On Musical Snobbery… It’s Time for It to Die

Music and Healing

Hello, my name is Ed Hudgins and I am a music snob. I hate to admit that, but it’s true. And, I’m an unqualified one even. I have no musical training. I cannot play an instrument. I can sing a little, but I will never be known for my singing voice. And yet, I am a music snob. And I aim to change that, because it’s pretty ugly.

How did I get here? The answer is a little complicated. I think it all started back when I was a kid. My first memories of listening to and enjoying music consists of a late 70s and early 80s pop rock soundtrack, with a little bit of CCM (contemporary Christian music) mixed in. I remember my mother making a mixtape of songs she recorded off of the radio… Queen‘s Another One Bites the Dust and Hall & OatesKiss on My List are two that I especially recollect being included. During that time, I was also exposed to CCM artists such as 2nd Chapter of Acts and Don Francisco. I also remember sitting at the kitchen table in Chesapeake, Virginia and listening to Y96 on the radio… taking in John DenverSheena Easton, and Christopher Cross.

So, my mother was really my first musical influence. She told me what was “good” and what was not. She warned me that I shouldn’t listen to songs that didn’t have anything to do with romantic love (there was a lot of fear in that guidance and I’m not sure how Another One Bites the  Dust fit with this). She didn’t appreciate R&B or hip hop. She didn’t like anything that was “too edgy.” And, John Denver was the measuring stick for musical greatness. In her eyes, his music was too transcendent to be categorized as country or even folk. He was the man and the standard. And, my mother was also pretty insistent that what she liked is what I should like and I should dislike or disregard whatever she didn’t like.

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with Run-DMC. I bought their Raising Hell album and listened to it non-stop. Walk This Way rocked my world. I liked it so much that I performed it in my 10th grade drama class talent show. Then, along came my friend Matt. My affinity for rap was already going against my mother’s grain. But she was an unqualified music snob just like me. Matt was different. He played trumpet (usually first chair) in the school band. He was highly critical of all pop music, including rap. Everything was “predictable” for him. Because of his musical knowledge, he became a musical mentor of sorts for me. And I took on elements of his musical snobbery, which included setting aside my love for hip hop.

During much of my teen years, I listened solely to CCM. In my church youth group, we did a series of meetings discussing popular music and CCM alternatives. It was during this season that I got serious about Jesus, and I immediately became pretty self-righteous about music choices. If I couldn’t buy it at the local Christian bookstore, I was resolved not to listen to it (with the exception of U2). I was kind of a music Pharisee during that time… very “holier than thou.” It was during those years that I began to develop a little bit of musical backbone. Admittedly, much of what I listened to during those days was not great. When I listen to that stuff now, I hear very little creativity and a lot of really contrived-sounding lyrics. But, that was my milieu, if you will. And, I looked down on folks who listened to evil “secular” music (I’ve come to believe that labels like “Christian” or “secular” for an art form is pretty foolish and meaningless).

In my early adult years, I found a little musical freedom. It was during those days that I dove into the music of King’s X, Galactic Cowboys, Black Crowes, Arrested Development, and Extreme, among others. My self-righteousness began to crumble (a little… more on that in a moment). I was finally willing to purchase music in actual music stores. A whole new world opened to me. And, I was finding myself more and more drawn to provocative music. In the mid-90s, I felt challenged by Rage Against the Machine, Fiona Apple, and Alanis Morissette. Sometime is was the music or instrumentation. Sometimes it was the edgy and provocative lyrics. Elements of my thinking about music, Christianity, and the world needed to be challenged, and I was engaging with music that did just that.

But there was a problem… I learned, very early in life, that there was “good music” and there was “bad music.” The barometer of “good” and “bad” shifted depending on the early influence involved (my mother, my friend Matt, church, etc.). But the barometer was always there. And while the barometer shifted constantly, I held others to my standards of “good” and “bad.” Musical snobbery at its ugliest.

When I was a teen, you were wrong for liking “secular” music…

When I was a young adult, you were wrong for liking pop music…

When I got married, my wife was wrong for not liking King’s X (that poor woman… she is so patient)…

And now I find myself at a new level of musical snobbery. In recent years, I have fallen in love with local music and independent artists. I like a broad spectrum of styles. I like rap, folk, some country, hard music, electronic stuff, and on and on and on. It’s not about style. It’s about my perceived chasm of creativity and talent between indie artists and stuff on the radio (both on Christian and non-Christian radio stations). And what it really comes down to is this… my music is better than yours. Ugly, ugly, and ugly.

Recently, I became painfully aware of how ugly this is. I have a family member, my “spiritual” daughter Jasmine, who listens to different music than me. She likes a lot of CCM and some pop music. And I’ve tried to make her feel “less than” because of it. Yuck. The other day, we were listening to the TS10 while out and about with my son Joshua. When we got back to the Hudgins house and had a chance to talk, she told me she actually knew a couple of the songs and felt “cool.” My heart sank. My daddy heart knew she was already “cool.” She didn’t need to connect with “my” music to  be cool. I had to repent. Yesterday, I apologized to her for that.

This was the last straw for my relationship with my musical snobbery. It came under attack when I married Charlotte, who has been academically trained in music, plays piano, and has years of choral experience. She challenged me. She exposed me to music that challenged me in new ways. She taught me that it’s alright if I loved King’s X and she didn’t care for them. And, over recent years, as I have become exposed to more and more different artists and styles, my walls have broken down further. This episode with Jasmine, I hope, is killing off the last remnant of this ugly dynamic.

Here’s the thing… music does different things for different people. Honestly, I am looking for emotional provocation in music. My wife likes to have music she can engage in but that would also work as background music. Jasmine likes music that is catchy and songs with overt spiritual messages. Joshua loves anything edgy or that has a beat (although he enjoys everything from Beethoven to the Civil Wars to Project 86).

My desire to look down on someone because of their musical taste or what they are, as an individual, looking for in their musical choices, comes from a deep-seated personal insecurity. An insecurity rooted deeply in me from the time I was a child. It’s an insecurity that tells me that I find value when others like the same thing I like. And when they don’t, it makes me feel “less than.” And, the truth is that I am NOT “less than.” I am an adopted son of God and have immense value. So, it’s time for that insecurity to die. I am resolved to drop my judgmental approach to music. I am committed to allowing people to engage with music in whatever way feeds their souls. I will stop using musical preferences to make me feel better about myself.

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