The Sharpened Palate

The Sharpened Palate

Driving home the other evening, I was singing along to the tunes spinning on my CD player (yes, I really do have one in my almost 13-year-old Toyota). This is not an unusual sight to see, although as of late, getting me to listen to anything besides the Hamilton Broadway Cast album that I’m thoroughly obsessed with is quite a miracle. But I had Michael Jackson’s greatest hits cued up – part one, his earlier years with the Jackson Five and the start of his solo career. The song “Rockin’ Robin” started playing. My immediate reaction was a recollection of how much I adored this song as a kid but then soon after my present-day feelings about this silly ditty crept in and overshadowed all of the love I once felt for it. It got me to thinking about the palate. The artistic one, I mean. I can think of a number songs — “Peanuts” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” to name a few — that I thought were clever, catchy or all-around awesome that I hear now and groan at the first few bars.


So I started to contemplate: when did this happen? When did I stop loving those pretty horrible songs I loved far too much as a kid? Not that I don’t still enjoy music I loved back then, tunes that may be merely fun and not something to be revered for the ages. I happily admit to still jamming to Spice Girls’ SPICE WORLD and my favorite Bananarama tunes which will never garner a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod but continue to entertain me to no end. But when did my artistic palate become too sophisticated to appreciate some of these other hokey numbers that I thought were the cat’s meow as a kiddo? It’s funny because likewise I remember hearing artists like Neil Young, Pink Floyd and Talking Heads at a much younger age and coming nowhere near enjoying or appreciating any of them. And then one day, I heard the album HARVEST by Young and was mesmerized. The day I “discovered” Pink Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON I felt as if I had stumbled upon a gold mine. One day, I found David Byrne’s antics whacking himself in the head and chest as he sang “Once in a Lifetime” distracting and nutty, and upon hearing their greatest hits and really listening to each song, I found his observations brilliant and performances stirring. There was a time I saw Joe Cocker perform and giggle as I could only picture in my head the John Belushi SNL impersonation. Now every time Cocker’s take on “Delta Lady” or “Cry Me a River” fills the speakers, that past imagery disintegrates and all I hear are his passionate, captivating vocals and I could listen to the late great singer for hours.


Why? Why did I used to think Michael Jackson singing about a horrid rat beautiful and Neil Young’s brilliant ‘This Note’s for You” dopey? I will admit that Jackson’s soft, tender vocal on “Ben” still nearly drives me to tears.  (Yeah, really.)  But I smack my hand for flipping the dial every time Young popped up on MTV during my beloved 80s when he simply seemed like this strange, old hippy fella encroaching on my Duran Duran airtime.


Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve tossed aside all of my favorites from the past but I am very thankful for people along the way who opened my eyes to other music that I had previously shut my mind and ears to for so long. Certainly my husband has introduced me to many artists I knew of but had no affection before like Young, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, to name a few, that I now consider personal favorites. And similarly, I shared my affection for REM, Squeeze, Madonna and others, which he embarked on additional listens and grew to appreciate them more, too.


Certainly the people in our circles influence the scope of our tastes, whether it is in music, movies, TV, literature, art, cuisine and more. And I think the heart and its experiences, as well as the mind and lessons learned, color our interpretation and either encourage us to welcome some new sound or statement or turn it away.


When you think about your own artistic palate, what can you reflect on as a turning point in your tastes in music, for example?  When did artists or genres that once seemed out of touch to you seem more inviting and worth exploring?


As for me, I can still listen to “Rockin’ Robin” and “Afternoon Delight,” maybe with less of the joy I once had and now I know what the heck they were actually talking about in “Delight” — but I will appreciate where my palate once started and how far it has taken me in appreciating the wealth of artists I have since uncovered and savored.  ~ Chris K.  xo

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