When I was a kid, I swore to myself I would make a concerted effort to not get dated, stuck in the times of my youth, stale and out of touch with the current trends. In particular, I meant to keep up with the new music of the day. I thought it would keep me fresh and young to know what was coming out on the charts and keep abreast of the exciting evolution that the music industry was promoting. Boy, was I wrong.
At some point, I got distracted with starting a career and I took my eye off what was happening in the world of music. When things settled down, I looked around and found...well, nothing! I asked someone about 15 years my junior who had just graduated college what she was into, what people her age were listening to, what was hot on the charts. She said the only major stars were Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Beyonce. I asked if those singers comprised all that was popular, and to my chagrin, she answered in the affirmative.
The dearth of new music is a major loss to me, as well as to the culture at large. As a kid coming up in the '70s and '80s, music was central to one's identity. It bonded people together, it moved you, it made you feel things. It was the soundtrack of your life experiences. It provided signposts in your memory. I feel fortunate that I had the privilege of being immersed in an explosion of music that emerged from innumerable artists who developed the various branches of musical styles. What is available today for our kids (and adults) to hang their hats on?
When I go into retail stores, bookstores and even hip supermarkets like Trader Joe's, I am often surprised to encounter the once-cool music of the '80s. While to me it sounds pleasantly retro, comfortable and familiar, I remember a time when one might only hear those songs in a club or on the alternative/college stations at the left end of the dial. It makes me a little sad. Then I look at my young kids, and wonder what are they thinking and feeling when listening to this music that was once so cutting edge but now essentially reduced to elevator music.
My kids seem to be growing up to music mostly from the '80s. I feel a little guilty about this, but I am up-front about it. They are not listening to "current music," and their favorite song today is 35 years old. These songs are echoes from the past, a moment suspended in time, whereas we (and the artists who made the recordings) all kept moving and aging. A good percentage of the songs on my iPod are by artists who are no longer with us, which is rather haunting. Discussions related to Michael Jackson and Whitney Huston have provided one of the main avenues for my kids in learning about the dangers of drugs and the concept of death.
While it is obvious that the digitizing of music and the ability to rip/steal/share music (think Napster) led to the downfall of the music industry (and thus the end of artist development), no one can come up with a viable antidote. iTunes supplied a partial resuscitation, but it is far from a moving ahead. There is no upward and onward in the music space. There simply is no money in it, neither for music execs nor artists, and thus we have a near-complete stagnation.
In the meantime, I console myself with the thought that at least I am already familiar with and enjoy the music that I share with my children. When a song comes on Sirius XM, I quickly know (in "name that tune" fashion) whether it is safe to keep it on or change the station. Most of the songs on First Wave are devoid of risqué lyrics and obvious sexual imagery, so we usually hang out there. A strangely surprising realization is that the music that I had considered so underground and edgy while in college was actually quite tame.
In the meantime, I think everyone can agree that music and mood are very interconnected. Music is selected based on mood and music can change mood. Some would argue that music can be a form of therapy.