A lifetime of finding new music

At least 6 minutes

Jackie Wilson has always loved music, and her tastes, like mine, have kept her searching for something more than what Top 40 hits have to offer.

Growing up in the north end of Montreal in the 80s, about all she knew was the British pop that was big in English Canada at the time: Joy Division and then New Order, The Smiths, The Cure. However, that all changed on a high school band trip to Boston in 1984.

Jackie was billeted with a Boston family, and it was there that she heard American college radio for the first time. She even remembers the song: “Radio Free Europe” by REM. “I realized there was an entire world of music I didn’t know about.” And she has spent much of her free time since then exploring it.

I met Jackie in 2008 when we both worked at BMO. I was a business analyst for the financial planning software we were developing, she was the subject matter expert for Private Wealth Management. Not an interaction that lends itself to conversations about your favourite bands, but we got along well and I always enjoyed working with her.

“What is your favourite band?”

We found ourselves in Vancouver, along with some other BMO employees, to train advisors on the software before its launch. On a free evening at a local bar the conversation turned to music, as it often does with Jackie, and she asked me, “What is your favourite band?”

I answered, “Pavement,” expecting to hear, “Who?”

Instead, she said, “No way! Mine, too!”

We were both completely floored. Neither of us had ever found someone for whom Pavement was their favourite band, let alone met someone who knew who they were. It was an instant connection, and we’ve been comparing bands, sharing music and seeing concerts together ever since.

While she is particular about what she likes, she is never dismissive of a band. Suggest someone to her she does not know and she’ll be sure to check them out. Tell her you like someone she does not? She’ll shrug, say that she doesn’t really get them, and commit to giving them another listen.

Music is about something speaking to you.

For her, the experience is deeply personal. “Music is about something speaking to you.” Her search for new music since hearing that REM song in Boston has been a search to repeat the feeling when a song first comes into your ears and touches your heart. “It’s easy now because we have Apple Music and Spotify, but I really had to look for it when I was younger.”

It’s tough to know how one develops their musical tastes. Jackie recalls her older sisters giving her Spirits Having Flown by the Bee Gees, featuring “Tragedy,” and some ABBA records. The first album she bought with her own money was the eponymous debut by The Cars. She had her new wave phase with Joy Division and New Order, and she remains enthralled by the guitar work of Johnny Marr from The Smiths. But it is American music to which she always returns. “Most of the good music in the last 30 years has been made by Americans.” In fact, she wrote a screenplay about it called America Wins.  She says she is getting ready to share it with me, and I look forward to reading it.

For anyone who loves music as much as Jackie, hearing it played is not enough. Seeing it performed is the ultimate and I certainly agree. Best concert story? Seeing The Strokes, another favourite band, in Arizona.

Jackie recalls thinking in 2000, “Oh my god, it’s the 21st century. I will never think anything is original again … then I listened to Is This It by The Strokes and I was …” trailing off because words fail her. On a girls’ trip to visit a friend in Scottsdale, Arizona, she learned on the day they were leaving that The Strokes were playing at a university bar in Tempe that fit about 800 people. None of her friends had heard of The Strokes – it was right after that first album came out – so Jackie drove herself 45 minutes across the desert and paid $60 for a scalped ticket. She was 36-years old, everyone else was 18 from the University of Arizona. She met another woman her age in line, Elizabeth from Chicago, and the two of them stuck together through the show. “It was the best show ever!  They played every song from the album.” Her girlfriends still regret not going. I’ve learned, too: if Jackie says go, then you go.

A taste for indie music and working in wealth management marketing at a bank are not the only thing Jackie and I share. Being among the elders at a concert, like in the story above, is another. Jackie recalls seeing Arcade Fire at an all-ages’ show at the Danforth Music Hall and standing next to a 15-year old whom she was sure was wondering why her parents were there. I’ve had a similar feeling many times.

I missed seeing Ought at the Rivoli once because I had to head home after the opening band to get some sleep before yoga the next morning.

Staying abreast of new music can help one feel ageless, but it can also be a reminder that it just ain’t so. Between the two of us, we can usually recall the band names we need to keep things moving, but once in our conversation at Dineen Coffee Co comes a failure to remember, which leaves a topic unexplored. I missed seeing Ought with Jackie at the Rivoli, where the headliner goes on at 11:00 pm, because I had to head home after the opening band to get some sleep before yoga the next morning. Toughest of all, though, is hearing something young folks are excited about and thinking that we’ve heard it all before. We think it, but as lovers of music we don’t share it. If the music speaks to them, we wouldn’t want to ruin that feeling we understand so much.

I recently spoke at Jackie’s birthday party with her two daughters, aged 17 and 19. They are each blown away by their mother’s knowledge of music and hold her in high regard – at least when it comes to music. When I share this with her she beams and says, “Awww! I’m so happy!” It means a lot to her. She shares with them what she finds, without expectation, and listens in turn to what they offer.

As a lover of music, sharing what you love with others is the ultimate thrill. Jackie and I never have conversations about whether Band A is better than Band B. Rather, it is a continual process of sharing. Following any conversation with her, I usually have a list of bands to check out and this time is no exception. In a follow-up text I ask for a list of what she’s liking right now. This is what I get in response:

I have really liked Courtney Barnett, Interpol, anything Bradford Cox does through his many ventures (Atlas Sound and Deer Hunter mostly). I also like Washed Out, a psychedelic weird band. Love the Cali sounds like the Beach Fossils. I like some of what Foxygen does. Same for the Parquet Courts but they both have fallen a bit flat for me of late. I am really liking some of the girl sounds like Hinds and Angel Olsen. Loving the band DIIV. I also sometimes find a fun Brit pop band I love like the Kaiser Chiefs. Love the Libertines before them (very few British bands make the grade …) hey – also like the band we saw … Temples.

When it comes to music, Jackie gives and gives, hoping that what speaks to her will speak to you, too. Luckily for me, it usually does.

What music speaks to you?


3 thoughts on “A lifetime of finding new music”

  1. Great post. I agree with Jackie – there’s nothing like live music. I even have a live music bucket list and not seeing REM is one of my biggest regrets.

  2. Great post! So many bands I love were mentioned…Jackie has great taste. The Smiths, of course. The Strokes, another favourite of mine. My favourite band is definitely The Libertines though. I’ve been a *huge* Libertines fan since…whenever Up The Bracket was released…and though I never saw the Libertines live as such, I was lucky enough to see Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things play several times and even though I had to travel far to see them, I never ever regretted it.

  3. Age isn’t a factor when discovering new music. If you’re open to new genres, forms etc. in anything, you will be more complete, and possibly better, person for it. I’ve made sure I wasn’t someone whose musical tastes stopped at the end of my collegiate years. Not judging, but…

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