Saturday, January 14, 2017

Looking Back on 50 Years of Music (Reminiscing, or the Rantings of an Old Man?)

A lifelong friend, who happens to be a very talented professional musician, posted on Facebook his list of 10 albums from our teenage years that made a lasting impression on him, and invited his friends to do the same. I did, as did many others.

Reading all these fantastic lists has made me nostalgic. Heart of the Sunrise from Yes - Fragile is playing in my living room right now, and I expect that over the next few days, every album in my list, and lots in other people's lists, will be heard coming out of my speakers, my headphones, or my car. But its also got me thinking about the role of music in culture, when we were teenagers, and now. For us, music was a passion, a big part of your identity, and it defined your tribe. There were metalheads, new wave kids, punks, goths, etc. You could tell just by looking at someone what kind of music they liked. Your group of friends probably all liked the same types of music. When you met someone new, one of the first questions you'd ask is "What kind of music do you like?"

Today, however, that seems lost. While I really struggled to get my list down to 11 (I couldn't manage just 10), in 30 years I can't see today's teens having the same trouble. I have 2 teens, and one who is 20. In my house, they've all been exposed to music. They all play multiple instruments, and all 3 won the music award at their grade 8 graduations. But I bet they'd be hard pressed to come up with 10 albums from 10 different artists that really mattered to them. They might be able to list 10 they like, but the passion wouldn't be there. I don't know for sure what's changed. There's much more competition for time, with video games, the internet, the 500 channel universe and Netflix. Record shops are all but gone. Music buying, when it does happen, rarely involves a trip out of the house. Radio seems to be a medium that only those over 30 listen to. Streaming, YouTube & downloading have made every song instantly available, but less valued. Even the technical process of listening to music has changed: my friends & I would debate the specs of the latest Technics receiver vs the new Pioneer. My kids will listen to music through the speakers on their iPhones. It sounds terrible, and they don't care.

But the music itself has changed too. Maybe, as my kids will tell me, I'm just old, and I don't get it. But I have a lot of trouble picking out the Bowie or Zeppelin of today. Which of today's artists will still be listened to 30 years from now? And I don't know which is cause and which is effect. Is music disposable because people don't care? Or do people not care because music is disposible?

While the current state of music, the music business, and the role of music in culture makes me sad, I can't help feeling eternally grateful that I grew up in a golden age of music. For those of us now in our 40s, 50s & 60s, we experienced something magical. From the grandeur of Emmerson, Lake & Palmer to the social rebellion of the Sex Pistols, the style of New Wave to the angst of grunge, the songwriting brilliance of Lennon & McCartney to the instrumental virtuosity of prog rock. We were there, through the dumb luck of being born at the right time, and I can't help but smile at my good fortune.

I have to go now. I need to turn over the LP.