I follow a colleague on Twitter who recently tweeted about the music she was listening too. She had a day with David Bowie, and another with Leonard Cohen, and (as much as tweeting allows), shared her deep love of the music, thus revealing her age category.
I am not sure which group she and I belong to, boomers I guess, and we were blessed to see the emergence of so many iconic and influential artists and bands, starting, for me, with the Beatles and ending….well, it never ends, because so much of what I hear these days is still evolving from and building on what happened in the 60s and 70s, which itself was all based on decades of blues, folk, soul and jazz in all their various forms.
In the late 60s I was a student in London, and the universities, through their student unions, were the places where so much good music was supported. And then there were the small clubs in and around London, Liverpool and Manchester etc. where so many got started. And I saw them all at university or in clubs or at some of the early outdoor festivals, for next to nothing. The Beatles, the Stones, Pink Floyd, the Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Soft Machine. The pioneers of folk rock (now reborn by a new generation) Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, and of course all those amazing acts from North America that travelled through: the Doors, Canned Heat, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, the Byrds, Bob Dylan and the Band, and Joni Mitchell, and so on.
I was also lucky enough to have some interest in classical music, probably because my father always listened to BBC Radio 3 every morning, so that is what greeted me every day when I got up for breakfast.
(To this day, I cannot listen to news channels in the morning, and sadly, CBC Radio 2 has abandoned any good taste, so I am exploring ways to get my morning radio off the web without annoying Denise with more wires and gadgets cluttering up the house.)
Anyway, I was also able in London to see every major orchestra and most of the great conductors of the day. I fell in love with Dame Janet Baker when she sang Les Nuits d’Été at the Proms….. all for next to nothing.
The journey expanded when I came to Vancouver (Neil Young, Joan Baez early on, and REM, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Bjork and Sufjan Stevens more recently). When I was in New York, I saw lots of great jazz in the city and some wonderful concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center: Yo Yo Ma, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Dave Matthews, Joshua Bell, Bruce Springsteen, and so on.
OK, so aside from my name-dropping , what is my point?
First of all, music has been so important to me, and still is. As I drive up and down the region I listen to my iPod on shuffle, with random mixes drawn from my 15 days’ worth of music. Sometimes, these mixes are amazing: the Four Tops (“I Can’t Help Myself” has to be one of the greatest ever recordings of any type of music), Keith Jarrett, Johannes Brahms, Miles Davis, and Matching Mole. Half an hour of perfect music covering centuries and continents and genres and all the emotions and memories associated with them, all in a half hour drive to Richmond. I have shared so much music with my children, who value and embrace all the great sounds from my youth along with their own new ideas.
Secondly, and I admit I contribute to the problem myself at times, we boomers sure take up a lot of air and space with our smugness about the music we grew up with, and I worry that we get stuck in the past. I had a colleague in New York whose satellite radio was permanently tuned to a “classic rock” station, and it is so easy to live in the past musically, and to avoid listening to the important fresh ideas.
I also hear from people who pay hundreds of dollars to see the big shows: the Rolling Stones, or Paul McCartney etc. when they come to town. (The next time someone gushes over “how energetic the 70 year old Jagger/McCartney/Springsteen was last night at BC Place” I shall scream. Shouldn’t they retire to the background and create room and opportunity for the new wave? They have nothing new to say or play, obviously.)
Furthermore, these big extravagancies of nostalgia must suck a lot of money out of the entertainment economy: where is the investment in the new talent when so much disposable income goes towards nostalgia? If, as I believe, music and the other fine and performing arts bridge cultures in unique and important ways, limiting one’s listening/reading /watching surely limits one’s understanding and tolerance, no?
Life is complicated and confusing and while I am inclined to retreat to the comfort zone of what I know and love, being open to the new and unfamiliar (and to actively support it with my time and my entertainment budget) is so important.