« Tuesday Image #8 | Main | Hamburger Lady at the Tanning Salon »

July 25, 2010


Ashli Romeyn

My 17 year old son seems to be clinging to my past listening to Depeche Mode and Erasure throughout the summer day.. At times I feel nostalgic and other times I just want to scream! I cannot, for the life of me, listen to the out of date synthesized ear jabs of "New Life" any more!! Thank goodness HE is not stuck in a genre as I was. I often hear the likes of Kronos Quartet or The Decemberists coming from his playlist as well. As music evolves and with the help of Pandora guiding youths with "If you like Siouxie and the Banshees you might also like Billie Holiday or Lou Reed" the idea of a "musical decade" is in itself of the past.. IMO. He will, I'm certain, attempt to cling to something else of his past when he is pushing 40 and hopefully it's not, "Have you ever played Halo II?"


I have tried to present myself as an elitist, picking up the cream of each decade. However, as I recently went through my Rate your music-list, I noticed that the '80s music is leading by a narrow marginal to everything else. I always thought that I was a sixties-fan and a punk-fan. Oh well, I guess whatever decade is your lot when you are in your twenties, that's what leaves a permanent mark on you.


Clothes pose a similar problem. There is no solution in either case.


I suspect your German friend only plays that cassette when you are in the car. Think about it.


My sense is that what you're doing, which you think might not be popular, is actually the next big thing. Furthermore, I'm not sure that it actually necessitates an interest in history, anymore than buying African art requires an interest in Africa.

I started listening to music from before my parents generation to escape the latest fad when I was 17; I assume that some are starting even younger now, and digging even further back. (I'm probably about 10-20 years younger than you.)


There are other alternatives. One is simply to chat about music with friends here and there and get recommendations as they come. You discover new things, bond with friends, and if your base of friends is broad, you'll get a smattering of things from many genres and eras.

The other is to listen to something like Pandora and jot things you really like down for later purchase. Pandora runs on the Music Genome Project data, and isn't designed to market whatever the music critics are tryign to push down our throats at any given moment. Again, you'll get new music that is neither biased to the new nor to the old but only to what you think sounds good...


I agree with the your characterization of the dilemma, but I'm not sure about the method to get by it. First, there does seem to be something personal in the encyclopedic approach as set out here, namely the limitation of interest to pre-1972 recordings. Of course, this wouldn't be an absolute limit, but would not a genuine encyclopedic impulse compel one to take in, say, more recent works that are somehow evocative of that earlier aesthetic? If yes, then you veer dangerously toward Scylla.

Second, the distinction between U-Kultur and E-Kultur seems of little value for an encyclopedic approach, especially if it's motivated in defense against charges of snobbery. (About this accusation: first, it assumes that there is 'a cohesive, stable, and unitary thing' called "classical music", which there isn't, at least not in the intended sense. Second, one can discover, have access to, and enjoy classical music no differently than hip-hop, punk, etc. There are certainly snobs on the classical scene, just as there are snobs at your local Indy record shop.... The point is that the charge of elitism is unfounded and so one needn't defend against it.) Besides missing the difference between the encyclopedist and the idolater, the distinction seems to reinforce unwarranted over-generalizations such as would identify Lieder as firmly "classical". Consider, for example, the mass of Toscanini's broadcasts and recordings for NBC: these are in a way paradigmatic of 20th century entertainment culture, and yet fit for the sobriquet 'real culture' too. Many are also superb examples of the prized “primitive” aesthetic, what with the poor recording quality and Toscanini’s howling from the rostrum. Such cases – the Hot 5/7 recordings from the 1920’s, a good example too - really problematize the encyclopedist’s use of a real vs. entertainment culture distinction.

I would suggest that in addition to the encyclopedic-archaeological method one can maintain a general (more or less passive) openness to the present: maybe you discover a new classical composer through a film she scored, or you hear something you like being played in a café and ask for the identifying information (and you download that one song without bothering about where the record label is located). This methodological addendum – what we might call ‘casual eclectic’ – mediates between an unnecessarily fenced-off historicism and the ridiculous scrambling to remain au courant.

Scott Perkins

I read a column (aka 'blogpost' for those more 'with it' than I) about a British gentleman who felt it worth the torture to hand his eleven year old son a Walkman and a cassette tape just to see what happened. It was excruciating reading as I aged with each word toward the inexorable conclusion that my time had passed. As the young whippersnapper explained that he didn't realize he couldn't skip songs or flip over the cassette, I felt an overwhelming urge for a pair of sansabelt slacks and wondered who might drive me to Sears for some dark socks to go with my Bermuda shorts and sandals ere I retired gracefully to park bench sitting. There are pigeons to be fed!


Regarding your German friend, I'm put in mind of a character in a Neil Gaiman novel who has a glovebox in his car in which any cassette will be transformed into 'Best of Queen' no matter what it contained before it was tossed in there.


Have to agree with the encylopedists like Cameron. As a jazz oriented musician (mostly because I play reeds and there are limits as to what and with whom to play) and having been born at the tail end of the 40s I find that almost any form can become hidebound and stale to my ears. Love bop but seldom listen to it, or want to play it much. Too easy to fall into dull dull dull, argeggiating museum work; favoring instead players like Bill Frisell and Don Byron, who've long since climbed out of easy genre classifications. It's just easier to stay fresh as an improvising musician to listen to "not-my" music, whether that's Mickie Katz, Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road, Congolese guitar jams, Cora music from Mali or wacky Cambodian pop. So many places to find freshness and free thinking performance, whether from Trombone Shorty from NO, Cubans like Paquito or LA Mex eclectics like Los Lobos, who give and get things from New Orleans, Tex Mex and country music. Go where the musicians go to find inspiration, and you'll never be bored with what amounts to culture heroics, whose agendas are nearly never about the pleasure of listening or discovering something else.


I listen to music that I like. Call me crazy.

Dan Queef

Psst!. rock n roll is only 53 years old. It's a young art form. You think you're generation invented the Iphone but your didn't. And we sure as hell know you didn't invent good music because you guys music blows serious ass. Why make an effort to learn an instrument when we all know Wall St. is where it's at. So keep on sucking the banker dick.And keep reaching for that thesaurus to act ever so writer-esque. Your conservative view point is more geriatric than the oldsters you attack.

The Worst of Perth

I feel I need to say "Dude!" but have no idea why.

Justin Smith

Ashli-- Surely your son's refined tastes have something to do with the example you've set.

Cameron-- Good advice. I try to remain open to the present, but somehow I end up feeling like it's the one that's ignoring me.

Worst of Perth-- Go ahead and say it!


Dude! Yes that does feel better.

"I maintain that only an encyclopedic-archaeological turn can save an aging person's attachment to popular culture from descending into ridiculousness."

I think there's a better approach. I like to use brutal irony, coupled with an appreciation or rejection of music that youthful pretentiousness may have been unable to properly judge. It doesn't have to be historical, (although I have chosen to listen to some banjo Bluegrass for some of the same reasons as your Hillybilly jug sojourn) but it does mean you can listen to Duran Duran's Rio with pleasure, as well as the appreciation of it's spectacular awfulness. You can still wear a Radiohead shirt with a sneer, with or without Johnny Rotten style tshirt graffiti. You can admit to yourself that New Order were actually pretty bad and still play Blue Monday right after Merle Haggard doing Muleskinnner Blues. You can (if you can hold your mouth just right) even extend this stance into current music.

It works.


This post would more accurately, if less provocatively, be titled "Against Nostalgic Listening," since you don't engage with "Eighties Music" (whatever that is) at all. It could as easily be grunge or doo-wop or afrobeat for the sake of your argument. If I may counter that argument, or what I understand of it: there is value in pop music beyond the "encyclopedic-archaeological;" value independent of whether one's particular taste in pop music is "au courant." Music can move and incite and reveal. A committed listener keeps her ears peeled lest her biases prevent her from hearing any sound that unlocks that special tingle.


And I can't get enough of "Close to Me," though I wasn't even alive when The Cure released it, and most of my friends from high school would have just stared blankly at me if they heard it in my car.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)