The Small Town Trap
y life, it seems, has come to a point of reflection. For the last eight months, I have been in a position to evaluate my standing within my own existence. Whether it is too early to undertake this reflection at twenty-three years old should be left to the individual, but mine has had less to do with the current time in my life and more to do with location. To explain: I lived from age one to nineteen in a small town which ranged in population from 2000 to 4500. When I graduated in 2000 in a graduating class of fifty (one of the larger classes our town had ever seen), I left as many others did to the big city for university. I came back to work the summer after my first year, but my family relocated the next year to the southern part of my province. For the following four years of post-secondary, between Edmonton (at the University Of Alberta) and Fernie (my parent’s new home) I did not truly feel a strong connection to a “home.” By graduation, however, I knew that if I had to choose, I would gladly side with the big city.
August brought not only the passing of the anniversary of my birth, but also a new possibility: I was hired as a full-time high school teacher. There was a catch however, as it was a relocation to…a former location of mine. I was to be (and currently am) teaching at not only the town I had grown up in, but the very high school I had graduated from. This actually happened merely as a chance; I applied to many places, and the job offer I got and accepted was there.
There have been the usual pros and cons: I know the area I live in extremely well, and there are some families and people that I still know there (though most were friends of my parents or people I knew through involvement in the golf and curling clubs). The downside of things finds me a very lonely person, as both means of entertainment and people within my own age bracket are decidedly very low. People I graduated with had almost unanimously moved away as I once had, and many a large phone bill has been justified by this very reason. Starting with Stylus in December gave me a reason for real excitement, as it gave me an excellent method to not only combine two of my loves (writing and music), but also to keep alive the artistic part of my life which had been floundering greatly.
So with all this time on my hands (when I wasn’t trying to teach 13 year olds why European feudalism collapsed or the importance of paragraphing structure or how to divide fractions), and a new shtick as a music writer and reviewer, I have found myself examining how I got to this point of musical appreciation from my small town existence. Though I can hardly find the words to describe the sensibility of my small community (let alone any community with a pint-sized population), the stereotypical “small town trap” was threat. To some, there is a comfort to that type of setting. I imagine there was a point in time where it was very comforting to me as well, and a good many parts of my life growing up were incredibly positive. I was given certain opportunities to participate in a wide range of activities without the burden of narrowed scope or high expense. I will not deny a bit of under-aged drinking (with no movie theatre or bowling alley or arcade to speak of, you can’t really expect high school students to rent movies every Friday night), but I was blessed with the good sense to avoid both addictive drugs and drunk driving. But I must confess some of the music that I did listen to/purchase/sing at the top of my lungs on trips.
You see, small towns become products of influence. Radio, television, popular opinion…these all shape the culture of the people. By this token, I will admit to owning albums by all of the following bands: Collective Soul, Green Day, Sheryl Crow, Ace of Base, Lenny Kravitz, Bush, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Eve 6, Third Eye Blind, and so on and so forth. Now, not all of these bands I am ashamed of, in fact some I am incredibly proud to own. The point with this is that I bought these albums (and countless others) not because I felt I really liked them, but because I heard them so often that I felt that I should have them.
That being said, I was fortunate to grow up and love music in a very interesting time for popular music. I was 10 when Nevermind was released, and just as I was entering my high school grunge was dying and decaying. There was a period where bands and musicians were trying everything. There was a time, during this period, where Portishead had a song in the top 3 of the MuchMusic Countdown (and they played “Sour Times” daily). Radiohead came out with The Bends, and then shot into the critical stratosphere with OK Computer. Of course, then, bubblegum and boy band pop soon became the order of the day, but the effect this limbo period had on me was tremendously profound.
There was a point in time, when I was about 16 years old, that a ten-disc carrying case of mine might contain the following bands: Chemical Brothers, Sloan, The Tragically Hip, Orbital, Pearl Jam, Blackstreet, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, Pavement, and…Oasis. Maybe this should have been some kind of indication to me, but I knew that some music I listened to would absolutely turn up the noses of a good many of my friends. I think this is what I liked most about it, that it really was mine and mine alone. Sure, I could sing along with my buddies at the top of our lungs to “Semi-Charmed Life,” but I was the only one that would jump around gleefully to “Born Slippy.” People would wax poetic about how deeply emotional they felt Pinkerton was, while I would silently trump them by saying the same thing about The Richard D. James Album.
But something else came out of the small town musical experience. I’ve found that I am now able to articulate why I did like so many songs from those days, and why they are still actually very good. I will argue tooth and nail with anyone that “No Diggity” is the greatest R&B; song of the 90’s. I can tell you, through hours upon hours of listening, which Bush album is the best they ever made (for the record, The Science of Things). I can see know that, for a moment or two, Ace of Base may have been brilliant pop musicians. Thanks to the boat loads of classic rock stations we had at the time, I can name a great number of Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones tracks (whether I like it or not). Again, whether these opinions (or accusations) are accurate or not, I can evaluate that some of my music consumption during my small town years was not all for waste.
Though my tastes are as varied now as they ever have been, I can draw a similarity between one attitude I had then and continue to have now. In a culture where Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, The Strokes, and the Arcade Fire seem to be on the tip of many people’s tongues, I have still found that I can have the Sneaker Pimps, the Fiery Furnaces, and The National for myself to tell my friends about. And I won’t really care if they turn up their noses at them or not, because I can still have them for myself without any worry of what others feel about them. While to many it may seem like everyone in the blog-osphere may know about these aforementioned bands, the blog-osphere is not a world of reality. Right now, I’m happy to exist in a place that is between the mainstream (that bombarded my small town life) and the underground (which currently bombards my life). I’ve found that there’s appreciation to be had on both sides.