Are We Stuck In Our Musical Past?

Just as I start to think that I’m too jaded to be really and pleasantly affected by new music, a band or an album comes along that restores my faith. I am now in my 4th decade of collecting music and it’s getting harder to be blown away by new stuff, but it happens, and thank God for that.But each year I find less and less new stuff and rediscover more and more from the past. I wanted to know why that is, and I was curious as to whether or not other 40-somethings were having the same difficulties as I was. So I typed “How does aging affect music tastes?” into google and was pleasantly surprised, and sometimes disturbed, by some of the results.

The most disturbing of all the theories was that as we age we “outgrow pop music” and move on to more “challenging” genres like jazz or jazz fusion or classical. I have nothing against classical, and nothing against jazz. Jazz fusion, however, is what the devil plays when he’s sodomizing Liberace in Hell. No, perhaps that’s generalizing too much. Weather Report is decent! Once more I digress in order to provoke an emotional response from my audience. Andy Kaufman, you’re my hero!

Another theory on why us middle aged music obsessives search like crazy (still!) for that perfect album experience is because sub-consciously we are trying to replicate the same euphoric feelings we got from our favorite albums of our youth, albeit modernized. Kind of confusing, but in a weird way it makes a lot of sense, to me anyway. The majority of the results from my question all hearken back to what one was listening to in high school. Whatever genre you were listening to in high school will remain your favorite(s), for life. Favorite genre, favorite bands, favorite albums, favorite songs. Like most of these theories, though, it does and does not make sense. It is and it isn’t true. Yes, I still listen to a ton of old favorites from that era (‘80’s). And, some of the new bands that I latch onto contain elements of the past, but I have favorites from the ‘90’s, the ‘00’s and the 10’s that sound nothing like Bauhaus, The Cure or The Smiths. Yes, it is also true that if I sat down and made a graph based on the total amount of albums per decade (from the 50’s up) it would appear as something of a bell curve, starting small, peaking in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, then veering downward from there. But…that still leaves a percentage that’s not associated with my high school and college days.

So that’s my take. Here are some other missives on the subject from around the interweb. I’d be thrilled to hear what you make of all this.

“I was born in 1970. As much as I love me some ’80s music, the nostalgic soundtrack of my Breakfast Club years, I would be bored to tears if that’s all I ever listened to. It’s a joy to constantly discover new music and artists, so I find it anywhere and everywhere.”

“As we mature, music becomes even more social, and we learn to be more discriminating. We get jobs, earn income and are forced to start making buying decisions ourselves, with our own money, which orients our tastes sharply .. we will not pay money for X but we will for Y. Later, in college, we start going to concerts and now the monetary outlay is considerably more, but instead of a CD (or a collection of MP3s), we are paying for an experience.. a night out with friends to see a particular band or artist perform. Our ability to pick and choose between music we like and music we don’t is honed, and our consumption of music is largely social, where we go to concerts, clubs and parties, and less dependent on radio stations and other media channels to guide our preferences .. we have our friends sharing with us, and are collecting experiences with them to better tune our taste in music.”

“Most people continue to listen to whatever they listened to in high school / college / the time they began to form their adult identity. Mixed with material related to those bands / their genre(s) that formed their conceptualization of “good music” vs. “bad music”. If someone were listening to country back in high school, they’re probably still listening to country. If someone were listening to Tupac back in high school, they probably still play his music somewhat frequently.”

“I have a serious, serious music addiction and I’m continually looking to hear something new. There almost always seems to be some new, great thing to occupy my attention when the previous great thing has become less of a novelty. That said, I still like most of the things that I liked in high school – for example – but I just rarely, if ever, listen to anything from back then.”