September 19, 2014
by Jonathan Diener

I’m sure you’ve heard people bashfully admit their musical guilty pleasures. Whether their choice is expressing tongue-in-cheek nostalgia or just straight up goofiness, there seems to be this strong feeling of guilt attached. I personally think that it is a disastrous emotion when it comes to the bigger picture in life as well as music. If you enjoy something you should never be ashamed of that.

I was introduced to punk rock and ska music at the age of nine years old. I do believe the early exposure to these subculture genres was enlightening and helped boost everything from self-confidence to solving a lot of my developmental social issues. The music was never to blame for the eventual problems, but some of the listeners helped sway me in a negative way. The feeling of guilt would arise when a friend or acquaintance would call me out for listening to something that “wasn’t cool.” Being young and wanting to fit in or to an extent, be an individual, I avoided a lot of music. Our friend group stuck a stake into the ground and we claimed our sonic turf. I would listen to my Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph back catalogue and completely forget that in elementary school my brother and I would shop for new CDs from Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Rob Zombie, No Doubt and Goldfinger. Were we more eclectic in our younger years or just immature?

I vividly remember the time my friend Tom from the band No Trigger was drunk and yelled at me for only liking one kind of music. I was furious at how much of an asshole he was being, but in the last few years I looked back and realized it was almost this strange moment of clarity, like a warning from the future. It was a wake up call that there was plenty of music out there that I was avoiding on purpose, which is quite stubborn if you think about it. I went on a quest and started listening to as much as I could to find out what I really like. I needed to redevelop my palette. The adventure was relieving and as much as I loved the melodic punk rock I grew up on, I was starting to love everything else much more. I even got to the point where I revisited Sheryl Crow and pop music from the ‘90s and loved that too. Regardless of the corporate machine behind it, you have to admit that it’s just good songwriting. There didn’t have to be these dark undertones or Fugazi style revolutionary mentality behind it. I love that stuff, and probably listen to it more, but sometimes I just like putting on music and turning my brain off for a little bit. I don’t feel guilty admitting that.

These days I find myself enjoying everything from heavy and obscure music to some of Katy Perry’s catchiest singles. I don’t have anyone to impress. I can listen to and appreciate anything because there shouldn’t be barriers to one’s enjoyment. There are definitely artists that I still can’t stand, but that’s just normal. One thing that is still strange is when I’ll run into my friends in very successful bands and because of my place on the music industry food chain (previous heavy touring, sleeping on floors, purposely eating at $5 pizza buffets) they’ll try to dumb down their success. Sometimes I get the vibe that people feel guilty that what they’re doing isn’t “cool” and they’ll try to relate to me instead of being proud of how far they’ve come. I don’t need proof that they had trouble in their early days and used to scrape for whatever they could get. Making it in this musical landscape is a goddamn achievement. Good for you. Wave that banner, man. If you made a career out of playing music you should never feel guilty. Over time caring about what people think will eat at your insides. Invest, start a family, live that dream while you can.

Once I renounced guilt from my musical taste, my band’s career choices and my potential new future, life has been much easier. It’s quite ironic that a large percentage of people indulged in these subcultures based on living the way you want, fighting the establishment and making life easier for others are the same people who will judge you harder than anyone else. Let’s put aside that guilty pleasure nonsense. I prescribe a heavy dose of not giving a fuck and doing what you want. Symptoms include happiness, sanity and career longevity. 

Jonathan Diener plays drums in Braidedveins and The Swellers, the latter of whom will be touring the northeast for the final time this November