I won’t lie. I won’t retroactively try to make myself seem like a teenage musical savant. I won’t disregard the good, the bad, and the terrible artistic choices of my youth. These are the things I promised myself for this piece. I wrote them in big, bold, black lettering and pinned them to the bulletin board in my subconscious.
When thinking about an album that means a lot to me I realised something: that I really do care about a lot of albums, but usually only for a short period of time. I’m another one of those people that will latch onto a record, listen it into oblivion, grow tired of it, and then hear it again several years later and remember that, “Wow, I haven’t heard this in years, I used to LOVE this.” So by that notion, most records last about three months, the really good ones about six, and then it’s kaput, out of the rotation. I think of it as opening up an account at the nostalgia bank and making a handful of hefty deposits every year. It’s a nest egg of nice feelings, where every withdrawal is done with fondness and a bittersweet smirk.
For instance, if shuffle plays me Agoraphobia by Deerhunter, I would recall that time I managed to sustain a whole conversation about it with a street vendor. It was a big day of discovery for eighteen year old me. Or, if I were to hear Into My Arms by Nick Cave I would remember that I could get through it one and a half times on my six minute walk to my after school job. Freak Train by Kurt Vile would accompany me every time I’d go downstairs for a cigarette at my apartment in Vancouver. Grand by Matt and Kim would give me enough energy to get up early to get to my shitty job after staying up way too late. I’d put on Agaetis Byrjun every night to help me sleep, but I’d rarely make it past Staralfur as the familiar Sigur Ros track never failed to lull me off to dreamland.
I bring up all of this up to illustrate the repetitious nature of my listening. I would listen to the same songs, at the same times, while doing the same things, as if they were intrinsically linked with my movements and mindset. So when thinking of albums that influenced my taste, but more importantly how I listen to music, I had to delve further back to discover where these patterns first emerged. This led to some obvious questions.
When did I start listening to the same songs over and over again?
When did I find myself doing the same things with the same songs on a daily basis?
Why did I feel the need to create a soundtrack for reality?
As I said, I’m not interested in masking my terrible juvenile taste, which is why I will share that from ages 6-8 my favourite artist was Celine Dion. I loved S Club 7 like all sane humans did, and I knew every word to Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits. Later on, I’d even have an infatuation with I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing by Aerosmith and Last Kiss by Pearl Jam. However, all of these songs would never received the thrashing that later records would.
However, there was record that remained consistent, and I’m sure plenty of other people in their mid-twenties to early thirties would agree: the soundtrack to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. The monstrous game that crossed over to entertain skaters, gamers, and casual fans alike. Even now, I think you’d be hard pressed to talk to anyone who played that game with any tenacity that doesn’t recall at least three songs on the soundtrack. I’d love to fill a room twenty-somethings who all played video games in their youth and play You by Bad Religion, and just watch as everyone was transported back to that time, remembering how frustrating it was to learn how to manual out of a grind.
The soundtrack itself is not exactly filled with modern music classics, but it does have something that appeals to most teenagers; a raw energy, and enough racy PG content to foster that feeling of teenage rebellion the way only punk and hip-hop can. For myself, I’d already encountered a little punk and a little hip-hop thanks to hijacking my sister’s copy of Enema of the State as well as an inappropriate uncle whose obsession with Eminem was highly infectious. But, playing the warehouse level for the fifteenth time every afternoon after school, with Bring Tha Noize playing as I tried to stretch that melon grab into a 540, drilled in the nature of repetition and the fact that if you’re doing something else, the music rarely gets boring. If I were to just listen to the songs over and over again, I’d grow tired of it almost immediately. But the link between the music and the action, with the rhythm and bass underscoring even the most banal of moments made me realise that music doesn’t have to be central; instead it can accompany, complement, and enhance.
The creators achieved something quite remarkable with this game. The curated soundtrack was specific enough to at least vaguely represent the skate-punk ethos, but equally broad enough to entice listeners without the inclination for extreme sports. Who doesn’t love to rock out to Guerrilla Radio by Rage Against the Machine? In the same way that people could become a Rolling Stones fan by watching a Scorsese film, I really believe that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is responsible for nearly the entirety of my musical fandom. That sounds strange even to me, but the more I think about it the more I realise that the cross media platform is something to be applauded.
I think a lot of people could relate to the fact that my musical obsession began with punk and hip-hop as a teenager. The perceived danger of the lyrics and sound resonated so much with me that I found myself suddenly leaning towards Fuck tha Police over My Heart Will Go On. Now, I was choosing Dammit over Romeo and Juliet. There is something about those two genres that grabbed me like nothing else had before. It’s equal parts anger, musicianship, and fun. Your teenage years are when you’re inclined to take risks, to make those mistakes that turn you into a wuss as an adult, and music is a part of that for me. It’s something of a feeling; something hard to describe and even harder to capture. THPS2 not only captures it, but is the benchmark.
So if you’re like me, you definitely wasted far too many hours trying to nail a perfect Christ air using the slow motion cheat and playing as Spiderman, but you also had your first adventure into musical obsession. Whilst I can admit I did have a nu-metal phase which included owning a cassette of Limp Bizkit’s modern classic Chocolate Starfish and the Hot-Dog Flavoured Water (bring it awn!) as well as far too many Linkin Park CDs, but THPS2 opened my mind to a lot more. Your patterns, taste, and relationship with music is formed before you even know what a good album is. For better or worse, your nostalgia deposits start there, and maybe for some end there, but for me, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 opened up that account, and now I’m just living off the interest.