throwback thursday: jim bouton 1939-2019
the leopard (luchino visconti, 1963)

music friday: listening

My nephew got me started on a long ramble when he asked me in an email, "How did your music listening habits change from your 20s to your 30s?" My reply:
 
My formative years ... well, I'm gonna say for many/most Americans, our formative years for popular music come in high school or a little before. I was in high school from 1967-1970. So, try as I might, part of me is stuck in that era, which is proven by Last.fm, which tracks my Spotify listening. I'll brag about listening to Billie Eilish like that means I'm old-but-hip, except when we run the numbers ... well, my top ten artists for June were Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Sleater-Kinney, The Kinks, Tim Buckley, Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Bowie, and Fleetwood Mac (notably, that last act was almost all the Peter Green years).
 
I'd extract two things from this. One, I was raised on guitar rock. It's not that weird that I would like Sleater-Kinney, where 2/3 of the band plays guitar. That also means I started disconnecting when synthesizers replaced guitars in pop bands ... outside of New Order, I wasn't a big fan, and that came around the time I turned 30. Two, not sure how it works here, but probably my #1 pop music influence in high school was the birth of "underground" FM radio. That's where most of my current nostalgia lies, and those top ten artists above were either played on those radio stations or were outgrowths of that.
 
Next, there was no way, at least to me, to predict hip-hop, which long ago replaced rock and roll as the primary pop music. I am appreciative of hip hop, and have my favorites, but really, it was mostly Beastie Boys who connected with me, because they were kinda like Led Zeppelin with rapping. I turned 30 in 1983. That was when Run-D.M.C and Public Enemy and such were beginning, so I caught the beginnings of that, but my favorite was still Bruce Springsteen. And while Prince covered all genres, and I saw him first in 1981, he had strong roots in guitar rock, so I wasn't really stretching out then, either. Beyond that, my favorites were bands like Hüsker Dü.
 
The only time I fell headlong into an emerging sound was punk. I first saw Patti Smith in 1976, Talking Heads and Sex Pistols in '78, Clash in '79. I could never call myself a punk rocker ... I had a job as a steelworker and was supporting a wife and two kids. But it's really the only time I felt strongly connected to a genre. When did this end? I don't know, I saw the fake-Clash in 1984, maybe that ends that period. And I was 31 in 1984.
 
So ... I don't think my musical tastes have changed nearly as much as I'd like to pretend. Noisy rock in the 60s, Bruce and then punk in the 70s, Prince and Hüsker Dü in the 80s, first three S-K shows in the 90s, Pink ... well, she's a little different, except when you see her in concert and get past the high-flying acrobatics, she and her band are very traditional guitar rock.
 
So to your actual question: Listening habits.
 
From my early youth until the Summer of Love in 1967 (when I turned 14), I listened to Top 40 Radio. Starting in the summer of 1967, I listened to FM radio, and I connected very much to a fantasy hippie world. The early-70s were more random, then Robin and I started going to concerts when we had a little extra money, so my 70s listening included lots of live music. Saw Bruce first in 1975, #1 life-changing artist for us. In the 1970s, the radio station that was once "Underground" was mainstream, but they still played what we now think of as Classic Rock, and I was still very attached to radio. Sometime in the 1980s, I found myself playing music I bought more than I listened to radio, although I had a few years in the mid-80s when I listened to college radio 24/7. And in 1983, I turned 30.
 
Nothing really changed in my listening habits from the mid-80s until 2002 or so. I was an early adopter of all-you-can-eat streaming services, so starting with Rhapsody and going into today's Spotify, my listening habits are fed by the idea that I can hear anything I want at any time in any place. Been doing that since I turned 50 or so. And while that gives me the chance to sample all kinds of music, see Last.fm above ... I listen to 60s music a lot. Well, 60s music and Billie Eilish (I remain a sucker for young girls/women with attitudes).
 
The real question is, how much of my changing listening habits came from getting older, and how much came because of emerging technology? Specifically, my listening is related to how radio came to me: Top 40, then FM Underground, then FM mainstream, then college radio, then a hiatus, then finally streaming. But WHAT I listen to, I assume, is tied to getting older. Maybe not so noticeably when I went from my 20s to my 30s (concerts I attended in 1982, when I was 29: Prince, Clarence Clemons, J Geils/U2, Clash/English Beat; in 1983, when I was 30: Prince, Marianne Faithfull), but by the time I was 40 ... well, I didn't go to as many concerts, for one thing. The only two artists I've obsessed about that started after I was 40 are Sleater-Kinney and Pink, and Pink isn't really an obsession.
 
So changes happen over the years, but they are gradual. And it is possible to stay current in your enjoyment of pop music, but most of my friends who are in their 50s and 60s, even the most music-obsessed ones, struggle to keep up. They want to hear the latest thing, but they'd rather listen to The Cure and Pavement. My glory years of music listening were the late-60s FM radio, and the mid/late-70s of fairly regular concert going. That is, Jefferson Airplane and The Clash have a special place in my heart.
 

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