Young dorkhood

Some recent posts by Spice and J.Po about young dorkhood had me thinking about the music that I grew up with, and how those albums still have a special place on my shelf. The thing is, I think I've lost the ability to form the sort of spiritual bond with an album that I could when I was 16. I still love music, sure, but albums are good or they're bad or they're mediocre - they don't change my life.

There's only a half-dozen of those albums - some are still pretty good (Portishead - Dummy) and some are just embarrassing now (AC/DC - The Razor's Edge). Some I would still count among my favorite albums (Pearl Jam - Vs.), but most are just good for nostalgic value. I haven't listened to Whip-Smart by Liz Phair in years, but I bet I could sing along with the entire thing. All the lyrics, all the chord changes, all the intro riffs - they're stored in the same part of my brain as old TV show theme songs ("Chaaaarles in charge - of our days, and ooouuur niiiights..."). I listened to those albums over and over and over - while I was reading, studying, mowing the lawn, playing video games, driving my first car, etc.

It's all over, though - Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral was probably the last album that got to me that way. I've found some great bands since then - Pavement, Modest Mouse, Beck, Cake, The Flaming Lips, Ween, The Pixies, Wilco, Neko Case, New Pornographers, Bright Eyes, and lots of others - but I don't think I've listened to anything that I'd add to that half-dozen from when I was a teenager.

I can think of two things that might explain it. First, I have a lot more music now and I expose myself to a lot more new music. More music means that everything gets listened to less. I just don't listen to albums 55 times on repeat anymore, so they don't get into my head like Nirvana's Nevermind did. Second, listening to more music has made me a better music critic. There are lots of new bands with smart lyrics and catchy hooks that I like, and would recommend (Franz Ferdinand, TV on the Radio, The Liars, Secret Machines, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grasshopper Takeover, The Shins, The Faint, to name a few), but their CDs just don't hold up to the same repeated listening. Not because they're worse - because a track that TV on the Radio decides isn't good enough for their album is probably better than the best track on The Razor's Edge - but because I can hear what critics are talking about and understand the faults.

Was it just Simon and Garfunkel for you, you young dorks? Will there ever be another S&G for you?

4 comments:

Spice said...

I know what you mean. Even though I'm known for my love of R.E.M., it's surprising how little I actually listen to them. But if I put "Lifes Rich Pageant" or "Automatic for the People" on, a warm, fuzzy glow comes over me - I'm as happy as a baby. Same as when "The Boxer" comes on the oldies station. Sigh...

There have been a couple of albums that I've listened to obsessively since college - most recently Travis' "The Invisible Band," Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head," and the Garden State soundtrack. But I think for some reason as you get older, things seem less MEANINGFUL in the way they do when you're an adolescent. When you're that age, you're feeling all those deep feelings for the very first time, and somehow you sense that you're the only person who's ever felt that way before. Now, time moves much more quickly (I still find that very odd) so those meaningful moments are quickly supplanted by whatever else you're doing, and they just become part of the ups and downs of life rather than all-encompassing cocoon (with soundtrack) that they used to be.

I find that one thing I really like about my iPod is that if I put it on shuffle, all these songs I haven't listened to in years pop up - it's like having my very own radio station of stuff I've loved at one point or another in the last 15 years. There are songs that actually conjure up specific scenes - sitting in my freshman-year dorm room on a winter afternoon, walking up State Street during my first summer in Madison, etc. At the same time, I need to make sure that I don't close myself off to new stuff - I need to keep building on my life soundtrack.

Mister Vertigo said...

Wow, nice topic. This is something I have thought about before. I agree with J.Bro in regards to new music living up to early "adolecent" albums.

In our eyes, some of the albums we listen to when we are young are the best albums ever created. I agree with J.Bro with Pearl Jam - Vs. That album is just incredible, along with Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral, Metallica's Black Album, and Def Leppard's Hysteria. I think the trap I fall into is that when I hear a new band's album (or even a new album by an old band I like) I start comparing it to the "perfect" ones, and nothing will EVER live up to those, just because they aren't ingrained into our memories like the older ones.

I like to listen to new music as well (different stuff that you guys, but still new stuff). I feel that most new bands seem to lack that spark that got me into them when I was a kid. There have been a couple that have come close (Jet, Staind, Blue October) but not quite. I'm not sure how to explain it, other than they are constantly being compared to the old bands and albums I grew up with, and they have no chance of standing with them.

Sometimes when I hear a new band, I immediately try to compare the sound to one of my old favorites. I used to listen to Launch.com a lot, and just let it randomly pick songs to play for me. I remember hearing a few that sounded like Nine Inch Nails, and another that sounded like Pantera, and even one that make me think of Megadeth. I compare today’s music to stuff I liked when I was younger. 10 years from now, will I be comparing bands to stuff I like now? Probably not. I’ll still be comparing them to Metallica, Alice In Chains, and Firehouse.

Is this a natural thing to do? I have no idea. I get a lot of crap (let me tell ya, a LOT of crap) about the music I listen to. Sometimes I feel like a freak because I get excited to see Motley Crue on TV talking about a new album and a new tour. I can’t wait for it to come out, and I hope they come to Omaha! Am I stuck in the past? I don’t think so. I have no desire to relive my Jr. High or High School days. This is just the music I liked back then, and I just still happen to enjoy it. Maybe my taste in music just has not changed. I try to open myself up to new music and new bands (with some of J.Bro’s help), but most just don’t “do it” for me. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m immature or anything, because I like to think I’ve matured since high school!

Anyways, those are my thoughts. I hope this makes sense!

J.Po said...

I actually have a very different experience with albums. I'm still touched deeply and emotionally by music and I still turn to music for empathy and support in difficult times. Here and there, a lyric will turn on a lightbulb and reveal something to me about my inexplicable reality. And I've found albums in the last few years that really grab me and help me express what's going on in the chaotic mess of my mind/soul/heart/etc. I tend to find these albums in very specific phases of my life and I listen on repeat until the given phase comes to an end. Here are a few of the recently released albums and the dates they made extraordinary sense to me (Spice may know why...):
Up - REM (spring 1999 - fall 2000)
Impossible Dream - Patty Griffin (late summer - early fall 2004)
KidA - Radiohead (mid fall 2004 - early winter 2005)

And then there's the thing that happens to me with some of the albums that grabbed me earlier in my life. I find that when I go back to these 'monumental' albums, I see them in a really different but equally impactful light. Example - Joni Mitchell's Blue. I knew I didn't fully understand its depths when I was younger. Each time I listen anew, usually during emotionally difficult times, I hear something I didn't hear before. Her writing is pretty incredible. She captures a lot of life shit. The "Joni Effect" happens with Simon and Garfunkel music too. Lots of it is pretty mature and dense (not including 'Feeling Groovy') and there are subtleties to be found. My last example - Aaron Copland's Appalacian Spring. Yes, it's a classical selection....but it listens like a story. Give it a go. A tableau of the American experience!!!

Okay, so to list some of the other highly influential, often on repeat albums...followed by my notes of what these albums taught me:
Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan ('People can speak their minds! Change is in the air!')
John Cougar Mellancamp's American Fool ('There are poor/destitute people in the USA! We need a welfare state!)
Beatles' Srgt. Peppers ('Drugs exist and can do interesting things to your head!')
Sweet Honey in the Rock's In This Land ('AIDS destroyed a huge number of gay people in the 1980s. Plus, there is a dark nature to America's history regarding Native Americans.')
Tracy Chapman's Tracy Chapman ('Life has its downs and its deeper downs, but you can always escape and, maybe, be resilient.')
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL ('Folk meets rock meets social responsibility. We SEE what you (govn't) think we can't see.')
REM's Automatic ('Damn, life can be sad. People die, people cry, people hurt each other. But direction and moments of peace can be found.')
David Gray's White Ladder ('He's just not right.')
Nirvana's Nevermind [quite recently on repeat, for some reason] ('Our generation has a voice!')
Billy Bragg/Wilco's Mermaid Avenue II ('Folk music isn't dead.')

Okay, I'll stop now. I'm beginning to become incoherent and I can't remember what my point was in the beginning and I have no idea if what I'm saying is at all related to the topic at hand. Try to be understanding. It was the last day of my job.

ANTI-ROVE said...

I love to see a thread like this one. Ain't nothing like self-psychoanalyzing the music one loves.

But I gotta disagree about The Razors Edge. That shit holds up, man!