Ever had one of those moments when you can actually feel the muscles in your face trying to rearrange themselves into “Neutral Expression”?
I had one of those moments this week when I went out for coffee with someone I don’t normally go out for coffee with. As we don’t know each other that well, it took me by surprise when my coffee buddy said: “I haven’t really listened to any new music in about 20 years.”
I think I laughed a little nervously, before checking his face to see if he was serious. Then came my face rearranging, as I tried to remove “Incredulity”, “Bafflement” and the worst: “Compassion”. But really, it reminded me of one time when I met a guy who looked like Jarvis Cocker and my friend said to him “You look like Jarvis Cocker” and I said “Don’t ask me. I don’t know who Jarvis Cocker is.” The guy who looked like Jarvis Cocker said: “You know, the guy from Pulp.” I said: “Sorry but I lost a decade somewhere, the decade of one-word BritPop bands.” And he said: “What happened to you? Were you in jail?”
But back to Neutral Expression. I also remembered a recent conversation with a friend who’d said that the Rolling Stones should be banned for a while – “say, ten years” – as should The Beatles and Shakespeare. Put them on the bench. Make room on the team for new blood…and other sporting metaphors. I think I had one of those face rearranging moments then, too. Trust me, trying to get to ‘Neutral Expression’ from ‘Oh my god, he’s Chairman Mao’ is no small feat. But after what seemed a long period of consideration, the idea had appeal – especially if it was me who got to decide who would be banned.
As music is so tied up with memory, it’s also linked to nostalgia – the yearning for a golden past that may or may not have really existed. Let’s face it, it’s not for nothing there are radio stations whose sole output is “classic hits”. When you’re in your 40s, the music from your 20s, that time of your life when everything was shiny and new, begins to exert a special pull. Nostalgia calls seductively from memory’s cobwebbed corridor: “Trust me, nothing’s as good as it was back then. Why don’t you lie down there in the snow for a while?…Just rest your eyes…”
Don’t you sometimes wonder if Beethoven and Bach and Schubert would be laughing their heads off if they heard that orchestras are still compulsively playing music composed more than 200 years ago, while contemporary composers can barely get a look-in?
I admire those people who remain open to the new in music while getting older – people like the late John Peel, who continued to introduce new bands to the world through his BBC radio show right up until his death (although it’s apt to note that Peel’s headstone is inscribed with lyrics from his favourite song ‘Teenage Kicks’, a song from his youth: ‘Teenage dreams, so hard to beat’). In Melbourne, RRR’s Stephen Walker is another radio presenter whose musical rolling stone has gathered no moss. This week I made some new musical discoveries courtesy of the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who was generously sharing on his website songs he liked from albums released so far this year.
I’m not saying the music of Bach and Beethoven is no good. Or that I don’t understand the enduring appeal of a song like the Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ (I’m not crazy.) I’m just saying not to take Nostalgia’s word for it. Get out there and see a band you’ve never heard before. Merrily wander along the goat tracks of Internet music websites, blogs and radio stations. Listen to radio stations that play new stuff. (The music of Cass McCombs had escaped my notice until this week when I heard, on community radio station PBS, County Line a divine song from McCombs’ new album.)
If your musical taste is in danger of calcifying, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to make yourself a ‘mix tape’ for the new millennium – no Beatles, nor Stones; no Blur, nor Pulp.
Wake up from your Golden Slumbers. Get up out of the snow – and explore. Meanwhile, just for old times’ sake…and because I missed it the first time…