June 4, 2019

What The Hell Happened?

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To Be Clear … Originally written by my friend in 2003 … ‘JP - the other one’. Still true today … no?

Lately I haven’t derived the same pleasure from my music collection, or even music in general, that I’ve been accustomed to my whole life. I’m trying to figure this out.

It used to be simpler, I think. You would reach an age - let’s say 30 on average - and pretty much drop out of the current music scene. Your record collection would begin to age like fine wine. You’d stop going to gigs and reading Rolling Stone and Down Beat, and the station presets in your car were no longer college stations playing the wide range of emerging new stuff, but the major commercial channels playing bands who are all 6 months away from being featured in a Lexus commercial. There was a clear dividing line between the stuff the kids and the grown-ups listened to that has faded, blurred and, finally, today, disappeared.

Leaving aside the impact on today’s teenagers of not really having a musical outlet for those rebellious impulses, where does this leave us? What are our options as we mature in our lifestyles? Do our musical tastes change, or, as I’m beginning to suspect, does the time pressure we’re under in the push for ever-greater productivity at work, quality time with family, expanding our educational horizons and seeking new experiences in our recreation hours force us to rely more and more on commercial filters for access to new music?

Typically we proceed down one of two paths. The first is to go deeper instead of wider. We stick to the same bands that we listened to in our youth, kidding ourselves that we’re still at the bleeding edge. Somehow we allow it to escape our notice that the bands we once thought would lead the revolution and bring down the establishment are now peddling mobile phones. The other route is that we conscientiously seek out new sounds, but we do it in tightly defined context of the ‘Emerging Artists Block’ on KLLC Tuesday nights at 8:00pm. Surrounding ourselves with the familiar, grounding the experience just as firmly in our past. This exposes us to bands that are perhaps a year away from the TV commercial breakthrough, but still clearly well established successes, hardly bands that need our sponsorship, our interest or us.I think it mostly comes down to time.

Certainly the world is a busier place, and cell phones, laptops, Internet access, Blackberrys, pagers and PDAs don’t help. Sometimes technology does us a disservice, and as much as the perpetually connected nature of our modern lives enhances our productivity and responsiveness, I miss the time I used to have alone with my stereo system.

In high school, I spent 80% of my disposable income on my stereo system, Infinity Reference Studio monitors, Marantz receiver, Thorens turntable, and a Nakamichi cassette deck. After school, I would make compilation tapes while doing my homework. I miss lowering the stylus into the record groove, counting the seconds from the end of the previous song and allowing for the delay in engaging the tape deck, winding up the input volumes for smooth transitions between songs and volume-leveling wildly varying album recordings by ear. Today, I can drag-and-drop 10 hours of music into my MP3 player in about 8 seconds. I can save virtual playlists, creating, modifying and deleting compilations instantly. It’s certainly more convenient, but it’s nowhere near as engaging.

In college, I spent 80% of my disposable income on records. Living in a dorm and in an off-campus apartment with roommates, we shared our record collections and commented actively on each others musical tastes. My friends collectively listened to a wide variety of music, and I eagerly devoured every new artist, new style, and new sound in my quest for great musical experiences. Today, I have less time for that, less engagement with my friends in purely recreational activities like listening to music. I miss that.

One nice thing about record albums was that they had two sides. Again, it’s certainly more convenient to have all the music on a CD that can play straight through. And even more so to have them all recorded digitally on the PC. But having an album side that lasts 20-25 minutes forces you to pay attention. You have to get up and turn the record over, which reengages you. Having hours of music queued up, it’s easy to let your mind wander back to the ever-present to-do lists. These days, I too frequently put a new CD on, start listening to it, and realize some time later that the CD is over and I can’t remember anything beyond the first song.

Today, my primary listening venue is my car. It’s not by choice, as it certainly isn’t an ideal listening environment even with the very best automotive stereo equipment. This is the only block of time that I have, however, that is long enough to listen to an entire CD at one time. In the car, though, I inevitably wind up spending all my time on the cell phone. And there’s simply no getting around the fact that your attention is going to be demanded by your driving, and the insanity of other drivers trapped in the 90 minute commute to Silicon Valley - flying down I-280 at 90mph mandates focused attention.

Nor am I alone in this. I was over at a friend’s house last weekend doing some dedicated music listening - something that has happened all too infrequently of late. I have been thinking about these issues for a while, and decided to reach out and see if I could force some engagement. Miguel and Diana are from Brazil, and I brought up Brazilian music and they volunteered to play some of their collection for us. So we packed up some food and joined them for a musical lunch on Saturday. We heard Oswaldo Montenegro, Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarqueâ, all great stuff. Miguel had, of course, ripped all the songs to his computer, and we were listening to it over some pretty crappy computer speakers. Hardly ideal. I complimented him on the selection, though, and his response was yeah, you should hear it in my car! This is just wrong.

So now, understanding the issues a little better, I see a clear need to reengage my musical sensibilities. I think, for me, this means two things.

First, I need to plan some dedicated music time. It can’t be an after-thought any more, because my free time for ad hoc recreational activities is asymptotically approaching zero. If it’s a priority, it needs to be reflected in my calendar. I need to put some thought into that, too, because I’m going to have a hard time defending hours of just sitting in the Lazy-Boy listening to CDs. I need to be doing something with the music. Maybe it’s time to develop a digital archiving system. Maybe wire the house for sound, including the patios outside. Maybe some stereo equipment upgrades are in order. Maybe I need to spend some time classifying my current music collection, and expanding it into new areas. Maybe write some music reviews I can share with friends or even wider audiences.

Secondly, it’s also clearly time to get back into concert mode. I need to find the local clubs with live music, watch the major venues for show announcements and plan my calendar around some key concerts. And there needs to be a focus on new music. Nothing gets the blood flowing like watching the band hit their zone on stage, rocking out and feeling the music flowing through the crowd, that sense of being there that not even the finest stereo equipment can reproduce.

Music is too important to me to let it simply fade into the background of my life. It’s a part of who I am and who I want to be, and it deserves some attention. We’re going on a quest to get reacquainted. My foray into Brazilian music my friends last weekend was the first conscious step on this journey. I’ll send you some notes from the road from time to time.

Before this incarnation of Just Good Music, there was another … a long long time ago … in a galaxy far far away ….. three of us writing on Music like it was going out of fashion. And then it stopped. It’s a separate story, which I might report on at some point in the future. This post was originally published on September 26th 2003, penned by John Parker - one of the founders of the original Just Good Music Blog. The source was found thanks to The Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

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