Matt Rowe, my friend, advisor and sole proprietor and occasional host to my ramblings here on MusicTAP, has spoken often and eloquently about the dearth of quality new music here in the dawning days of the 21st Century.  In his most recent editorial, he mentions how he frequently finds himself drawn back to the music of his youth, rather than searching out the new.

It is my belief that this is normal and natural. It is also nowhere near as restricting as you might think.

I grew up with music, just like anyone else.  I was going to say “anyone else who reads this site”, but let’s be honest, everybody grows up with music.  Even if you grow up in a protective bubble, they pipe in music to see how you respond.

The music I grew up with (like most everyone else, I imagine) was a mix of music I chose and music that was chosen for me.  There were songs I heard on the radio, in movies and elsewhere that I gravitated toward.  But there was a lot of music recorded before I was born, music that my parents listened to and, therefore, I had no choice but to hear it, too.

Some of this music, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the sounds coming from Motown and Phil Spector, I gravitated toward immediately.  I loved it from the get-go and love it still.  Others, like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, I needed to learn to appreciate.  That seems odd to me today.  The utter brilliance of these songs seems obvious to me now. But back then, they were just hokey country-western tunes that I heard over and over again.  It took me years after I moved away from home before I actually bought a Patsy Cline album. At first, it was mere nostalgia.  Then, I started to listen.

It wasn’t until much later, when I became more analytical and irritating about such things, that I realized that all of this music was laying a foundation.  Would I have discovered Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds without the constant reinforcement of Johnny Cash as I was growing up?  Maybe.  Would I have appreciated it as much as I do now?   Probably not.

At the time, I felt like I had discovered Prince all on my own.  This was something I heard, I liked, and nobody else in my family seemed to appreciate.  And despite being a nerdy white kid in the Midwest, I dug in my heels and was unabashed in my love of Purple Rain and Parade.  Would that have been possible if I hadn’t heard James Brown or Marvin Gaye beforehand?   Perhaps.

So how awesome for you, Jahnke.  You have a point in all this?

In fact I do, thanks for asking.  The “music of my youth” is not necessarily music that was being created at that time.  Some of it was, certainly.  But a lot of it wasn’t.  I can’t even begin to explain how happy it makes me that Abbey Road, the last real Beatles album, was released in the US on the exact same day I was born, September 26, 1969.  I’m sure that’s a big reason why it’s my favorite Beatles album but still the fact remains, all of that music I love so much was recorded before I was born.

Music is not a contest. It’s a quest, a journey, to find what you connect with and to discover as much of what you love as possible before you go away.  It doesn’t matter when it was recorded.  It doesn’t matter if you found it first or someone else introduced you to it.   All that matters is that you found it and you love it.

Mozart and Beethoven and their ilk aren’t still played and listened to today because they’re trendy.  They continue to connect with listeners because they are connecting on a primal level.  Music is primal.  It’s a no-thought-required, I-like-this-or-I-don’t purely visceral response.  That’s one of the main reasons I don’t write for Matt’s MusicTAP as much as I do for The Digital Bits. I can explain why I don’t like a movie, where I think it went wrong and what I think would make it better. I can’t do that with music.  I either like it or I don’t.

Which brings us back to where we started.  Of course you will always gravitate toward the music you grew up with.  It’s embedded in you on some primal level you cannot control.  And if all you do for the rest of your life is seek out music recorded during and prior to that same period that you haven’t heard, I promise you will be busy for the rest of your natural days, constantly discovering new music and new sounds you love.

As we get older, if we find ourselves returning to the familiar rather than seeking out the new, it isn’t necessarily because there isn’t good music still being made today.  Of course there is.  But our tastes have more or less been set and while they’ll hopefully continue to broaden and evolve, it’s unlikely that they’re going to change.  So it’s much harder for a new band to engage us on that primal, instinctive level.  It’s possible and on the rare occasions it does, it’s magic.  If it doesn’t happen as frequently as we might like, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s simply that the music of the past is a much, much deeper well to draw from than the music of the present.

By MARowe

6 thoughts on “Adam Jahnke’s The Doctor Is In: What Music Means To You”
  1. All very good points Adam and well stated. Especially about the depth of the well when discussing the present music vs past music.

    Whenever Matt posts an article about the state of music I never discount the possibility that the thing that may have changed most is me.

  2. “They continue to connect with listeners because they are connecting on a primal level.”
    Adam, I wanted to just point out, based on your quote above, how important it is to differentiate betweens “listeners” and “hearers” (hey, it must be a word because spell check didn’t underline it!)
    I think most people, maybe all people, who tune into this site are listeners. They probably grew up as listeners, taking in the overall music of course, but also all the subtleties like the sound, the recording quality, what it means to them, what came before and how it links, the lyrics, the music’s place in historical context. I think one of the problems that faces the industry and artists is that there are not enough listeners out there – there are far more hearers. Most hearers base their music experience on how it makes them feel, how it fills a void, what social tribe they belong to, without the family tree or the desire to know it. Their interest is as fleeting as the latest special burger offer. I am not saying that listeners don’t also have some or all of those traits, but they are not the only traits. So knowing all that, the industry will cater to whatever it thinks will market and sell the most. You only have to look at the state of periodicals and radio now – it reflects just like a mirror. This is not something new of course – just think of American Bandstand: “Tommy, why do you think this record should be number one?” “Well, Mr. Clark, it has a great beat and it’s easy to dance to”.

    1. Excellent point Bob!
      If you graph the average attention span vs age I am sure there would be a downward trend.
      That may be the difference between growing up with 8 tv channels to choose from vs 800.
      Having a remote controls vs having to get up off your ass and change the channel.
      Selecting what to listen to from the vast depth of the internet vs 10 radio station that decided what you were going to hear.
      Listening to whatever you could possibly want for free vs having to choose a few and pay for them.
      Having fewer choices for entertainment compared to today’s choices.
      We were “listeners” because we had limited choices and therefore we devoted time to listening. The trends over the last couple of decades have definitely contributed to short attention spans. In some ways we have an unmanagable number of choices today and that breeds “hearers”. There are just too many distractions and with that in mind, maybe that’s why we 50+’ers find it hard to zero in on whatever good music there is out there.
      Are we willing to give new music the same chance that we gave it when we were younger or do we listen to it once or twice and if we aren’t thrilled move on. I know there were many albums (and bands for that matter) that became cornerstones of my collection but only after I forced myself to listen to them 10 or more times.

    2. That’s an interesting and important distinction, Bob, and probably grist for a whole other article (that Matt should write, not me). I’d argue that everybody starts off as a hearer. But why do some people evolve into listeners and others don’t?

  3. I agree that everyone probably starts off as a hearer. The passion later begets a listener. For me, it was my father, who was passionate about his music and collection, as well as good audio. From the time he sat me in front of his Heathkit turntable, Jensen loudspeakers and Scott amplifier, he would ask which sounded better, this, or this, as he flipped phase buttons and twiddled balance and volume knobs. He would point out a particular vocal, or drum solo (his brother was a jazz drummer and in a trio) and have me follow an instrument through a recording. I learned from him the value of music and grew up with big bands, crooners, broadway musicals, jazz and classical symphonies. In later years, I had him put on my headphones and listen to Alvin Lee’s guitar solo on his version of Woody Herman’s Woodchoppers Ball (from the Undead live album) and he was blown away. Sorry to wax on, but my point being that I think mentoring and sharing has a lot to do with it, and the value of art over profit. How many people today have that kind of experience – I don’t know.

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