on the fetish function of the same old music – a conversation, 2-3 march 2009

A conversation about recorded music and nostalgia that arose on another blog with which I was involved for over half a decade. It’s no longer there now, but the discussion is interesting enough to deserve a repost, I feel.

aryan kaganof says:

i notice that many people of my age just give up listening to new music and go back to what they know (what they knew)
but it’s wonderful to keep on discovering
perhaps people who stop listening to new music don’t love the music but merely love their youth
so they want to keep on being reminded of their youth
the youth that for them is already over
and that the music now symbolizes
and this of course makes them very old!

helgé janssen says:

and again you have given that totally insightful take on why people listen to music from their youth
this has perplexed me for sooooo long….
i have known that they are obviously stuck (i’ve seen it happen before my very eyes and as young as 19!)
but i had never thought of it this way
this throws enormous light on the entire process!!
for quite obviously there comes a cut-off point
from which their youth no longer ‘happened’
so they pay for their compartmentalizing, categorizing and (worse) their lack of imagination!!!

eva spook says:

ah so what is it then when you listen to music from times before you’re born? i’m now listening to blind blake…i’m beyond old, i’m digging into previous lives to feel alive again

cherry bomb says:

ha! that’s where i’m at too, eva… i’m listening a lot to wax cylinder recordings, caruso, world war one torch songs… that are hardly even a record of what happened in those three minutes that somebody sang into that funnel. drowned in scratches and static, devoid of bass timbre, they sound nothing like what the actual performance must have. i think the palpable ephemerality is what attracts me. it *is* about feeling alive. the voracious desire to live lives i am not living comes into it too, i think. only listening to contemporary stuff is terribly restrictive!

music does have a fetishistic quality: part of this lies in its power to transport you temporarily outside of the confines of spacetime. while it is playing, music gives you the immediate abiity to alter present-tense context radically; whether to propel yourself into the future, or zoom back into a dark and sordid or halcyon past, back into the arms of an ex-lover, or be transported out of your body and into a vacuum beyond everything. you just close your eyes and press play.

we all love nostalgia: saudades, real or imagined – one of the most easily accessible sources of a sense of meaningful connection, paradoxically because it’s in the absence of the original context and referent, which intensifies the desire for that inaccessible experience, real or imagined.

i reckon people who listen to the ‘same old music’ simply lack a vivid enough imagination to meaningfully access worlds of possibility not tied securely by memory to their previous experiences, to repetition. the “same old songs” are invariably hits that they heard a billion times on the radio, that they kissed girls to, that played at rugby matches, that their dad played in the car on road trips (hands up those who were kids in the south african ’80s that don’t have a special place in their hearts for paul simon’s graceland album?)…

i am forever trying to understand what makes the few handfuls of songs that really stick in those jukebox playlists stick. songs from the likes of creedence clearwater revival, iggy pop, counting crows, bowie, the clash, green day, soft cell… what is the lowest common denominator? they are not all well-written songs with catchy riffs. they are not all from the same era. there are songs with very weird content for the average homophobic barfly to groove on. “holly came from miami, f.l.a… shaved her legs, then he was a she…” there are songs which really, truly suck (e.g. any of the bombast by nickelback!). are they there due to an inane feedback loop: there because they have been there for years, and they have been there for years because they happened always to be there? or is it something innate about the content? i don’t know.

here’s a good example of a song that has been an instant ‘classic’ from the day it came out: “mr jones” by the counting crows:

i have always hated this whiny song, yet it has never stopped playing in pool bars and at supermarkets and weddings. why??? listening to it now – and actually listening, rather than blocking it out, as i always have done – i am struck by how eloquently the lyrics fake meaning in a non-threatening way… a warm, fuzzy yearning with no uncomfortable aftertaste. the simply strummed guitar lends a soothing, ersatz familiarity. “have you ever seen the rain?” by creedence clearwater revival (another one of those jukebox standards) is remarkably similar.

i don’t think people given to listening to “the same old music” necessarily think about how old they are at all, or how life was better back when that song came out (though that is undoubtedly a common dronkverdriet thought). yes, they do feel connected to the past through it. but i don’t reckon this is necessarily examined. i reckon the familiarity mostly just makes them feel warm and comfy and vaguely meaningful. it makes them feel like they belong when everyone is singing along with them in unison. it goes down well with the beer. and that’s what the main function of music is for them. it’s pretty simple. “ah yay! i love this song! this place is cool. want another jagerbomb? let’s go dance!”

“i was down at the new amsterdam staring at this yellow-haired girl
mr. jones strikes up a conversation with this black-haired flamenco dancer
she dances while his father plays guitar
she’s suddenly beautiful
we all want something beautiful
i wish i was beautiful
so come dance this silence down through the morning
cut maria! show me some of them spanish dances
pass me a bottle, mr. jones
believe in me
help me believe in anything
i want to be someone who believes

mr. jones and me tell each other fairy tales
stare at the beautiful women
“she’s looking at you. ah, no, no, she’s looking at me.”
smiling in the bright lights
coming through in stereo
when everybody loves you, you can never be lonely

i will paint my picture
paint myself in blue and red and black and gray
all of the beautiful colors are very very meaningful
grey is my favorite color
i felt so symbolic yesterday
if i knew picasso
i would buy myself a gray guitar and play

mr. jones and me look into the future
stare at the beautiful women
“she’s looking at you.
uh, i don’t think so. she’s looking at me.”
standing in the spotlight
i bought myself a gray guitar
when everybody loves me, i will never be lonely

i want to be a lion
everybody wants to pass as cats
we all want to be big big stars, but we got different reasons for that
believe in me because i don’t believe in anything
and i want to be someone to believe

mr. jones and me stumbling through the barrio
yeah we stare at the beautiful women
“she’s perfect for you, man, there’s got to be somebody for me.”
i want to be bob dylan
mr. jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
when everybody loves you, son, that’s just about as funky as you can be

mr. jones and me staring at the video
when i look at the television, i want to see me staring right back at me
we all want to be big stars, but we don’t know why and we don’t know how
but when everybody loves me, i’m going to be just about as happy as can be
mr. jones and me, we’re gonna be big stars…”

“yesterday, and days before, sun is cold and rain is hard,
i know; been that way for all my time.
til forever, on it goes through the circle, fast and slow,
i know; it can’t stop, i wonder.”

mick says:

ah mz bomb – your opinions on this and that are both eloquent and exciting, which is a purdy rare combo, purdy, and rare. chi in.

eva spook says:

thanks to the internet and the loss of my cd collection many years ago ( all of them stolen)… not only can’t i listen to the music of my youth, but addictive myspace (among others) make it pretty much impossible not to find and hear new music on a daily basis… i hear new and exciting music every single day…

for this entry i did a little search to the music that warps me back in time and because i lack imagination i will just post the link:

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s