By Lisa Sugarman
I often wonder what people’s reaction would be if they heard the music I listen to when I’m sitting in the corner of Starbucks writing my column every week. Because I’m willing to bet that most people wouldn’t expect me to be listening to Jagwinder Singh Dhaliwal, better known as Juggy D, a British Indian singer from Southall, London, England.
Especially the people who know me well. They probably think I’m more of a Top 40s or indie pop girl or even a gangsta rap fan (well, maybe just my homies would think that). And that’s because our taste in music is such a deeply personal aspect of our personality—one that often doesn’t match up with what the outside world might expect from us.
It’s fascinating, really. At least to me. I just love how someone may appear to be a very distinct personality type, based on nothing more than how they dress or where they live or what they do professionally. And then something as simple as their taste in music showed us a very different side of them than we thought we knew.
Take my father-in-law. Pretty conservative, clean-cut guy in his late seventies whose heyday was back in the mid-fifties, putting him squarely in the Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens generation. Although The Platters was his favorite when he was young. Funnily enough though, he’s become a true country music guy. Like the ringtone on his phone is Kenny Chesney’s She thinks my tractor’s sexy.
(Ok, for the record, I’m really not one hundred percent sure if that’s his actual ring tone, but it might as well be because I’ve definitely heard the words tractor and beer.) Either way, country music just isn’t a genre I would’ve matched him up with in my head if I met him on the street and had to guess. And I absolutely love that because it’s something you just wouldn’t expect.
And I’m sure you could say that about millions of people all over the world who escape into the world of music as their own little rhythmic Fortress of Solitude or use it as a vehicle through which to express a different side of themselves.
I mean, wouldn’t it be interesting to poll random people in coffee shops and cyber bars across the country to find out who’s listening to what? In the same way you can never judge a book by its cover, I’m sure we’d be shocked to discover how many peoples’ music taste didn’t line up at all with who they appeared to be on the outside.
That’s what I think is so truly cool about music—it gives us a safe place to connect with a wide range of emotions and moods and personalities that we carry around inside us that we sometimes just don’t know what to do with. And music allows us to connect with them on an external level. Like maybe you’re a quiet, reserved person to the outside world who has a spicy side that you’re just not quite comfortable expressing to the people around you. With music, though, you have a safe way to express that side of yourself. You can be a cowboy at heart on the inside, like my father-in-law, and express it every time you listen to songs like You’re The Reason Our Baby’s So Ugly or Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth Cause I’m Kissing You Good-bye. That’s because music is a safe and universal platform for self-expression.
Like maybe deep down you have an edgy side and you want to express it, but you’re just not comfortable dressing goth or getting a tattoo or dressing in all black, so instead you listen to Marilyn Manson. That’s your outlet. That’s how you connect with that side of yourself in a way that maintains a healthy balance of self-expression between who you are on the inside and how you project yourself on the outside.
Or, conversely, maybe you’re an extroverted personality type who’s always putting yourself out there, always engaging with people and you need a way of mellowing out, so you spend some quiet time underneath your big air-traffic-controller headphones listening to Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 and that’s how you channel your quiet side.
But regardless of what type of music you like, beats and rhythms and lyrics are always there to support our moods and our fantasies and our individuality in very distinctive and beautiful ways. It’s there to help wind us up, to help us wind down, to console us, to inspire us, to stimulate us, to enchant us, and to define us.
So whatever your favorite music is, I hope you listen to it loud and proud in spite of how it may or may not align with how the outside world sees you. I hope you treasure it as the intimate, personal expression of the hidden rappers and cowboys and hard rockers who live inside all of us. And the next time you hear some funky Punjabi music that sounds like it came straight out of Bend it Like Beckham, you’ll think of me fondly.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.