“Oh yeah, I was into them back when I used to listen to music.”
“That band is still together?”
“They were the soundtrack to my teenage years.”
I’m a music journalist, and a dad in my late 30s. The ‘dad’ bit means I run into a lot of parents, some my age, most a few years older. It seems that most parents that I meet had their kids later in life than we did, and indeed a lot of my classmates are having their first kids now, while my son is 10 (and he’s into Bowie, Zappa and Devin Townsend, so woo). And the sentences quoted above are something I hear a lot when I chat with fellow parents. Eventually the question of ‘What do you do for a living?’ comes up and I find myself explaining my cool-ass job. And I inevitably hear things like those statements, and others like “I used to listen to heavier bands but I grew out of it” or “I have no time to listen to music now.” It really hit home with the passing of Chris Cornell, when a bunch of friends on Facebook posted things like “You’re my favourite, I used to listen to you all the time,” as if Euphoria Morning wasn’t fucking phenomenal, or like Audioslave didn’t exist, or King Animal wasn’t a thing. That really bummed me out because Cornell continued to make music every bit as vital as those big Soundgarden records. He never went away and his standards never slipped (well, there was that one pop album but even then, dude was following his muse).
I know I’m lucky because my job forces me to listen to new music. It’s the same as in any profession: you can’t really do it to the best of your ability if you’re relying on information that’s 20 years old. Still, it makes me sad that there are people out there who are my age and who would have been raised on the same diet of 90s alternative, industrial, metal, grunge and other now-retro-but-then-nowtro stuff, who think of music as something in their past rather than something that grows with them. The musical nostalgia industry is fuelled by the power of music to make you remember how you felt at the time you first heard it, but there’s no reason you can’t continue to bring new music into your life to serve as the soundtrack to where you are now. Hell, Spotify is like twelve bucks a month. YouTube is free and it’s loaded with new music. It’s so easy to find out what your old favourite bands are doing now or, even more importantly, to find new ones that can represent you and your feelings as they stand today.
Something I’ve been doing a lot of lately is going back and listening to things I never really had the access to check out back in the day, when in order to listen to a band you had to either buy the record, hear someone else’s copy or catch it on TV or radio. I loved the Cure songs I saw on the Australian music video show Rage, but my CD money was always spent on metal and shred. Now I’m digging further and deeper into their back catalog and more recent records, and while many of these tracks are over 30 years old and totally new to me, they’re finding a place in my heart that’s every bit as important as Dirt or Passion And Warfare or Fair Warning. So now I’m catching up on bands like The Replacements, or filling in the gaps of my knowledge of The Cure, or getting into Crowded House non-album tracks. But I’m also checking out newer artists like Between The Buried And Me, Rival Sons, St. Vincent, Northlane… and this music, all of which is new to me whether it’s new or not, has its own emotional resonance for my present-day life. I can still always put on Living Colour’s Stain or Ministry’s Psalm 69 to remember how I felt at 16, but I can also put on Ryan Adams’ Prisoner or Periphery’s The Price Is Wrong to capture how I feel today at 38.
My buddy Dean Delray, whose podcast Let There Be Talk is an essential listen, is always talking about this. He always hears folks saying “There are no great bands any more.” There are fucktonnes of them out there. But to hear them you have to own the fact that maybe the music you loved as a teenager wasn’t any more special than the music today’s teenagers are listening to: it’s just that you heard those songs at a time that was special to you, and you’ve associated the excitement of ‘first kiss, first beer, first party’ with those bands as part of one whole package of nostalgia. That’s totally cool, but see it for what it is and let yourself feel the same way about new music that can accompany new moments. Music is vast and beautiful and alive and you don’t need to stop listening to new music the moment you turn 18.