Hip to the Groove #11: Mind the (Age) Gap
by Tom Körp
Hip to the Groove #11: Mind the (Age) Gap
It’s been said that music is “a game for the young”, a sentiment which I routinely dismissed in my own youth as little more than a spurious complaint of the old and out-of-touch. How, I wondered, could such an essential substance as music—be it rock, pop, folk, hip-hop, electronic, orchestral, choral, or what have you—ever fail to captivate, entertain, and enliven, regardless of one’s age? At what point in one’s life would (or could) music ever be considered anything other than absolutely vital? In the mind of a music-obsessed teenager, it seemed all but impossible.

Yet here I am: Tip-toeing towards thirty, and pretty damn-well apathetic towards modern popular music.

Only it’s not the fault of the music. It’s me.

Mind you, my previous interpretation of music being “for the young” was caught up in the idea of a hard-line demarcation between Youth and Old Age, a vaguely identified point—say, thirty-five years, or the birth of one’s second child, whichever comes first—past which the fiery life’s-blood passion for music would inevitably cool to little more than a passing fancy. A fittingly naïve reading, that. After all, what do the young know of growing old, let alone of the needs and tendencies of their own future selves?

What indeed.

In truth, there seems to be quite a bit more nuance and subtext to the aforementioned adage—and far more truth than I first allowed. No, it’s not a geezerly condemnation of music as a childish distraction, nor is it a dire prediction that the accumulation of years and workaday concerns will somehow revoke one’s license to bask in the musical zeitgeist, or to be a contributor thereto. Hardly.

The desire to create and enjoy music does not by necessity decline as one grows old(er)—here’s to you, public radio “adult contemporary” programming!—it’s just that popular music, by and large, is made by and for the young, and is thusly prepossessed with exaggerated anthems and hyper-romanticized ballads—the ideals and idylls of the so-called Young Invincibles—which, perhaps, fail to resonate with those who have actually been there and already done that, and who likely have a closer relationship with reality than the chord-busting tunes and knob-tweaking dance offerings of teens and twenty-somethings who are just now dipping their toes into that wide and turbulent river of life and reporting their early findings to an audience comprised mainly of their equally inexperienced and exaggeration-prone peers. The young-un’s are in the thick of it together, while the old guard, if I might be so bold as to count myself among their ranks, is merely hanging out on the fringes, stone-faced and cross-armed, equally bemused and befuddled by such guileless, solipsistic revelry. And, perhaps, a little bit jealous. À la Nick Miller of “New Girl”: “They don’t know what ‘Saved by the Bell’ is and they’ve never felt pain!”

In a sense, saying that music is meant for the young is a sideways admission of the inherent limitations of novelty: What seems grand and wondrous at first blush rarely retains its luster for long, and must needs continually give way to even grander and more wondrous things, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum et ultra. Ironically, this incessant need for newness and novelty in music (or in any form of entertainment, for that matter) is concomitant with an increasingly greater sense of sameness amongst long-term adherents, not to mention rampant burnout amongst practitioners, especially as they progress into their third decade of post-natal existence. Tellingly, what musical neophytes frequently hail as the “next big thing” may very well, to a more experienced ear, sound an awful lot like that “same old thing” from a few years back, only tragically bereft of the emotional-personal context which made it so grand and wonderful and worthy of creating and/or remembering the first time around.

Sure, in a few precious instances, one might find reasons and ways to preserve select high-quality tunes and their associatively-attached emotional contexts from the ravages of time, but it’s a relative rarity. Far more often, the listener’s love for an older song or album is rudely packed up and tucked away in the dusty recesses of memory ‘til such time as it is finally and unceremoniously trotted out to the proverbial dustbin of passive forgetfulness. The album or song itself might linger on in one’s collection or subconscious for the rest of one’s life, but the magic, the ardour and esteem in which it was once held, will be but a nostalgic shade of its former self, if it remains at all.

If such ho-humming disillusionment is bad news for the audience, just imagine what it must be like to be the singer-songwriters responsible for said tunes, expected to play them ad nauseam in venue after venue, year after year, worrying at the sentimental trappings ‘til they’ve worn completely away, leaving little more than a rote recitation of words and notes. Little wonder that the survival rate, as it were, amongst actively touring thirty-something bands is so grim.

I suppose, then, that this essay constitutes a sideways admission of my own: specifically, that my musical tastes have become fairly well-established, if not yet wholly calcified. By which I mean that, having spent the better part of a decade determining what I like—and, at the same time, developing the vocabulary to explain, in no(t quite) uncertain terms, why I believe it to be likeable in the first place—I’ve finally reached the point where I feel little-to-no need to expound upon, and proffer my unsolicited opinion of, any and every (chronologically if not compositionally) “new” musical offering as a matter of course, nor to actively seek out and burrow into new tunes for the sake of newness alone. For someone who has self-identified as a music critic for nearly a third of his life, being able to simply listen to and enjoy whatever comes my way, however it comes my way, without concerning myself with context or criticism is kind of a big deal. And a bit of a relief.

Not to worry, though! There’s still good music out there—as if you needed me to tell you that—and there’s still new music that speaks to me, prematurely aged curmudgeon that I am. Mind, I’m not so far gone that I find myself sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch, yelling at the dad-gomned neighbourhood kids to “turn down the Skillets”, but I’m certainly not in the oh-so-important and casually omnivorous 18-24 demographic anymore. No use pretending otherwise.

So, while I may not be handing in my rock-crit pen, I’m learning to accept my inevitable obsolescence as a pop-musical bellwether, and am finding that there’s no sense in feeling put out when my own musical tastes are not necessarily widely reflected in, or ratified by, the greater popular culture.

That’s just life. After all, we can’t all be young forever.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Features (May 26th, 2012)

Tags: beatbots, features, hip to the groove, age gap, music, criticism, curmudgeon