The Importance of the New
It seems like every generation feels that their music is the best. Our music is the most original, the most artful, the most meaningful. All this new stuff is just crap or worse, derivative crap, and all of the older stuff is mostly just oldies. Some people will stretch their veneration a generation or century or more in order to land on their music-of-choice, but the tendency to lay claim to a specific point in history as being the origin of the best music (or art or literature or architecture) is common. And that's a damn shame because we're missing out on other worlds of bests.
I have a simple, obvious theory (one of many) which goes like this—we are most receptive to music during puberty. Music reaches deep down inside and touches something during our teen years that as we get older grows either too small to be touched or too remote to be found. No matter the case, it seems like the music we choose as our music during our teens remains the emotional height to which all other music must strive. But it rarely ever gets there. I'd point to the eternally youthful oldies stations and healthy reissue market where we see people buying then re-buying their favorite music in various formats from LP to tape to CD to SACD to 45rpm LP to HD download to the special anniversary edition as proof. We grow old along with our cherished music and scoff at everything that has come since.
I know, I know. You are different because your music really is better. Right. The other aspect of the re-buy is the pursuit of better sound quality which goes hand in hand with sedentary listening. If you're listening to music in your car or on the subway, there's really no need to get the better-sounding version. And the sedentary listener is also mostly the aging listener. "But when I was a teenager, we would just sit and listen to music. Kids today don't do that." The notion that we are only serious about music if we sit still and quiet and listen is an audiophile myth. In most non-Western cultures, music is as important if not more important than it is in Western civilizations and it is also typically part of some other activity. Like dancing. Or singing. The day that someone declared all serious music listeners must sit quietly still was the day someone figured out they could make money from this kind of behavior.
The concert hall is a serious place for music, the dance hall a place for kids or the less cultured. Music is serious business that demands our undivided attention. And I agree that sometimes this is the case but not all times. I'm very thankful that our teenage daughters do not spend hours alone planted in a chair listening to music. If they did, I'd start to think something was wrong. Don't get me wrong, they listen to tons of music tons of the time and music is as important to them as it was for me when I was their age. But to expect a teenager to get excited about a fictional soundstage is just wrong-headed.
To get back to my main point, we attach ourselves to the music from our teenage years so strongly, it may as well be in our bones. Which makes opening up to the new, difficult (even when that new is old although older music is always less threatening). There's always that pang of, it's no Jimi Hendrix (to use a personal reference). The thing to keep in mind is art reflects the time in which its made. Popular and unpopular alike, our current music speaks to our current times. The same holds for most forms of art and expression.
Which is why I try to read about and listen to as much new music as I can. My feeling is, and here's another one of those pet theories, we need to fight against nostalgia when choosing what music we listen to to keep our minds and bodies open to the new. Listening to Physical Graffiti is a blast, don't get me wrong, but I don't want to wallow in it. I don't want to regress back into the smoke-filled 1970s and close my eyes and ears to the now, rejecting our newer musical forms of expression as being less meaningful. By doing so, it becomes so even though its not so.