Adam Jahnke’s The Doctor Is In: What Music Means To You

Matt Rowe, my friend, advisor and sole proprietor and occasional host to my ramblings here on MusicTAP, has spoken often and eloquently about the dearth of quality new music here in the dawning days of the 21st Century.  In his most recent editorial, he mentions how he frequently finds himself drawn back to the music of his youth, rather than searching out the new.

It is my belief that this is normal and natural. It is also nowhere near as restricting as you might think.

I grew up with music, just like anyone else.  I was going to say “anyone else who reads this site”, but let’s be honest, everybody grows up with music.  Even if you grow up in a protective bubble, they pipe in music to see how you respond.

The music I grew up with (like most everyone else, I imagine) was a mix of music I chose and music that was chosen for me.  There were songs I heard on the radio, in movies and elsewhere that I gravitated toward.  But there was a lot of music recorded before I was born, music that my parents listened to and, therefore, I had no choice but to hear it, too.

Some of this music, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the sounds coming from Motown and Phil Spector, I gravitated toward immediately.  I loved it from the get-go and love it still.  Others, like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, I needed to learn to appreciate.  That seems odd to me today.  The utter brilliance of these songs seems obvious to me now. But back then, they were just hokey country-western tunes that I heard over and over again.  It took me years after I moved away from home before I actually bought a Patsy Cline album. At first, it was mere nostalgia.  Then, I started to listen.

It wasn’t until much later, when I became more analytical and irritating about such things, that I realized that all of this music was laying a foundation.  Would I have discovered Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds without the constant reinforcement of Johnny Cash as I was growing up?  Maybe.  Would I have appreciated it as much as I do now?   Probably not.

At the time, I felt like I had discovered Prince all on my own.  This was something I heard, I liked, and nobody else in my family seemed to appreciate.  And despite being a nerdy white kid in the Midwest, I dug in my heels and was unabashed in my love of Purple Rain and Parade.  Would that have been possible if I hadn’t heard James Brown or Marvin Gaye beforehand?   Perhaps.

So how awesome for you, Jahnke.  You have a point in all this?

In fact I do, thanks for asking.  The “music of my youth” is not necessarily music that was being created at that time.  Some of it was, certainly.  But a lot of it wasn’t.  I can’t even begin to explain how happy it makes me that Abbey Road, the last real Beatles album, was released in the US on the exact same day I was born, September 26, 1969.  I’m sure that’s a big reason why it’s my favorite Beatles album but still the fact remains, all of that music I love so much was recorded before I was born.

Music is not a contest. It’s a quest, a journey, to find what you connect with and to discover as much of what you love as possible before you go away.  It doesn’t matter when it was recorded.  It doesn’t matter if you found it first or someone else introduced you to it.   All that matters is that you found it and you love it.

Mozart and Beethoven and their ilk aren’t still played and listened to today because they’re trendy.  They continue to connect with listeners because they are connecting on a primal level.  Music is primal.  It’s a no-thought-required, I-like-this-or-I-don’t purely visceral response.  That’s one of the main reasons I don’t write for Matt’s MusicTAP as much as I do for The Digital Bits. I can explain why I don’t like a movie, where I think it went wrong and what I think would make it better. I can’t do that with music.  I either like it or I don’t.

Which brings us back to where we started.  Of course you will always gravitate toward the music you grew up with.  It’s embedded in you on some primal level you cannot control.  And if all you do for the rest of your life is seek out music recorded during and prior to that same period that you haven’t heard, I promise you will be busy for the rest of your natural days, constantly discovering new music and new sounds you love.

As we get older, if we find ourselves returning to the familiar rather than seeking out the new, it isn’t necessarily because there isn’t good music still being made today.  Of course there is.  But our tastes have more or less been set and while they’ll hopefully continue to broaden and evolve, it’s unlikely that they’re going to change.  So it’s much harder for a new band to engage us on that primal, instinctive level.  It’s possible and on the rare occasions it does, it’s magic.  If it doesn’t happen as frequently as we might like, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s simply that the music of the past is a much, much deeper well to draw from than the music of the present.