I’m always fascinated by human development and how one generation always tends to think it had the best of things because we also happen to be dreadfully forgetful and gloss over our pasts. It explains why we get nostalgic about high school even if it was torture or you suddenly feel like opening the can of worms on an old relationship that has been dead ten years. We love our rose-colored glasses.
I’m not sure if I’m lucky in my ability to solidify a more realistic perception of my past, which would be nice considering Alzheimer’s happens to run pretty strongly in my family OR, when I’ve glossed over most of the horrible things in the past, there was just enough remaining bullshit to still make my lip curl when I think about it. Maybe I’m just a damn pessimist to the core.
But I do find myself guilty of some offenses the older generations usually do. I feel kind of smug that Gaga, Perry, Cyrus, that Hilton and Ritchie genetic waste-sacks, (insert current boy band name here – One Direction I guess?) and of course Bieber were not a bi-product of my generation. But if I think about it even momentarily, we had our own… before I was old enough to care, it was Maneudo, then there was New Kids on the Block, N’Sync and whatever the hell came between them and One Direction I guess. Let’s not even talk about Spears.
I wasn’t much interested in these people or groups, which is why it was easy for me to forget they ever existed. It’s easy for me to say I loved 80’s music… I’ve forgotten the half I didn’t like ever existed. But we had our own generational embarrassments that made the hearts of the young swoon, gush, cry, attempt suicide and assume a great deal about people none of them knew but from which they somehow expected something special for just them. My generation was the grunge era, which I still think of as a pretty epic stage for music, the aftermath I see in bands still going strong today. But then, if I listen to classic rock, I can hear their influence in grunge as well.
I was reading recently where age is a strong limiter on musical enjoyment… Meaning, as we get older, our ability to enjoy new music dwindles and our sense of nostalgia kicks in and limits us to a fixed range that we inhabit as a comfort zone. So far, I have found the opposite to be true for me.
I was very hesitant about branching out and listening to new music when I was a teen. This is back when mix-tapes were the most epic of gifts and I still have a large wooden case chock full of the things. Trading music I did freely. Buying music was another matter entirely. This is pre-Napster days and the internet wasn’t yet a thing. We didn’t even use the word “internet” for a few more years. Most of my musical input was from friends, 120 Minutes with Dave Kendall on MTV (back when the M still sometimes meant “music”) and the pawn shop near the airbase.
I was born and raised in a small backass, hick town with only limited access to big city radio stations… I think three of them: country, hip hop/rap and Top 40. I detest country. Although I had many 45’s with buckets of old school R&B (like The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Dizzy Gillespie), rap that became popular during this era sang of violence, bitches, and crimes… it didn’t interest me. It glorified being a worthless dick. Hip Hop and much of the Top 40 sounded like it all came out of the marketing department, maybe even the same guy. Occasionally, you could hear a nugget of something good on the Top 40 one, but you had to schedule wisely and listen to tons of crap to hear 5 minutes of interesting. The first time I ever got to hear a single full day of college radio, I thought I would cry.
Grand thought Mtv was utter trash and did their best to limit my exposure. I was just out of the toddler stage good when I started watching Mtv and also thanks to my much older cousin I saw the very first night of Mtv. I still remember the Buggle’s “Video killed the radio star”… not much of the video now without looking for it, but the impression of this wonderfully odd tune came out of nowhere and didn’t mesh with anything I’d ever heard so far. It would take another 3 or so years for Grand to discover this channels existence, but I was hooked from that moment.
Over the years, Grand had the channel blocked, but due to a re-sequencing in the area, it was accidentally brought back. I became more careful about my sneak sessions to watch it. Martha Quinn left, reality TV was invented and Mtv moved further and further away from music. Now… well, it they still have a presence anywhere, I’m sure its rubbish.
Grand just one last time tried to proclaim the channel as pornographic trash, in a mood to fight I guess, to which I finally turned and said “you know, its your addiction to soap operas that taught me the meaning of the word ‘incest,’ I certainly never learned any of that shit on Mtv.”
The war on Mtv ended that day, but the channel was no longer worth fighting for. Only 120 Minutes during the Dave Kendall years still held any allure for me. It also marked the bulk of my musical preferences as “alternative.”
The mainstream source of music in my little shit hometown was at our…. do I even call it a mall? Large building of clusterfuck stores that should have long just chucked it in and left town. The music store in this mausoleum sold mostly the crap you could find on those three stations. Their selection was overpriced and although you could order something they didn’t have in stock, it wasn’t worth the extra charge they pushed on you to do it. I was a kid, going to school and was allowed only a limited amount of funds, no one my age could afford to shop there either unless they had some obscure under-the-table job or rich parents. I usually skipped lunch to pool the money I got for cigarettes and music. Blank cassettes in bulk were cheaper than one CD or cassette.
So where did I go to buy new material? I found a treasure trove in the place I least expected.
We had a pawn shop just outside of the air base in our town. The air base was the main reason my hometown had any sliver of culture. I like pawn, thrift and consignment shops because stuff that is old always seems to be vastly more interesting than stuff that is new. Clothes and boots were also cheap enough for the broke student.
I never expected that they would have such a huge selection of import CD’s, I can only guess from airmen moving in and out of the area and cleaning out to minimize their baggage. I found punk, R&B, goth, death rock, grunge, blues… if you didn’t hear it on our shit radio stations, it was likely here. And all so much more in my budget… and probably not a lot of competition for the selection. I still only bought what I knew what I would like. I looked longingly at many many more but I was very hesitant about spending even a dollar more for something I didn’t know.
These days, Spawn and I go down to the local record store where I drool over the LP’s while buying CD’s. I like touching the liner art, dammit. I also like that I’m helping to keep open a place that seemed like heaven to me when I was a kid. I ask them for any damn thing I want and they make it happen. I go in there for one or two things, I come out with fifteen. Spawn and I listen to each in the car, then I rip every one of them and add it to my cloud music library and the CD’s get packed up and stored. The first time I set up an account on Pandora, I thought I was in heaven. Feeding it song after song after song that I loved and having it pop things at me it thought I would like based on the genetic makeup of the songs I was feeding it. I would select whether I liked or hated it and it would play even better ones. It was SO bloody accurate and didn’t clog my list with just the artists I mentioned, in fact it would maybe play one song by each and then move off into similiar waters.
My lists of requests with my music shop steadily grew. I actually had to ban myself from Pandora for a while.
These days, I have my favorite bands (probably about thirty or more, and they rotate depending on mood, don’t ask… several hundred or more that I just enjoy) but I also am more likely to stop by my favorite store and say “hey, heard of x band, do you have any? If not, can you get any? Any two will be fine, your choice.” and they do it… and they like it because they know I enjoy that. They are just that good, so that makes me happier to spend copious amounts of my paycheck there. Plus, I can finally afford it.
I pirated a lot when the internet became a great source for this. I pirated because I really couldn’t afford it at the time. To me, it was nothing worse that when you borrowed an album from a friend and made a copy. It’s just how we did things then. Somewhere down the line, we knew our little tapes weren’t going to last and at some point, love it enough, we would have to break down and buy it. That was fine though. So usually in the mix of all the new stuff I get every time I make my way to my little music store, I generally nab one or two of the ones I’d pirated all those years to make good on that long term loaner. These days, I have an account not only with Pandora, but Spotify, Grooveshark, last.fm, even NPR.
I cannot even fathom the kind of childhood I might have had if these were within my grasp back then. I was cut off from all of this in my little podunk town. Even Mtv staying as a music television channel would have kept my world so much more open than it had been, that used to be their whole point.
As much as technology can be a scary thing, I cannot imagine being cut off like that again. It would mentally kill me. As for the nostalgia, I have some of that. There are a great many of my memories tied to the music I listened to, but I spend a great many more wanting to experience something different, and often getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount I have yet to still discover. I feel rushed and sometimes think I don’t have enough time or attention left to fully appreciate some of the wonderful things I find.
My pessimistic side would say I’m still searching for the range of memories I deem as the most ideal and/or pleasant and then I will lose this interest and only replay just the music that reengages just those memories in my head for the rest of my life.
But I would prefer to think, at this age, I’m just finding the soundtrack ideal for this current period of time, it just changes when its ready to evolve. As long as life itself changes and we change with it, we have to change the soundtracks too, reuse is not allowed. Pull out an old tune to hit Replay on the memory every once in a while, but don’t drown in it trying to relive it either. Whatever we thought was so good about it, probably isn’t true.
What new things have you discovered lately?