At the same time, I understand that having no answer is the worse path. It smacks of condescending looks that say "I-dont-need-to-explain-my-art-to-you" and "I-dont-believe-in-Labels," neither of which are reasons why I can't readily provide a succinct list. It's more indecision than anything else. I'll admit, I definitely make judgements about people based on their music tastes (even if they remain on a superficial level, they're always there). Therefore, whenever I answer these kinds of questions, I direct that judgement back at myself, and feel this weird kind of internal protest.
I don't think I'm capable of conjuring up the majority of influential music in a ten minute period, much less an inquiring question from a new acquaintance. It usually comes off as a rambling free-association, involving Patty Griffin, R.E.M., Aimee Mann, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Counting Crows (although I have yet to meet anyone in Seattle who finds them a respectable band), Lisa Loeb (ditto), Bruce Springsteen, Dar Williams, The Nields (who no one's ever heard of), Eddie From Ohio (ditto), Carole King and Van Morrison. But even then, this leaves out a whole number of albums that have changed my perspective on a lot of things. Any Day Now (Joan Baez), Me First (The Elected), Cold Roses (Ryan Adams), The Globe Sessions (Sheryl Crow), Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morrissette), Sell, Sell, Sell (David Gray), Haunted (Poe), By The Way (Red Hot Chili Peppers)...I could go on. These just literally popped into my head, and I could keep listing albums for an hour probably without stopping. So you see my problem. I mean jeez, I didn't even mention Simon and Garfunkel, or Woody Guthrie, or The Shins, or Natalie Merchant, or grunge, which simply cannot be forgotten, and is possibly singularly responsible for attracting my attention to pop music in the first place.
For literally years, I have said to myself, "Man, I really need to take an hour, sit down, and come up with a carefully curated stock response for this question." I knew in college that I would be asked the same thing over and over and over again, and I know now that I could have avoided a lot of unsatisfying answers and critical unfulfillment by following through with it. But there remains something in me that find more value in spontaneity. Perhaps it's more interesting to speak what is on my mind at any given moment because of what it reflects about my current situation. I'd be willing to bet that if I had sat down in college to make a stock response, I would no longer agree with my self from back then. Maybe one day I'll think that I learned a lot about pop songs from classical sonata form. And another day, I'll honestly believe that Nirvana Unplugged changed my life. Probably both are true.
Influence is not a linear process, and each time I encounter a work of art it affects me differently from the time before. Revisionism is pretty hard to avoid. At some point I have to be able to stop worrying that people are going to pigeonhole me as "another Jewel-wannabe" or whatever. Mariah Carey's # 1's is a fantastic album, and you know what? so is almost every album Billy Joel has ever recorded. I am also inextricably linked to the soundtracks to Cats, Rent, Big River and The Secret Garden.
Ah, that feels good.
Yea, Counting Crows and Mariah get no respect. Music snobs can't appreciate both high and low brow.