music mattering

Fourstones says music is dead:

music as a cultural influence has completely dropped off the radar.

Boomers who lived through the 1960’s and still hold sway in the halls of politics and culture were so heavily influenced by the popular musicians of their day it is impossible for them to conceive (i.e. they live in complete denial) of a world where 99% of teen males are gaming and only a tiny percentage identifies in any culturally significant way to musicians.

I think this is overstating it a little, but the basic point is on the money.

5 thoughts on “music mattering

  1. I think music still matters as a major identity-shaping force for some young people, but it is definitely a smaller and smaller number. The most visible group of these is probably the white college age kids who make up the “indie” world.

    I recently re-stumbled across this excellent Carl Wilson column in Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2176187/ which is a response to a Sasha Frere-Jones piece that was basically decrying the loss of miscegenation in music, the mixing of black and white influences. Frere-Jones sees the musical landscape divided into black beat-oriented dance and hip-hop vs. white overly intellectual fey indie rock. Wilson re-contextualizes this divide as rich vs. poor. He sees indie as the music of Richard Florida-esque “knowledge workers in training” and hence “Rather than body-centered, it is bookish and nerdy; rather than being instrumentally or vocally virtuosic, it shows off its chops via its range of allusions and high concepts with the kind of fluency both postmodern pop culture and higher education teach its listeners to admire.”

    While I’m not sure about either the race or class specifics, I think this description definitely nails the identity-defining role that indie music plays for one type of contemporary bohemian, i.e. the “knowledge worker in training”. I think exaggerating the difference between music as this kind of cultural identity signifier and music a Major Cultural Influence is a classic example of falling for the baby boomer myth of the over-valorized 60s: ‘back then, man, with Jimi and Janis, music really mattered, man!’

  2. of course music mattered more in the early period of rock n roll than it does now. What exactly constitutes exaggerating the impact of Elvis, the Beatles, Dylan and Woodstock? Teenagers, as a whole, looked to musicians to explain the world the them, especially race relations, the war and sex. The 60’s was a huge cultural reactionary revolution driven by youth with popular musicians at the leading edge. The world looked one way in ’55 and looked completely different in ’70. Is this really in dispute?

    Even if that is somehow unfathomably, completely, totally wrong it’s what the Boomers believe and the only thing I’m asserting is that their denial that something has changed since then is clouding their policy judgment. I can see if you want to call me out on that, I’m just reacting to the excuses I hear for not participating in the ‘net music culture.

    But to compare the impact of some cultish emo/indie bands today to, say the level of attention Lennon got for JUST STAYING IN BED a few days seemed out of whack to me.

  3. I’m not arguing against the idea that music was more important to teenagers in the 60s than it is now; that’s definitely true. Today’s teenagers have much more immersive and interactive cultural experiences with which to waste their time (from WoW to MyFace) than screaming along to the Beatles. Although, I’ll bet you way more teenagers today make music than did in the 60s. So we could argue about whether or not that depth of engagement makes up for the breadth of reach popular music had in the 60s.

    But what I really object to is the idea that music had a bigger impact outside of the entertainment lives of teenagers than it does now, or that it ever had a substantial one at all. That’s the Boomer myth that drives me crazy: that their music someone Made a Difference as opposed to the crap the kids listen to these days. I hate to break it to them, but all the important political stuff that the Boomers attribute to themselves and their music from the 60s was actually accomplished by serious figures who were mostly from the generation above theirs. From Civil Right (MLK) to anti-poverty (LBJ) to the beginning of the environmental movement (Stewart Brand, et al) to the war resistance, feminist and gay movements, most of the actual leaders that made an impact on the big events in the 60s were the older brothers, aunts, or parents of boomers.

    The boomers are the me generation. They think that their good taste in music saved the world in the 60s and then they ignore the fact that Bush and Reagan were president for most of the time that they were actually in political power. The 80s and the 00s are what they have to answer for, not the 60s. The 90s had what virtues they did mostly because Generation X temporarily seized the reins with the internet boom. After the election, both David Brooks and Thomas Friedman wrote columns basically saying good riddance to 20 years of boomer rule. How often do those two agree? http://rubyurl.com/WkpM http://rubyurl.com/TVam Plus, they’re both boomers!

    To bring it back to the issue of music, the main myth to dispel is the idea that 60s music somehow had more cultural influence — were more authentic — than our music (or video games or blogs or whatever) does now. That idea needs to be permanently and totally dispelled.

    Sorry if I sound bitter, but I just feel like this is one of those easy truisms that doesn’t get questioned enough. Plus, I was raised by boomers.

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