Thursday, August 05, 2010

When the Music Changed

I grew up in an era when The Beatles were very popular. The face of contemporary music was in a state of change. New acts flared up with wild regularity. Many of them fizzled almost as rapidly. Even new subtypes of music came and went.

It was very difficult for me to keep up with all of this. We didn’t have a hi-fi system in our house. My brother and I had an ancient AM band radio that sat atop a bookshelf in our bedroom. The old wooden radio case had been carefully covered with wallpaper to hide blemishes. By the time we got the thing, even the wallpaper was beat up.

The vinyl record album was the medium upon which music was purchased back in those days. We owned a single turntable for vinyl records. That was a cheap model made for kids. We’d frequently put our 45 rpm records on the thing and either play them at 33⅓ or 78 rpm for a laugh. Lacking a ‘sophisticated’ audio system, we simply didn’t buy music albums.

I am often amazed by how familiar my kids are with the music I listened to growing up. Many songs that were popular when I was in junior high and high school are easily recognized and even listened to by today’s kids. Sometimes it blows my mind to discover that some of those artists are still alive. Some are even still performing.

My generation knew very little of our parents’ music. We still don’t. In my head I can still hear a few tunes from the pre-rock era that people of my parents’ generation used to listen to. I can even remember some of the artists. But it is undeniable that the broader rock genre usurped the forms of contemporary music that had been popular prior to rock’s explosion in the 1960s. Artists like the Beatles and Elvis Presley were/are revered because they played a big role in that shift.

As a kid, I always seemed to be out of the loop when it came to popular music personalities. While I knew who the Beatles were, I knew very little about the members of the group. One day when I was still pretty young, my friend from across the street came over and said that his oldest sister was bawling hysterically because Paul McCartney was dead. “Who’s Paul McCartney?” I asked. My friend breathlessly explained what turned out to be the Paul McCartney death hoax. My eyes just about glossed over. When he was done, I responded, “So what?”

Later on when I did start to buy and listen to music (on vinyl, 8-track, and cassette), I fancied certain types of music and certain performers. But I still fell short of turning my music appreciation into cult-like followership of artists, something that seemed fairly common among peers. I found that I could enjoy an artist’s music without appreciating the artist’s lifestyle.

I was just a few years behind the whole Beatles phenomenon. The Beatles were immensely popular to kids a few years older than me. I mostly heard Beatles music when I visited the homes of friends that had older siblings in the right age range. By the time I became interested enough in popular music to care much about it, the Beatles were long done. Besides, to me they had seemed pretty creepy toward the end of their group career. Although a rock group I used to perform with covered a few Beatles songs, I have never personally owned a Beatles recording.

I don’t much care for some of the music my kids listen to. But I also have to admit that I don’t much care for some of the music I used to listen to when I was their age. Some of it was little more than a passing fancy. Assuming that my kids will also mature in their musical tastes, I cut them some slack on their music choices — as long as they don’t make me listen to metalcore too often.

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