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On Why We Like What We Like

Everything you’ve done, everything you’ve experienced, everything someone said to you has a chance of adding another facet to your character. It’s enough to make you never want to leave the house, isn’t it?

But what about the media we absorb every day – not the news, views, and eye-bleeding hate that passes for political thought. What about…let’s use the word…what about art?

I am increasingly fascinated by finding the answer to what at first looks like a very simple question: Why do we like what we like?

The answer is simple, right? You like the things you like because they are objectively good. You are a person of unassailable taste. Your choices of movies, music, books, etc., are impeccable. Obviously. I, on the other hand, have dubious tastes. And the reason for this, I’ve decided, is the Hard Northern Upbringing I suffered in the latter part of the last century. Let’s, just as an example, look at my very poor – verging on the embarrassing – musical taste.

I was the fifth and youngest member of the household. That’s a lot of trickle-down musical influence to absorb.

Father = country and western – the classics: Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton.

Mother = the easiest of easy listening: Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis.

Oldest brother = northern soul.

Middlest brother = classic rock.

And me, I absorbed it all. I love American country music – Steve Earle, Kacey Musgrave, but also the folkier stuff like Gillian Welch. I like a good voice and songs with words you can hear. Lyle Lovett, Ben Folds, Randy Newman. Soul? Remember how I adored Prince as I grew up? Jill Scott, Lianne La Havas…Otis Redding. And sometimes you want to turn it up loud and not really listen but absorb the sound. As an eighties child, that has to include Guns’n’Roses, but also Nick Cave, Placebo…do Radiohead belong here?

How much would I have loved these artists without the deliberate or accidental influence of my family? And how did I become the Tom Waits obsessive I am today?

A little Americana, a little crooner, a little loud-and-proud. In the melting pot of my musical influences, Tom Waits makes perfect sense. From a certain angle.

So, how far do our tastes – not just for music, but for books and movies, for places we fall in love with, for people we want to spend the rest of our lives with – reflect early childhood influences and how much are they formed by other factors? And what are those factors?

I don’t know. But I’m going to make it my personal research project to find out. We can call it “Pleasure Studies,” but let’s never Google that.

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