Eras of Influence: An Introduction to the Artists that Define My Musical Journey

If you’re a regular listener of our podcast, you’ve heard PopMatters’ Evan Sawdey speak about his concept of the “Imperial Period.” Essentially, the idea is that all great artists have a specific period of time in which they are not only creating their best art, but are also holding their greatest level of influence and general popularity. It’s a fun exercise to map out the imperial period of our favorite artists, but at some point during the doldrums of 2020, I began expanding the concept in a more personal direction.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve obviously developed a longer tail of musical interests. Music that was precious to me at one point in time now feels like eons ago. But nevertheless, my passion and interest in new music has followed me along. When looking back, I can define specific periods of my life by one central artist. Not that I listened exclusively to this artist, but that their music and influence rippled out in such a way that a specific sound or sentiment provided a sort of emotional arc to that stretch of my life.

And that brings us this inherently dumb exercise. What else are you supposed to do when you can’t leave the house?

Starting current day, I worked my way backward to dissect chunks of my life that feel tied to a specific artist. For example, when I think of the past five years, I can’t separate my interests and experience from Halsey. Her music, her art, her personality, her sound serve as the epicenter of influence for this period of my life, From there, my other main interests splinter out from that point. It’s not a math equation, but it’s definitely a real feeling that I can define when I close my eyes and think about how my mood moves me from song to song and artist to artist.

I’ve broken down the years of my life into chunks that can be defined by an artist, along with “honorable mentions” that serve as a kind of a second tier. The early years of my life have no central artist, because I was simply exploring music through the interests of my mom and eventually my friends. My first personal “era” began in 1997, which we’ll examine in full in a later installment.

For now, we’ll begin with the early years, which set the table for my own personal exploration. Many thanks to my mom, whose love of music (and sharing the music she loved) undoubtedly molded me into the person I am today in so many ways. So, without further ado, here goes nothing!

The 1980s: Michael Jackson, Genesis, Queen

My first memory of listening and enjoying music involves a cassette tape of Knee Deep in the Hoopla by Starship (formerly Jefferson Starship, formerly Jefferson Airplane). According to my mom, she purchased the tape after I continually showed interest in the singles “We Built This City” and “Sara” when they played on the radio. I remember playing the tape on a Walkman that my mom and I shared, rewinding to listen to “We Built This City” again and again. If I close my eyes, I can still almost feel the scratchy, puffy headphones over my ears and the gentle hum of the Walkman in my hands.

Those early years of my life were solely influenced by the music that my mom played. And she played music a LOT. In the house, in the car, on a boombox while we lounged in the backyard. The albums I remember the most are Bad by Michael Jackson, Invisible Touch by Genesis, and Queen’s Greatest Hits album. I remember how she used to play “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” as she drove me to tee-ball games.

In those early days of my life, I stayed at the home of a babysitter while my parents went to work. The woman whose home I stayed at had a teenage daughter. She would burst through the door each afternoon, drop her backpack on the floor, hop into a recliner, and turn the television to MTV. It was there that I saw the video for the aforementioned “We Built This City”, Jackson’s “Bad”, and his sister Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” and Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”. 

I soaked up every line and every note like a sponge. There was no going back and no alternative. Music wasn’t just going to be background noise in my journey through life. It was going to be an obsession.

Next, I’ll examine how the 90s helped me spread my wings and discover music I could call my own.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.