find common ground in Johnny Cash or Patsy Cline. Chances are he likes country because it reminds him of his patriotic grandpa, dirt roads, cheap beer-fueled camping trips or something else directly tied up in memories.
"One of the keys to understanding why we like a certain sort of music is that nostalgia is the most powerful force in the universe," says Dr. Richard Strauch, professor of music at Whitworth University who has a background in musicology. "Nostalgia guides our decisions, what we eat, what we listen to and where we vacation. We want to recapture something from our past; it doesn't matter if it's artistically great or not."
Strauch, a trombonist with the Spokane Symphony, admits he has secret playlists on his iPod dedicated to musicians he'd rather others didn't see. He recalls one of his old teachers explaining that it was necessary to like some "junk music," in reference to popular tunes, but that shouldn't be all a person listens to.
"In each music genre there's the elite saying what's good or not; that will always be human nature," Strauch says. "You just have to find what is true for you." ♦