A 21st century Chicago parent’s guide to listening to music

This week’s blog post is by WDP co-host Matt Rocco, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with Professor Foster (his “Brown Mom” wife), and their daughter Viva. Most of the new music they hear is about the joys of using the potty. They’ve heard worse.

Since you became a grown-up, there’s been no time for browsing record stores, making mix tapes for that special someone, getting turned on to new tunes by cool friends, cycling out the 24-CD portfolio thing in the sun visor of your car, or filling up external hard drives with files you Napster-ed overnight, Luckily for you, since you became a grown-up all those things also ceased to exist.

Right now you’re probably looking at the dust-covered last CD you bought. What is it? The White Stripes “Elephant”? Yeah, good one. “Franz Ferdinand”? Delightful. “The Fratellis” before the Blackhawks ruined it. Good times. Perhaps you’re staring at your iPod that hasn’t been turned on in 10 years, or perhaps all the icons with music notes on your phone that mean nothing to you. You’ve probably realized that the Radiohead playlist you ripped to your desktop isn’t going to entertain you into retirement, or you’re wondering who the hell all those bearded guys are jumping around on SNL saying “Hey” and “Ho” and whatnot.

So, now that Carson Daly only hosts some weird overnight one camera travel-log or something, Prince has turned in his buttless pants for a copy of “The Watchtower,” and your cool indie rock buddy has become a systems analyst, you’ve woken up – Rip Van Winkle like – in a new world of music catalogs, all conveniently available to you right in your pocket at little or no cost.

But you don’t know your options. Thank goodness for advice blogs.

Purchasing Physical Media: CDs

The only CDs available anymore are either “Kidz Bop” or begin with the word “NOW” – which is ironic, given that they are pressed onto a medium squarely located in “THEN.” There is a small CD section at Target and Wal-Mart, but they are only there so shelves are available at Christmastime to stock with Michael Bublé discs to buy for aging relatives who are already dead inside.

Purchasing Physical Media: Vinyl

During the Beatles’ Abbey Road session, Paul McCartney famously said to producer George Martin, “Cheers, Mate – I hope all me music is forever pressed on wax so it always sounds all hissy and skipply wipply. I don’t go in for all the clarity and that sound quality scene.”

Actually, he didn’t say that. Nobody ever said that. So why do you want to pay EXTRA to have crappy, breakable records you have to get up and tend to every half dozen songs? Because it makes you nostalgic for a time you don’t really remember? You want to go fight in the Vietnam War, too, hot shot?  No you do not. And you don’t want vinyl.

Purchasing MP3s

This is a convenient way to kind-of own any song you like, the second you think of it, and then pretty much forget you bought it, then wonder why there is no room left on your phone for pictures of your kids. It’s also a very inexpensive way to collect embarrassing songs you never would have purchased if you had to buy an entire album of B-Sides to get one “Selfie” song or “Happy” by the guy in the Arby’s hat.

Terrestrial Radio

Though your car dashboard might soon not even have a slot for it, radio still exists. It features sports talk, and then a vast wasteland of automated Top 40 songs for tweens, Right Wing hate baiting, a few Tejano stations, some church stuff, and Garrison Keillor grunting gentle jokes about Minnesotans and rhubarb. You will not find your musical future here.

Satellite Radio

This features millions, maybe even billions, of stations for old people to listen to in their Towncars. Oh, and Howard Stern, who died behind his sunglasses 10 years ago, but no one has noticed yet.

Streaming Music Free

This is, by and large, what the young folks are doing. Most popular is the “Pandora” app, which allows you to create a fake radio station based on a song, then click the “skip” or “thumbs down” button when it inexplicably plays “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” every third song even though this is clearly your Dead Milkmen station and you only wanted to hear “Bitchin’ Camaro.” Oh, and after every fourth song is a commercial for Lowe’s Home Improvement. So glad we killed radio for this.

Streaming Music Pay Subscription

There’s a rumor that this is something you can do, but no one has tried it yet.

Let the Hipsters Find It For You

Since your cool friends have all donned chinos and gone off to make spreadsheets, you might want to just allow newly minted cool people to find the music for you. Chicago has a volunteer driven, listener supported internet radio station called “CHIRP” that plays all the local and lesser-heard music you are too old and tired to find yourself. If you ask nicely, they might even send over some guys with ironic handlebar moustaches to make pickles in your home and possibly brew beer. More at chirpradio.org.

So, that’s where life put all the music while you were making other plans. Of course, by now your brain has likely atrophied from age and disuse into a gray puddle incapable of liking new things. In which case you always have that scratched disk of R.E.M.’s Monster to play over and over again while music marches on. After, all you never figured what the words to “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” were in the first place. And what IS the frequency?

Good luck.

If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe to the WDP podcast for free on iTunes! You can also listen at whitedadproblems.com. (Do note that the show has a potty mouth and is definitely for Over 17 Only.)

And follow the Dads on Facebook and on Twitter: @whitedadprobs.

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