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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Tunespoon: The good old days

If you subscribe to the notion that “music was so much better back then,” then I really don’t blame you. I too have seen a hilariously fallacious comparison between legendary ’60s pop masterpiece “God Only Knows” to Nicki Minaj’s throwaway promo “Stupid Hoe.” So, perhaps the only solution to the dearth of substantial music is a steady diet of Bob Dylan, Beach Boys and The Beatles.

 

But, I have to confess, I’m not a Beatles fan. They’ve made an indelible mark on the industry, and on many peoples’ lives. I am not one of them. So just because someone grew up with a rotary phone doesn’t mean that they should happily hand over their smartphone for “the good old days.” The times, they are a-changin’.

 

A discontent Esquire Magazine list aptly titled Eight Reasons Why Old Music Is Better Than New Musicexemplifies the aggressive stubbornness of its faulty logic. Some items on the list simply are not true, such as the claim that there are “more artists to choose from” (OK, technically, if you want to start from Gregorian chant, then yes, there are more artists, but there is no mention of classical music on the list). Some items reflect a severe case of nostalgia-goggles, such as the notion that “music used to be much classier” (complete with a black-and-white image of a Frank Sinatra-looking crooner). The author probably skimmed over that very minor point on pop culture when Elvis’s breakout hits and hips made picket-fence family-dinner moms and dads go into moral cataclysm all the way back in the ’50s. Or when the Beatles inspired undergarment-throwing riots in the ‘60s. Or when sex began choke-holding the ‘80s mainstream through Madonna, Olivia Newton John and Tiffany.

 

Another awful generalization from the list is that “technology makes music watered down.” The author of the list, Beware (which is either a pretentious alias or a sincere warning for the quality of the work), naively suggests that “back in the day, if you wanted to make music, you had to know how to sing or play an instrument,” implying that no one in the musical modern age is capable of either. Not only do people still play instruments (like, basically everywhere), but technology is a beastly instrument that deserves respect; the fact that a sound can be manipulated down to a microscopic fragment of a sound wave opens endless possibility upon sonic possibility. Successful music producers are technology’s virtuosos, but it can be easily concluded that the most famous producers prioritize profit at innovation’s expense.

 

But innovation is far from over, thanks to postmodernism. It’s what happens when there seems to be nothing left to invent except for the things that already exist. So yes, even though many musical ideas are repeated and burnt out, new and exciting ones are always being born from their ashes. ’80s dance pop is seeing a resurgence in the form of musical acts like The Knife and Chvrches. The pulsing, laid-back spirit of classic rock lives on through Mac DeMarco, Band of Skulls and Jack White (and his many side projects). Endless new ground is being charted by experimental groups, like Little Women, Swans and Shabazz Palaces. And there are so many more sounds left to discover.

 

Mr. Beware deems any music that has “not debuted on the internet” as “old music.” This is a foolish definition, considering that he encourages his readers to use Spotify and Pandora to “discover” “old” music. I first heard Stravinsky on YouTube many years ago. “Infernal Dance” debuted in 1910, but for me, it debuted one night in 2008. I am no less a fan of the music because of this. All music, old and new, coexists on the internet. Once, I listened to The Tallest Man on Earth, unaware that Pandora took me 50 years earlier to an obscure Bob Dylan song. Music is music, and it’s just as exciting as it’s ever been.

 

Search, sample, look everywhere you possibly can; listen until you fall asleep making lists of artists that you want to explore more of, until you are content at this treasure trove you’ve amassed, embracing the overwhelming feeling of the sheer amount of music that you will never listen to, never know and never experience, because the beauty of this golden age of access is that everyone can be their own explorer. “Old” is relative, but anything can be new as long as you take the time to find it.

Pondering the future of music is the funnest, most exciting type of existential crisis! STEVEN ILAGAN (smilagan@ucdavis.edu) promises!

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