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Michael Perry: Whether Waylon Jennings or K-Pop, music remains a formative obsession

Michael Perry: Whether Waylon Jennings or K-Pop, music remains a formative obsession

Last night while streaming music at random the algorithm kicked out a song that moved me to hit repeat. After three listens I added it to a list of favorites so it will cycle through again.

That doesn’t happen much anymore. A byproduct of aging, I suppose. In youth, the conscious is an uncrowded canvas. We catalogued fresh colors on the daily. Music mediated all the emotions we were still coming to know. The songs that struck, stuck.

I am still sustained by music, and sometimes, new music. But the voraciousness of my early days is tempered by a back catalog that already speaks for the majority of my mind spaces and memories. The new stuff has to clear that hurdle.

My teenage daughter is currently deeply invested in K-Pop. She can discourse on the details of not only the groups and their songs but the names of each individual member and their backstory.

She has brought ol’ Dad up to speed on terms like “my bias” (“my favorite”) and spends hours memorizing and recreating the intricate dance moves associated with the performance of a particular single.

She will also speak earnestly and at length about what feels to me like mind-numbing trivia underpinning the genre, but to her is a means of interpreting and framing her world, her culture and her times.

It is that earnestness I try to honor even if I maintain that music peaked the day Waylon Jennings plugged his leather-bound Telecaster into a phase shifter and recorded “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

There was a time I believed Waylon Jennings sang my life; in fact he sang about 12 percent of my life and the rest was me projecting, dreaming and generally self-aggrandizing. But he did knock me off the path just enough to nudge me into a trajectory I wouldn’t trade for any steadier situation.

So it is I smile through the K-Pop disquisitions, hearing with my heart if not my ears.

And, happily, I am still capable of being transported by a tune. Last night it was “The Spark” by William Prince. Coulda been my mood, coulda been the acoustics, coulda been the week in general, but it certainly was also something about the ease and resolution of the lyrics, the phrasing, all the little alchemies of music that transmute sound into spirit.

At a certain age and mileage we have accumulated so many experiences it is nearly impossible for just one song to be the song.

But music is a marvel of infinite arrangements, and I like the idea of my young daughter in her upstairs bedroom, surrounded by posters of her chosen popsters, working out her lexicon of living, the music suffusing and shaping her as no music may ever do again.

And meanwhile her old dad is out here working in a little room above the garage, unlikely to bust moves or rave, or tape a poster to the wall, but able still to feel a song in his soul, and in such a way that he may remain open to the joyous obsessions of youth.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”( Read more from Michael Perry at

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