Sunday, January 12, 2014

Have We Lost That Sense of Wonder When It Comes to Music?




Earlier today, I was talking with my oldest two daughters (ages 9 and 7) about musical instruments and somehow or other, it made me think of the Donovan song from the 1960s, "Hurdy Gurdy Man." When I mentioned that it was a classic psychedelic song, they asked what that meant. Without getting into anything drug-related, I tried to explain to them how it was just one of those 60s-types sounds. I realized that I was having a really hard time conveying to them what that meant, partly because it's something you just have to know after hearing so many songs from that era, but more than that, because to them the 1960s seem like ancient times (heck, they've asked my wife and I before about "the old days, like the 1980s and 90s," which is when we grew up!).

They ended up liking the song a lot, which led to me playing them lots of other classic 60s songs, like Donovan's "Sunshine Superman," The Byrds' "Turn Turn Turn," The Zombies' "Tell Her No," "She's Not There," and "Time of the Season," and more. Now, all four of our kids are big fans of the Beatles and the Kinks, and my older kids also are getting into The Who, Led Zeppelin, Blur, R.E.M., Hendrix, etc. and ask questions about other people I listen to. So they know who makes a lot of the music they like to listen to and that some of it was made a long time ago. 

However, it made me realize that part of the reason the 60s seem so long ago to them is because it was so long ago! For me, when I was their age, these were songs that were made ~twenty or so years before. For my kids, these are songs that were made FIFTY or more years ago; no wonder it seems like ancient history to them! I suppose it's the way my grandparents' big-band and jazz eras from the 1930s-50s seemed so long ago to me when I was a kid (and I should add here that I am a BIG fan of that music). More than that, though, I think it's down to two things with my kids' perceptions:

1. My parents grew up in the 1960s and those songs were made anywhere from 10-15 years before I was born, so it was not too much before my time;

2. The big reason is because my kids don't have the same access to the music that I did!

Growing up, I of course heard whatever my parents were listening to on the radio or on their records and tapes. And my kids are the same way; when they hear what I'm listening to, their ears perk up and they get interested. However, as a kid I had access to my parents' collection of records and tapes and I spent hours and hours not only listening to the records of bands I knew and liked (The Beatles, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Kinks, Cream, etc) but I also dug in more to discover the deeper album cuts, as well as the other bands I only knew a few songs by (like CCR, Johnny Winter, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, etc). I spent countless hours studying the album art and liner notes while listening to these records, and later on they were my guides for teaching myself how to play guitar, sing, and write songs.

My kids have none of that.

Before you think I'm a bad parent, hear me out! I have a huge CD collection (although not as large as it once was...I've pruned it of a lot of the stuff that I should never have bought in the first place or stuff I don't like any more) and I'm always playing, listening to, or talking about music. My kids certainly have a lot of exposure to it, and the fact that I have a 3rd grader and a 2nd grader who both list the Beatles as their favorite band and love Paul McCartney as their favorite songwriter is a testament to that. And that's not even counting the other bands they like that I mentioned above. But, times are different now. All of my CDs are in boxes in storage; after loading them onto my hard drive and iPod, they go into storage in order to save space in the house. Beyond that, it's much more convenient to have my iPod with my entire collection (~18000 songs, 140 GB of music) to carry around than it is to have stacks of CDs in the house and car like I used to do even as recently as five years ago.  Throw in streaming (we use Spotify) and my kids listen to a LOT of music, but in a totally different way than I do. They know lots of songs and bands, but apart from the Beatles, they can't recognize any classic album covers, ones that I take for granted. I've known some of these covers and their associated artwork for so long and they're so familiar that they're imprinted on my DNA, but to my kids they may as well be ancient hieroglyphs on a cave wall somewhere. Again, that's not through any fault of their own...it's simply a sign of the times.  I do feel lucky that my kids even know who these bands are; they've told me they have friends who stared blankly at the TV without a clue who they were watching in music class when the teacher showed a clip of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show from 1964.

To try and let them have an experience a bit more like mine where they can at least discover music for themselves and find out what they like and don't like, I plan to encourage more listening sessions with them. I also want to have my CDs accessible to them once we have a house with enough space so that they can spend the time to borrow albums, listen to the tunes, and study the artwork the way I used to. Those are some of my best and most comforting memories from my formative years and I want all four of our kids to have the same experience, as an experience as close to that as they can given all of our modern technology. It means that much to me and it enriched my life so much that it's vital that we offer that to them.

Doesn't every kid deserve at some point to have their mind blown when listening to, say, The Who's "Tommy" while flipping through the libretto in the middle of the gatefold sleeve? I say yes!

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