Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Music Of My Youth

The music of one's youth is supposed to evaporate over time as part of the essential process of loosening one's grip on it all to make way for succeeding generations. But at age fifty, the music of my youth remains, for some unfathomable reason, omnipresent. I literally can't escape it.

It's not that this stuff was too good to discard. The late 60's and early 70's saw the crowning apotheosis of popular music, but my time was two waves after that - the post-disco lull when record executives had driven the final nail into the coffin of creativity. This period marked the genesis (and, for that matter, the Genesis) of a phrase which, alarmingly, no longer sounds ironic: "Corporate Rock". Wave after wave of musical movements and trends have followed, yet my generation's stuff never washes away. I hear it everywhere I go.

I'm ambivalent. On the downside, I feel like I've been cursed to carry this dreck to my grave. Atrocities like "Maneater" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" were never intended to be Forever Songs, yet in 2013, when I'm supposed to be flying around in rocket cars, everywhere I go I'm still plagued by Huey Lewis. On the upside, this aberration feeds the delusion that I'm not actually aging.

I guess everyone, to a certain extent, might observe something similar. After all, "Rock Around the Clock" never went away. "Mack the Knife" never went away. "Hey Jude" and "Purple Haze" never went away. Hell, royalties from "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" are likely still covering mortgage payments for descendants of Beth Slater Whitson, whoever that was. But those tunes come flavored with a certain nostalgia. They are genre, not omnipresent. By contrast, the aloof petulance of "Every Breath You Take" or the cheesiness of "Born to Run" or the crossover strivings of "What's Love Got to Do With It" seem to have struck a universal nerve. When I hear Al Jolson sing "Mammy", I'm certainly not feeling whatever it was my grandfather's generation felt. But whenever "My Sharona" comes on the radio, everyone, young and old alike, seems on the verge of executing a Beavis-like nostril scrunch and darting their heads spasmodically to and fro.

A latter-day variant of this same process is OS upgrades. Just as people in their late twenties find themselves losing touch with the latest bands, older folks - with their AOL disks and acqua iMacs - are famous for being too set in their computing ways to keep pace. Indeed, I myself remain two full major upgrades behind on the Mac operating system, at 10.6.8, and I cringe at the sound of my own voice insisting that the OS works damned well for me and I see no reason to change.

But here's the weird thing: 10.6.8 turns out to be one of the most defiantly held-onto operating systems ever. Vast numbers of people - of every age - are in my boat!

When I'm not hearing the music of my youth, I'm hearing jazz. And as I wrote here, "You have no idea how disorienting it is to spend your life plying an art form that's so extraordinarily marginalized - even ridiculed - when that same art form is the unanimous commercial choice for setting a tone of hip urbanity."

What's happening here? How on earth am I supposed to remain non-narcissistic if everything keeps revolving around me?

Because most of you don't click links, I'll share here the subsequent paragraph of that same rant about the ubiquity of jazz: "Imagine if you were all into Star Trek, and suffered the inevitable taunts, yet each time you walked into a smart restaurant or boutique, you found workers sporting pointy Vulcan ears and making "Live Long and Prosper" gestures."


Seth Godin said...

At the restaurants I go to, they do have the pointy spock ears. I love that part.

Jim Leff said...

No green dancing slave girls?

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