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Better? Best forgotten. - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Better? Best forgotten.
This is partly just echoing/amplifying a rant that bluedevi had a few days ago, and partly thinking about whether the music scene was "better" when I was more "into" it. The answer's there in the question, of course. The landscape of the "scene" has shifted as technology and fashions (inextricably interlinked) have changed, but by any even-slightly-meaningful criteria there are plenty of bands now who are as good as or better than the bands that set my world on fire in the 1990s; and that's even before you take into consideration that I was a member of the Kingmaker fan club.

The real difference is me: I've heard more music, so fewer things seem quite as overwhelmingly new and exciting as they did then; I've started to find a voice of my own, so I'm less reliant on Suede and the Smiths (or whoever their nearest modern equivalent may be) to be my mouthpiece, so the lyrics don't necessarily seem as immediate or as world-shaking (I can still be knocked sideways by a well-turned phrase, but I'm less likely to like something just because it puts something that I feel into words); and I've got less time to sit in my room reading the NME and Melody Maker and Select (or their modern equivalents -- I recommend Clash), so maybe I'm missing half the coolest stuff anyway. Even if I'm not missing the music, I'm not picking up on so much of the social dynamics that used to colour it, round it out. It's not so much of a tribal thing for me any more; it's just (just!) music.

I guess it's partly just that my preoccupations in life are different. In 1992 everybody was singing about alienation and unrequited love, or so it seemed... and I felt alienated from my peers as I suffered the pangs of unrequited love! The songs could have been written for me! (The cynic in me is tempted to say now that in a very real sense they were, because I was right slap bang in the middle of their target demographic.) Now, I'm sure plenty of people are still singing about alienation and unrequited love... but fewer people are singing about not having time to eat breakfast in the morning, or worrying about finances (you don't need to provide counterexamples, I can think of several, but I think my point still stands), or about feeling ground down by small-talk. If somebody wrote a decent song about how the hell they were ever going to be able to afford to buy a house, or (at the other end of the scale) about finally cracking and stabbing the guy who puts the coffee-soaked spoon back in the sugar bowl, stabbing him with his own spoon, then, woah, yeah, I'd be right behind it. Maybe. If I had time in between going to work and doing the laundry and writing lists of all the things I haven't done.

In the meantime... I am fed up of hearing that music's not what it used to be. I was already fed up with that as a teenager, when I liked the old music and the new and didn't think one had to be better, didn't see why (for all my fierce allegiance to indie) why liking Blur meant you weren't supposed to like the Beatles, or Bach, as well. I'm still fed up with it now, tired of seeing tired and jaded people trying to deny the next generation -- or even just the person behind them in the queue for the cinema or the record-store checkout -- the right to have quite as much fun as they did. It happens everywhere, though: in music, in technology, in literature, in food, in anything you can put a name to. And it's boring. I'm tired of being told that Franz Ferdinand were so much better when they were still jamming in their dads' basements, that the internet was better when everybody on the street crowded round a roaring acoustic coupler, that nobody's written a decent novel since the death of Dickens, that pineapples don't taste as nice now that you can actually afford to buy them, that if you got a degree In Those Days it actually meant something, that Glastonbury "just isn't Glastonbury" without all the crime...

... That it was all so much better before we came down out of the trees. Before the garden, before the apple.

And Wagon Wheels were bigger in those days.
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nilasae From: nilasae Date: February 24th, 2006 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
*applauds* Well said!
hairyears From: hairyears Date: February 24th, 2006 12:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

You need more cynicism

Then, as now, a great deal of the music was complete crap. Perhaps the overwhelming majority of it.

Then, as now, you had to make an effort to get to the good stuff: people who have become middle-aged and disengaged no longer do, and wander around complaining that everything they hear these days is rubbish.

But yes, I take your point that a we are more discriminating... As well as your intriguing observation that, having found our own voice, we no longer need a band to express the things that we once found difficult to understand and articulate. Still, I'd say that I still appreciate a band that strikes that spiritual chord.

j4 From: j4 Date: February 24th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You need more cynicism

Then, as now, you had to make an effort to get to the good stuff

Well, it's not really much effort, really. Listening to the radio and reading the music papers (or, now, reading blogs) and following up friends' recommendations. Maybe I underestimate the effort I put in? It doesn't feel like a lot of effort, anyway; if it felt like a chore, I wouldn't do it.

I'd say that I still appreciate a band that strikes that spiritual chord

Oh, definitely! But there's not as much oh-my-god-I'm-not-alone-in-this-wilderness about it. Though, to be honest, the internet probably did that for me more than music anyway.
keirf From: keirf Date: February 24th, 2006 12:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
And Wagon Wheels were bigger in those days.

Actually, our hands were smaller.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: February 24th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yep. It's one of the distressing symptoms of old age, and so embarrassing that it's rarely mentioned. After the age of 25, your hands start growing again, and don't stop till you die.

Of course, you can go for suction to reduce their size again. But that never really works very well if you ever stopped sucking your thumb.
From: rgl Date: February 24th, 2006 12:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are occasions when artistic forms seem to get worse because particular media or genres have gone into decline... To take an extreme example, I could complain that no-one makes operas like they used to, which is true, as hardly anyone makes operas at all and when they do they're deliberately making some comment on an archaic form. I think it would be possible to argue - although I'm not sure I believe it myself - that in the 80s/90s indie was a new genre which was playing with various possibilities, whereas now it is a mature genre with an established set of stereotypes and a canon of sorts. I certainly don't believe that music now is overall any worse than it was, and I still pay just as much attention to it as I did when I were a lad.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 24th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good point about media/genres going into decline -- one that hadn't occurred to me.

hardly anyone makes operas at all and when they do they're deliberately making some comment on an archaic form

I think it's hard to say or do anything without making a comment on that thing, or being seen to make a comment on that thing, or being seen to avoid making a comment on that thing (which is in itself a sort of comment). I don't know to what extent this is the fallout from postmodernism, or a function of my (lack of) perspective on the arts and arts criticism, or something that's actually always been true that we've "discovered" in the same way that Columbus "discovered" America, or what. I don't know much, really (but I know what I like!).

I do argue with myself in my head a lot about whether it really is true (as it sometimes seems) that it gets progressively harder to say anything new, or whether that's just rockist nostalgia for an imagined golden age with more potential for innovation. I don't really come to any useful conclusions, though.
ultraruby From: ultraruby Date: February 24th, 2006 01:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
And packets of crisps were HUGE!

I find it an odd and slightly annoying thing about myself that I'm drawn to music that talks to me about my own life. I mean, as if I don't know about myself already, and rattle on on a daily basis about the things that affect me. Art's supposed to help people to expand their minds, and yet almost all the lyrics I listen to are directly in line with my politics and worldview, or are so non-conflicty with my own bubble of life that even though they don't agree, they don't actually challenge.

Music gets better all the time, though. My capacity to experience it, too, since these days I don't live in the middle of nowhere and am not too scared to leave my house.

The French's 'Nest Building'; now that's a good tune.
bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: February 24th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yeah. "I can swim thirty lengths, I can cook a pepper sauce"
j4 From: j4 Date: February 24th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I look for musical challenges in music rather than ideological ones; you know, pushing your John Peel envelope, kind of thing. Listening to Melt Banana. Though not actually listening to Melt Banana. It was only a few years ago really that I realised I didn't hate dance music. I mean, I'd liked various-instances-of-dance-music for years, but they were indie not dance, obv, because I didn't like dance music. :-)

I'm not sure I could come up with any songs that I'd recommend to you that would challenge or even disagree with your worldview. It's an interesting mental exercise, though, trying to think of something, & I'll see what I can come up with...

I find books are more the thing for ideological challenges, though, rather than songs. With songs it's too easy to just say "Oh but I like the tune" and kind of ignore the words if they're not quite the thing -- harder with books, obv. I've been reading things recently that have been feeding my inner Toryism, which is a bit disconcerting for somebody who's always bought into a kind of naïve leftishness (student politics, really) and assumed that Conservativism was Just Plain Wrong, without even realising I'd been making that assumption. Hmmm. This is something I should probably write about more, but only when I've nailed it down a bit more. Add it to the list of things I'll never get round to writing about! :-/
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: February 24th, 2006 01:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's hard to see how one could like Blur and not like the Beatles, given that their influence (and that of early Pink Floyd) really shines through in Blur's music.
bluedevi From: bluedevi Date: February 24th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've never seen the Pink Floyd thing consciously before, but hmmm, you may be right.
j4 From: j4 Date: February 24th, 2006 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Beatles, though, are perceived as uncool by the youth of today (I have it on good authority from said youth). People aren't always rational about these things where genre/coolness is concerned.

Not sure I see the Blur/Pink Floyd thing myself (though I'm quite prepared to believe it) -- examples?
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: February 24th, 2006 11:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm thinking of some of the biographical tracks on Parklife - they bear an uncanny resemblence to Floyd's "Arnold Layne".
jiggery_pokery From: jiggery_pokery Date: February 24th, 2006 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
As much as I realise that you don't need counterexamples for people not writing songs about being ground down by small talk either, you have given me an excuse to link to this. At the very least it provides a counterargument to the point, which you didn't come anywhere close to making, that songs these days are much more banal than they used to be.
From: rgl Date: February 24th, 2006 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
...which makes me realise that, now that I think about it, Meantime by The Futureheads is vaguely about being ground down by small talk.
verlaine From: verlaine Date: February 24th, 2006 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Banal lyrics are brilliant! Check this! And this! I think the problem with lyrics is that they're LESS banal than in the good old days!
j4 From: j4 Date: February 24th, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't that more about talking-too-much rather than small talk per se? See also "U Talk Too Much" by the Sultans of Ping FC.

And I wouldn't exactly call it banal. It's not exactly deep 'n' meaningful, sure, but it's funny. Ish.
arnhem From: arnhem Date: February 25th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I remember being disturbed by Craig David singing "I bet she never told you everything that drifted through her mind". Dante had that in mind for one of the levels of hell, I think.
verlaine From: verlaine Date: February 24th, 2006 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, hush! Are you saying that the problems we have with the world and our unsatisfying jobs and our doomed relationships and our general continuous state of mope and moan might be less to do with any external factors and more to do with us? The very idea! ;)

No, you're bang on the head of the nail, of course.
anat0010 From: anat0010 Date: February 25th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

One thing that is better ...

Now I have found my tastes I don't need or want to be exposed to this year's Hip-Hop or RnB disposable packaging. So thank goodness for internet radio. Throughout the planet there are jaded 30-somethings who like *exactly* the same music as me. But they have larger record collections, or are hipper and have the next generation of soon to be jaded 30-somethings pushing their demos on them.
We share tastes in music and its broadcast directly to me to lap it up.
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