From time to time I chat about my love of different kinds of music in my Pandora radio station . As a way of testing a theory about work productivity I have been trying to listen to more Pandora as a way of calming and relaxing me at work–a necessary task given my high degrees of ambient anxiety–and since I like a greater variety of music than any station has, this morning I conducted a bit of an experiment in listening to a song by a band I happen to like , although not the song that might be immediately expected from the band. I chose one of their lesser-known hits, “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” which shows their melodic side, their penchant for songs of devotion and lasting love, all songs that are more than a little bit poignant given my own life, but also songs that are to be appreciated from my perspective.
What I found when I listened to this station was that I liked the music a lot, even more than I thought I would, and it gave a link between different types of music I liked and grew up with that I found to be surprising. As expected, the station played a lot of country music. Given that the band Restless Heart is a country band, it is not surprising that they would play so many country songs. What was striking is that they played country music that blended a heartfelt Southern sensibility, not too out of place for one who grew up in rural Central Florida even if alienated by the local culture, with a strong sense of crossover pop appeal. So there was as lot of Alabama, Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley (thankfully no “Accidental Racist”), Shenandoah, John Michael Montgomery, along with some Lonestar and George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Rascal Flatts. This is the sort of music I appreciated as a kid, and I was struck by how many of the songs played I remember fondly. What was a bit more surprising was the rest of the music that came along with the country, as it was a mixture between country rock (lots of the Eagles, along with some Kansas) as well as a large amount of arena rock from bands like Journey and Foreigner. That happens to be a particularly fertile area of interest in my own music, but the connection between arena rock musicians and country balladeers is a remarkably subtle connection.
Pandora themselves, in giving an explanation for the sort of music that they would play on this station, which is likely to be one I return to a good deal, is quite intriguing as well. They claimed that the station would play music with somewhat repetitive melodic lines, which I enjoy, probably for the same reason that children enjoy somewhat repetitive music, finding the familiarity calming, along with country rock influenced sound and major key melodies with guitars featured prominently. In listening to these songs, I was struck by how many of them were appealing to the more romantic and sentimental side of my personality. As trendy as it may be to make fun of country music, and as painful as my own time spent in rural Pennsylvania and then rural Florida was, areas where this music is insanely popular, there is a lot I relate to in the music itself. After all, I am a person with at least some populist tendencies and family longings, a love of history and tradition, a moderately patriotic and conservative person. There is a lot of overlap between the narrative framing and heartfelt sentimentality of country music, even in its poppier forms, which share my particular mainstream ambitions, and so it is fairly obvious that I would enjoy it.
There is, though, a strong divide in the music I enjoy. This divide is part of the aspect of the more serious divide in my own personality that exists between a strongly sentimental side of guitar and piano ballads and a much more cynical side of minor key synth pop music which is far more downbeat in nature. A fondness for heartfelt music that reflects my own longings, which are pretty traditional and sentimental in nature, is blended with a deeply wounded and fierce and cynical cleverness that seeks to defend that sensitive and tender heart. It does not lead to a rather comfortable and pleasant life, either me or for many of those happen to be around me, as the cuddly and romantic aspects of my existence and the fierce and prickly ones, all of which are fairly open and obvious to others, do not play nicely together either internally or externally. The world is not safe enough to lay down one’s own weapons put up in self-defense, and yet without that feeling of safety few others are going to feel safe to me. At least there is sentimental music to listen to on occasion on Pandora to be remind of the complexities of my own nature, and how those blend with larger societal trends and patterns of which my own life is such a melancholy part.
 See, for example: