Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Music Of Our Lives

This post is a sort of follow-up to my Kiss bitch-session from a couple weeks ago. I had quoted Paul Stanley explaining the lack of new material from his band (rather lamely, I might add) by saying that new music sounds fresh, but it doesn't have the "connection" that the classic songs do. He has tried to use this argument over & over again for several years - pretty much since Kiss stopped releasing new music! - and it grates on my nerves every time, because dammit, I DO want new music!!

Or...do I? I really tried to think about music, and why the music of my (our?) youth resonates so much, and whether that feeling of resonance is maintainted throughout adulthood. What I came up with was...curious. Not troubling so much, but still the kind of thing that really gives a person pause. Because really, I don't listen to new music with the same intensity as I did when I was 10, or 15. Why is that? Why DOES the music from about 1977 to 1987 mean so much to me? And why does most of the music I've discovered SINCE that point pale in comparison? And, is that a more-or-less universal attitude? This is what I came up with:

1) It stands to reason that the first music you hear, BEING the first, is nearly all-encompassing. Listening-wise, it's as if you're an empty vessel, and whatever gets poured into your ears becomes the foundation upon which all future listening experiences will be built. So that, even while Kiss is my first "band," I actually retain a fond soft spot for Helen Reddy (especially Delta Dawn, Ruby Red Dress, and You & Me Against The World) and early R&R. In addition to introducing me to Kiss, my Aunt Deb also had me listening to a number of 45s, songs that to this day rank among my absolute favourites: Billy Don't Be A Hero (Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods), Devil Woman (Cliff Richard, the "British Elvis"), Down In The Boondocks (Billy Joe Royal), Seasons In The Sun (Terry Jacks), and Boogie Fever (The Sylvers). Aside from those one-off songs though, I was totally consumed by Kiss. And aside from the bubblegum cards and a few magazines, I didn't have any of the merchandise they're famous for; it was really the music that did it. So, obviously I do relate those particular songs to that particular point in my life.

2) Speaking of points in life, I do understand the concept of momentous experiences being accompanied by memorable music. And really, isn't the high drama of junior- and senior-high school one long string of momentous experiences? The music you listened to while cruising, or partying with friends...using music to make new social circles (I once managed to get Chip Creason to quit picking on me by lending him my Lick It Up album), or the power of the songs you first slow-danced to. Once again, the concept of newness is important: all of these feelings and experiences are NEW, and so you remember and hold in high regard the music you were listening to at the time.

3) I also think disposable income has a lot to do with it. When I was 10 or 11, I had (thinking...) probably 10 albums. All Kiss. Oh, and one Cheap Trick LP, At Budokan. So, my listening choices were somewhat limited. I think it's safe to say that, in a given week, I probably listened to Kiss Alive! at least 4 or 5 times. All the way through both platters. Needless to say, this music is FIRMLY planted in my psyche! As an adult, I have hundreds of LPs and thousands of CDs and MP3 files. (As well as a now-dispersed collection of several score of cassettes.) I'm able to buy and experience a nearly infinite batch of new music...but the downside is that very little of it ends up being firmly entrenched in my mind. I think the last NEW disc that I heard that really "did it" for me was the Pink Cream 69 release Electrified. And even then, I can't sing my way through all of the songs, or air-guitar the disc with any accuracy. Why is Destroyer so much higher on the musical food chain than Electrified?

4) Listening to music used to be FUN. This idea is cemented for me by a recent Rolling Stone article I read about the increase in - believe it or not! - vinyl sales over the last year. While CD sales plummeted 17%, LP sales actually ROSE 1.4%!! One of the folks quoted in the article summed up my feelings about listening to albums very well, claiming that "you got your friends, you got your weed, you're rolling while someone else is picking out another record." Well, I ain't got my weed, but still, there WAS something magical about shuffling through those huge records, picking one out and flopping it on the turntable, and then staring at that huge expanse of artwork. I now have access to TONS more music than I did when I was young...but there's no fun in picking out another CD-R with no artwork, or hitting 'shuffle' on my iPod. I wonder: would I sit around and stare at the album artwork for The Donnas newest release? (Well, in their case, dirty old man that I am: YES!)

So, I'm trying a little experiment now: I recently bought the new David Readman solo release from iTunes. He's the lead singer for PC 69, and I absolutely LOVE his voice. I've been listening to it a lot, mostly while I run. I'm trying to see if I can make THAT music stand for a particular time in my life - summer 2008 - in the same way that, say Love Gun stood for the summer of 1977. I'm trying to recapture a little of the magic of music. What about YOU out there? Are you still hooked on the music of your youth, largely to the exclusion of music you've found as an adult? Why do you think that is? Yes, this IS a quiz, so I'll grade you according to your comments.


Blogger Strangeite said...

There are exceptions, but yes, I listen predominately to either music of my youth or from an earlier generation. My mother was a Motown, early Beatles, the Byrds, etc. fan and we listened to music constantly. Those songs have been imprinted into my mind, so much so that I would place bar bets that you could turn to an "oldies" station and I would know every lyric to whatever song was playing.

In my household, a common Friday night activity is for either Anna, Riley or I to sit in front of the computer and select tracks from iTunes. We sing and dance around the living room for hours.

I have noticed that years of listening to music this way has influenced Riley's musical tastes. He has told us on several occasions that his friends listen to "stupid" music and he doesn't understand why they don't "get the Led out". Anna once observed him playing Legend of Zelda, where he was fighting monsters while wearing the iron boots, singing "I Won't Back Down".

In addition, it may just be my prejudice, but whenever I hear an older (30+, and yes I know that includes me) professional music critic review young bands, there always something about their review that comes across false and insincere. As I said, it is probably just me.

2:51 PM  
Blogger L*I*S*A said...

I do my best to listen to what's new out there, but I'll admit, I wax nostalgic 95% of the time. It's a difficult habit to break.

For me, music is an escape, and I know what I like, and if that means I listen to the same stuff year after year, fine.

Example: George Michael blew 'em away on the last episode of AI. Someone said to me, "Hey, did you hear that new GM song?"

Um, yeah...circa 1990?

I rest my case.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

God, I was so culturally out of it when I was a teenager, I just listened to Bach or whatever.

With the exception of the occasional classical music, almost everything I listen to is stuff I've discovered as an adult, mostly jazz and world music. Does that mean I pass or fail?

2:08 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I usually only listen to new stuff, but Mr. COG is DEFINITELY stuck in the '80s and '90s. If it isn't the Police, U2, or bizarrely enough Snoop Dogg he doesn't listen to it. I actually caught him "listening" to a couple of CD's I gave him to load onto his Zune. He gave each song about 30 seconds and if he didn't like it, he went to the next one. UGH! I'll keep trying to expand his horizons, I'm convinced it's one of my missions with the marraige! On a side note, we're going to the the Police (again) at DTE and Elvis Costello is opening. Awesome! Of course, Mr. COG doesn't know any Costello songs....grrrrr

6:25 PM  

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