Were we talking?

“Were we talking about the new-music adoption window and the decline of adventurousness with age?” writes my favorite Internet friend, in passing while gracefully alluding to her relaxed pace of technical adoption.

Maybe we were, it sounds like the kind of conversation I would have, but I wouldn’t put it that way. I remember being struck by a passage in Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd (1959), which was considered a seminal work on youth culture and alienation in the sixties. I was young myself when I read it, but its equanimity made an impression on me. From memory, approximately: “The young need simple music of their own.” Simple. Of their own.

It did not surprise me when, about twenty years ago, maybe longer, new music ceased being interesting to me. I was prepared to give it up when I was no longer drawn to it. And I began to notice something else. Most of what I heard reminded me of something I’d already heard. New music when I did encounter it, say in the final minutes of a late-night talk show–I know, not the best way, but still–seemed to me academic, the sure-footed, knowing recombination and homage of established styles.

Goodman’s observation prepared me–“of their own”–for the time when simple music wouldn’t be for me, because it would be for somebody else. What it didn’t prepare me for was its continuing familiarity, so that I recognize it when I hear it as I’ve said. I suppose I expected the needed simple music of succeeding generations to be as “new,” even to me, as it sounded to me when I first heard it.

But it occurs to me that my dad was unimpressed by the music of the sixties, when he was about the age I am now. Not hostile, not dismissive, not intolerant, just unimpressed. Piecing together from later conversations, I can see why: much of it was familiar to him. He recognized the style of Woody Guthrie, in Dylan and others. He was familiar with Lomax, and had heard a fair amount of folk music, in his own childhood and collected later. He had heard, and noted the blues and “race-music,” not as an enthusiast, but with fair alertness and comprehension. He heard the efforts of The Stones and The Animals in that context. Surrealism was old hat to him. So the music that was the brave new world itself to me, was simple, and familiar, and not for him, nor for me now.

Now I do learn, and adopt new music. Just not simple new music, because simple music almost cannot be new to me now, and often wasn’t really new, except to such as I was, back in the day. I am now preparing to sing some French songs, Trois Chansons, each by DeBussy and Ravel, plus a new setting of Rilke’s Les Roses, French poetry by Morten Lauridsen. Beautiful, and new to me, but not simple.

And like many complex things, made up of simple elements. In sectionals last night, trying to get a handle on a big jump in the Ravel, analogies were suggested, such as “Bali High!” from South Pacific. I suggested the first, non-verbal vocal sound of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, to general mirth.

3 Responses to “Were we talking?”

  1. mcmc Says:

    This is true for me too. Music that was a closed book to me when I was younger (a lot of jazz and certain classical composers) is becoming more interesting now. But almost never pop. I think my last pop find was the TigerLillies, who seem to be from some cabaret in outer space.

  2. CharleyCarp Says:

    What strikes me isn’t the similarity between the music of my youth and so much of the music I hear now, but that it is the same music. I saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial last night, background music was Sweet Home Alabama. I absolutely do not remember pop music from the 40s or 50s playing the cultural role in the 70s that pop music from the 70s plays today.

  3. I don't pay Says:

    I’ve tried to keep that fact separate from what I was writing about here, Charley, but of course we’ve all noticed it. Partly I think this stuff is aimed at boomers like me, even now. And partly, it’s because of continuity of style between the pop music of the sixties through today. Because of that continuity, those who listen to today’s referential, reverential, academic and derivative rock music tend to rapidly become aware of “the classics.” This didn’t happen to the pop music of the 40s and 50s in our youth because of the discontinuity of styles; it was a more-or-less abandoned style even if only a few years old. Now what I said in the post about how the music of my youth was not really as new as I thought it was seems to be undercut by my referring to it as “classic,” I know, but it was new to truly popular music, so the average person’s sense of it begins with rock & roll.

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