Being a kid in the 80s, we were faced with some of the best and worst music recorded to date. It was an era that dawned new styles, new technologies and new genres. Hip hop came to the mainstream. Hair was tall and wide. Production was big or just stimulant-fuelled. It was a time of reinvention for many rock stars of the previous decade. But there was also a lot of room for new young stars. Many of those stars faded into obscurity as one-hit-wonders. Many of them started long careers as successful musicians, still playing and releasing music today. When I would be at home in those days, watching video after video on MuchMusic (Canada’s music video channel, back when they had shows that were music-based), my father, an occasional musician himself, would often say “They’ll be forgotten in a week“. He wasn’t often wrong, in many cases. Though, some artists took months to go from heroes to zeroes, as their band logos became covered over by scratch and sniff stickers on the school binders of the nation. Some stuck around too, to my dad’s chagrin. Dave Brubeck was more his speed. Dave was a jazz pianist, kids.
I took my dad to see him in the early 90s. He was a beautiful, nimble pianist even though it took him 3 minutes to walk to the microphone to speak. very.
This was 20 years before his death, yet he looked then like he was made of dust.
As if it could ever be avoided, I hear so many of my father’s words in my own voice.
I sound just like him when I’m being the admonishing dad. I think I even playfully wave away something ridiculous my kids say just like he used to do. I’m sure I use lots of his old jokes too. I remind him that he needs some new material when he looks at me sitting on his couch reading his newspaper and he asks me if this is where he can catch the bus to Schenectady. I’ve heard that corny joke and a hundred others since I started retaining information at around the age of 5. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s so much comfort and warmth in my old pop’s Vaudevillian humour.
But I digress.
I have repeated my dad’s same line about pop music. Hopefully more in my head than out loud. As I now must contend with the musical tastes of a 9-year-old girl, I hear a lot of music that won’t be remembered next decade. Which at the time of writing is around 11 months away. She also likes to tell me that the music I like ‘isn’t good’. I just look at her and tell her that she’s wrong. But I also have very diverse tastes in music. I’ll listen to anything that isn’t modern country pop. If you want to get my take on it, have a read of the article I wrote over at Addicted Magazine that touched on many of the same things I’m discussing here. I’ll happily listen to what my children are listening to. I’ll even like some and readily admit it. But my daughter is at the age that chews up and spits out current pop hits. She doesn’t think about albums or cover artwork or concept pieces in three acts, things that I latched onto as a music-loving kid. One song, or in her case, half a song is enough to warrant being played over and over again until replaced by something not entirely different.
New Music, Then and Now
What I find most daunting now as a music lover always looking for my new favourite band is that there’s just too much music out there. It’s hard to discern the good from the bad and I just know that I’m never going to hear some bands that I would love.
No algorithm is good enough yet to just probe my mind and present me with a killer four piece playing clubs in Belgrade that put out one album before their irreplaceable singer/guitarist quit to go to dental school. I know, I’m being lazy while waiting for technology to catch up to my laziness.
The immediacy of supply the internet provides has ruined a lot of the good habits of my cohort.
I remember fondly the day a new album by my favourite band was coming out. I made a plan to head to the mall to buy the vinyl or cassette ( I was a late adopter to CDs. For you kids out there, CDs are like DVDs but they only play audio and contain nothing from Pixar). If I had my Walkman, I could play the new cassette right then and there! What convenience! But if I bought the vinyl, which was my choice back in the day (having received a turntable for Xmas a few years ago, I’m so glad it was), I’d have to take the subway and the bus back home before I could have a listen. At least I could open it up to see if the band gave me their lyrics to read.
Although vinyl has come back into fashion, it’s not the same. No one has that moment anymore, where the first notes of the first song are first heard after a brief scratch of the needle hitting the groove. These days, the band trickles out a single or two a month or a year before the album is released.
Seeing It Live
We can see the video of the concert and the stage on YouTube and the song list on setlist.fm before we see the concert. We already know how it will look and sound, but luckily in the case of live music, we don’t know what it’ll feel like. That energy of sharing live music with a room full of fans, hopped up with excitement hasn’t been digitized and made available via an iPhone app. Not yet. It may be the only way my grandkids experience live music but I sure hope not. Some of the best moments I’ve had seeing a band live is turning to the complete stranger standing beside me to share a grin that says “Can you believe this amazing shit?” I’ve gone to festivals and becoming pen pals with people I met. The good news is that social media has made it easier to become ‘friends’ with someone. I’m happy to report that I did this just last year.
Live music is one of the few occurrences where we can truly share an artistic experience collectively with other humans. It’s half the reason we still shell out for the ever-increasing price of tickets. I believe that some of us have a core function that makes such experiences necessary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a punk show in a gritty basement bar, a local orchestra or an Ariana Grande concert in a 50,000 seat football stadium. We all have our tastes but some just need that hit of sweet sound touching us live.