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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-g-generation!

In every generation, parents insist that the music their children are listen to is total crap… and that only the music of their (the parent's) generation is worth listening to.  Yet as each successive generation of kids grows up and brings kids of their own into the world, they are equally critical of the music to which their own kids are listening.

To my way of thinking, there are only two possibilities:

1. The parental ear is not able to appreciate the music of their children's generation because of subjective criteria that the parents are using to form their opinion.

2. The above may be true subjectively for each generation, BUT, there is also an objective criteria for appreciating / judging music… and in the case of today's popular music, most of it is actually, indeed, total crap.

I've always felt that #2 was the more correct answer.

Just look at which music has had the most 'staying power' (meaning it is still played widely around the world on mainstream radio stations, used for movie soundtracks, and continues to do a brisk business in retail outlets and music download websites.  Yes, that's right; the 'classic rock' from the mid 60s, 70s and early 80s (i.e. talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-g-generation!).

Before anyone starts throwing examples of hits from the late 80s, early 90s and up to the present, at me, let me ask you the following question:  Are the songs you are about to mention really, truly, representative of contemporary musical trends, or are they so derivative of the previous generation's music that the songs could easily have been hits 'back in the day'?  In short, are the examples you want to use for today's music really what today's music is all about?

I played a gig Saturday night at a posh hotel in Caesarea with a friend's band, and during the long ride home in the wee hours of the morning, while my iPod cranked out a constant stream of 'my' music, I kept trying to figure out the right answer to the conundrum I've stated above.  Does today's music really just suck… or am I just deaf to its charms?

As I rode alone through the dark Israeli landscape, a memorable tune from the 70s began playing, and I was instantly transported back to exactly where I'd been when I first heard it… and strangely, could actually picture exactly what I was wearing at the time. 

So that sent me wandering down an interesting thought-path…

If you think about the various eras, one period of the 20th century is considered the absolute low point of fashion:  The 70s. 

If you were alive at the time - or have photographs of relatives that were - you know what I'm talking about.  That was a bad, bad time for fashion; Qiana shirts, polyester bell-bottom pants, leisure suits (worn with the open shirt collar OVER the suit collar and lots of chains showing on the fluffy chest hair), platform shoes… and don't get me started on hair styles, facial hair or hideous cars! 

Even our homes got caught up in the badness of it all.  Think back and be honest with yourselves.  Didn't you have avocado colored appliances in the kitchen, while the dominant colors elsewhere in the room (and around the house) were brown, mustard yellow and burnt orange?  Nothing further your honor.

Yes, we thought we looked great back then.  But unlike previous (and subsequent) periods which have donated accessories, articles of clothing and entire 'looks' to denizens of later decades… nobody is mining the 70's for their new look.  That was, by objective standards, just a huge fashion 'faux pas'.  No matter how much time passes, those yearbook pictures and old fashion ads are NEVER going to look hip or cool.  

So if an era in fashion can be said to have been, objectively, total crap… why not a musical era?

I posit that just as the 70s and early 80s were the nadir for fashion… the 90s through the present is the low point of popular music (with sadly, no end in sight). 

Our children will look back in 30 or 40 years at what passes for music these days and will feel the exact same self-loathing and embarrassment that I do when I look at pictures of myself in that powder blue tux I wore to one of my high school formals (with the ruffle front shirt w/ matching blue edging).  In other words, it is NEVER going to be anything but cringe-worthy!

Whew… I feel so much better having finally worked that out.

Posted by David Bogner on July 17, 2011 | Permalink

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Hmmmm.... not sure I agree with ya babe...

I think there is a lot of really great music out there now. I really enjoy some of the artists our kids listen to: Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellem, All American Rejects, Green Day, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, et al, are just a few examples.... Of course, you may consider them to be exceptions rather than the rule of "today's" music scene....

I do, however, think that much of the "performance" aspects of some of the bigger stars have spiraled a bit out of control. It does seem like a disproportionate number of the music industry darlings are putting more of an emphasis on visual shock value and special effects than on their musicality....

Me thinks you were just grumpy from the humidity, hour, and level of exhaustion... or... perhaps you are just becoming that grumpy old guy....

Watch out. Before you know it you'll be incorporating Billy Crytal's "feh" and dismissive handwave into your persona....

Posted by: zahava | Jul 17, 2011 3:09:20 PM

Hey you kids... get off the lawn!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 17, 2011 4:02:15 PM

Why can't the kids have lyrics like these:

You see I've been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain

Posted by: lrg | Jul 17, 2011 5:17:03 PM

GAH! I had *almost* forgotten the burnt orange couch I grew up with! While I completely agree with the musical point (allowing for Zahava's point about some decent music now - although I question its staying power), I must take a leeeeeetle issue with the fashion point. Burnt orange couch and powder blue tux notwithstanding, platforms are back in a big way (although I haven't seen any with goldfish yet), bell bottoms came back for a short visit, and gauzy indian shirts have always stayed popular (not necessarily *in style* but popular).

Even hair - I've seen giant 'fros and stick-straight, parted-in-the centre hair. I've even seen blue eyeshadow, but I'm trying to block that from my memory. Along with anything polyester. Thank God THAT hasn't come back.

(That reminds me of a short-lived great club in NYC that was an homage to all things kitschy 70s: Polly Esthers. They had a full-size Brady Bunch square with holes where the heads were, so you could stick your own face in. You could have your picture taken with a life-size David Cassidy. Fun. Anything *rock 70s* was eschewed completely).

Posted by: Alissa | Jul 18, 2011 12:42:22 AM

Trep, two hundred plus years later, they're still playing Mozart. Your time frame is a bit small. How much of the 20th Century stuff will still be played two hundred years from now? I once saw a suggestion that the Beatles would probably be it. I doubt even that.

Posted by: Nachum | Jul 18, 2011 7:55:04 AM

By the way, as has been pointed out, the kids who grew up in the "bland" 50's rioted in the streets in the 60's. The kids who grew up in the 60's watched The Brady Bunch and voted for Reagan twice. Make of that what you will.

Posted by: Nachum | Jul 18, 2011 7:56:32 AM

I blame my parents for much of my attire during the 70s. Oy.

Posted by: Jack@TheJackB | Jul 18, 2011 9:49:53 AM

I think part of the problem is the content of the music. Music used to be a unifying experience which moved people in order to a) share a common experience or b) reach a common goal. They sang about God, or a broken heart, falling in love, or making the world a better place.

Now it seems to be about demeaning women (especially sexually), teaching children how to curse, and to make the singer rich.

Alas, there are not too many musicians out there anymore...

And in all fairness, Trepp, I think most grandchildren look at their grandparents' photos and say "who told you it was OK to wear that?"

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Jul 18, 2011 5:04:17 PM

I think that is a TON of music out there that is unbelievable and couldn't possibly be confused for something written 30 years ago because, quite simply, it has improved...
Check out:

The Arcade Fire
Wilco
Broken Bells

and then there is music that is similar, but different:

Ray LaMontagne
Connor Oberst
Dylan LeBlanc

and then theres always:

Phish
Widespread Panic
Keller Williams
Yonder Music String Band.

Eh, I can do this all day; gotta get back to work. Hey Dave.

Posted by: Yoni Greenberg | Jul 18, 2011 6:15:34 PM

Totally agree with you Dave; the house in which I grew up in Brooklyn in the 70's had green carpet and yellow couches- which were always covered in plastic! And my dad had long sideburns which were attached to his moustache. But the pop music we listened to while driving around was incomparably better than today's. I feel so luck to have grown up in the 70's...thanks for sparking up all those good memories!

Posted by: AvifromParis | Jul 18, 2011 11:38:55 PM

I agree with Prophet Joe. It goes hand in hand with music videos. Most of the popular female singers have to be half-naked in their videos and be objectified. The lyrics of popular music has a lot more cursing, bubble gum, fluff....far from anything deep. There will always be great bands like what Yoni says, they just happen to not be mainstream.

I feel old.

Posted by: Benji Lovitt | Jul 19, 2011 7:35:28 AM

The answer to this is really very simple:

The music on classic rock stations has been prescreened - the best music continues to get airplay while the worst either doesn't get any or gets played rarely. I mean, even some former #1s don't get a lot of play.

The same will happen to this generation's music (though, admittedly, the lower relative cost of instruments and a greater understanding of basic music theory give us a lot more music). The best will continue to be played in a generation's time, while most will fall off playlists.

So, those catchy vapid numbers that creep up to #5 and fall away into obscurity? Unlikely you'll hear them in the future. The ones that stay at #1 and have lasting power? Probably a decent song you'll be hearing for a long time. For every James Brown, there's a Buster Poindexter. For every Wilco, there's a Britney Spears.

Posted by: SA | Jul 19, 2011 9:02:00 AM

Sorry, one more thing - to people saying today's music is shallow:

I give you: the Monkees.

Some of it is shallow, some deep. Some disrespectful to women, others glorify women. Cherrypicking certain music to support your argument is no less disingenuous as those who find the one crazy politician or soldier or out-of-context rabbinical quote and declare them as representative of all of Israel.

Posted by: SA | Jul 19, 2011 9:05:14 AM

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