Friday, October 16, 2009

Music: The State of Play

The Aging Indie Rocker Continues to Age

It has been a couple of decades now since I could be said to have much sense of what was happening in music or anyplace else, and I'm through pretending. The extent of the damage was revealed at the FOL Booksale, where I found myself getting all excited about the truly great rock music!!! for sale for virtually nothing in the CD section. Some feeling of proud decorum, some inner philosopher of culture holding fast the opinion that popular music is made to be fleeting, forced me to look at the copyright dates. This is how I was forced to confront that I was getting all excited about the music I liked when I was a university student. Which is to say, 15 to 20 years ago. To wit: I was getting excited about oldies. Well, of course I was horrified.

Partially it's the notorious compression of time that takes place as you age, and partly it's the increasingly enormous library of music that you have been exposed to in your lifetime, but trying to keep track of the musical scene becomes increasingly exhausting. In high school, if your favorite band produced a new album after two years, it ushered in a whole new era of your lifetime. Whereas now you're all like, "What, another new album? Christ, I haven't really got around to listening to the last new album yet." You dutifully keep adding to an increasingly massive collection of music even as you spend less time actually listening to music, turning meters of shelfspace or gigasectors of your hard drive into an impressive museum of immaculately curated rock music that no one ever listens to.

Retaining Cachet: The Shortcut

Now this is one of the nice things about classical music: it pretty much stands still for you. If you like Beethoven's 4th Symphony right now, you can still like Beethoven's 4th 20 years from now without looking any the worse for wear. It's durable. If you like Mozart in college, you can keep liking Mozart. It's a much different thing, in the all-important terms of what it signifies to the world about you, from ending up in your 40s and still being all excited about Bryan Adams or Bananarama or Duran Duran or something. (...with all due respect to any readers who retain enthusiasm for these fine artists) Also, there's a sneaky loophole in which you can like, say, Bartok or Lutoslawski, and thereby seem kind of avant-garde and daring -- permanently. Neat trick, no?

In the last year, too, I've really warmed up to jazz, thanks in large part to you the L&TM5K readers. And since jazz is -- and I apologize, here, to all you jazz musicians and classical composers out there -- basically every bit as much a dead language as classical music, it too has the loveable quality of holding still long enough for you to develop a real appreciation. Has it ever not been cool to be into Thelonius Monk? John Coltraine? No way, daddy-o.

So I'm hereby making formal what's been true in essence for a long, long time: I'm no longer seeking out new rock music. I won't resist it if it happens to come my way, and I'll still come out to play sometimes when my favorite bands come to town, but I'm no longer going to worry about keeping current. I'm finally ready to concede that I am, to quote the late John Paul II, "too old for this shit." (OK, OK, technically he never said this per se. He just sort of looked like he was thinking it during his last four or five years.)

Tomorrow in Music: Michael5000 goes a-bingeing!


Ben said...

Your first two paragraphs describe TO A TEE exactly how I've been feeling about music for the past decade or so. It's so frustrating to be so out of the loop with the new stuff, and not being able to find much time to even listen to the old stuff that you have lying around.

I'm not sure what criteria you use to categorize music genres as "dead"--I guess I would have to disagree on your statement about classical and jazz. There has always been a distinction between "popular music" and "art music" (I'm not sure that's the term I'm really looking for). Just because ClearChannel doesn't push it, doesn't make it dead. There continues to be development and new ideas in each genre, not to mention quite a lot of people who enjoy listening and performing them.

Christine M. said...

Cartophiliac and I saw St. Vincent open for Andrew Bird this week. you might like them.

We finally got to meet up with my imaginary rock star friend, Jeremy, in Cincinnati on Wednesday, and had beverages and talk and whatnot. We got to meet Bird, too, just briefly. I'm sure all the hipster kids were thinking, WTF? those OLD people get to hang out with the rock stars? WTF?!?

Kate said...

I do remember hearing that most people stop listening to new music once they hit 30 or so. I was about 30 when I heard that comment, and I was enraged by the suggestion. At 35, I'll reluctantly admit it's true. (I asked a younger relative to send me tips on new music, but she declined to respond. Figured I was a lost cause, I guess.)

I'm not convinced about the timelessness of classical taste, though. In college, I loved Vivaldi. Now I think Vivaldi is merely pleasant. Perhaps the "Four Seasons" was ruined forever by a roommate who called it "rice pilaf music" because her parents always put it on at dinner time.

I am, however, still convinced that War is one of the greatest albums of all time. That's been a consistent answer since about the age of 12.

Elaine said...

I really enjoyed this post, though I can't relate to following "popular" music for even as far as age 30. After the Beatles, well.......
I even forwarded the link to my husband, who doesn't read blogs...usually.
There are always new, fresh "takes" on classics. I still occasionally enjoy a 70's Vivaldi recording performed on Japanese instruments; now, THAT was different! I will never be tired of Beethoven's 7th Symphony...but I'd better not start listing things...

Jenners said...

This was a classic post! I love the classical music and jazz shortcuts -- too true. And I kind of find myself being in a similar boat as far as what I prefer to listen to -- but I have managed to stay somewhat current as far as pop music and I think having a kid will keep me involved with what is going on now. But I suspect I will be like one of those "old fogies" now saying "Turn that awful noise down!"

mrs.5000 said...

@La Gringissima: OK, you guys out-cool everybody by rubbing wings with Andrew Bird. Not to slight anyone's Wild-and-Woolly Festivals or CDs by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, of course.