Lately I've been buying CD's at CDNow.com and Buy.com. Stuff that I listened to twenty and thirty years ago, but that I've never owned on CD, sometimes not even on vinyl. Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, CSN, Joni Mitchell, Beatles. Great stuff. Stuff that molded and reflected my life, at one time. Stuff that was the background music to my existance, omnipresent, part of the texture of life itself. The singers' and songwriters' emotions were my emotions, the yearnings of my generation.
But it's not the same as it was.
I didn't expect it to be the same. You can't go home again, everyone knows that, except for the cast of Shoujo Kakumei Utena. But it's still kind of melancholy to realize that all that music, that was so important to me, so meaningful, just doesn't have the punch it once did.
Why is this? Any piece of art will get stale if you're around it too much. The surest way to learn to hate a painting is to hang it on your wall, and have to look at it day after day. Everyone knows that if you play a song many times a day, day after day, you'll get sick of it pretty soon, no matter how good a song it is. Maybe the music of my youth is like this.
But that's not all of it. Some of this music has been played to death on the FM stations that program the same couple hundred 60's/70's/80's hits, again and again and again. But some of it hasn't. There are lots of good songs on these albums that were never top hits, and have hardly been played on the radio at all. There are a few that I might not have heard in twenty or twenty-five years. And they are still a little disappointing, a little stale. Why is that?
I once visited Fallingwater, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's universally recognized masterpieces. I was... a little disappointed. It was an impressive house, and all, but not as stunning as I had thought it might be. I was underwhelmed. Thinking about it, I wonder if the reason might be that its style, with sharply intersecting planes of space, walls of raw sandstone blocks, and panels of glass, might be overly familiar to Americans by now. Fallingwater was new, shocking, radical, when it was conceived and built in 1939, but since then, these design elements have been incorporated into ten million houses in ten thousand suburban subdivisions, into public high schools, government buildings, and shopping malls. The style has become stale, and faded into the background of American aesthetic experience.
Maybe it's the same way with the rock 'n' rollers of the last forty years. Their style has become so overexposed, not just because their songs have been played over and over, but that the elements of their music have been used again and again by so many singers and bands, that their music no longer has the punch it is supposed to, that it once did. Their style has faded into the atmosphere, become commonplace. Become elevator music.
I can't get out of my mind the time I heard 'Dark Side of the Moon' as Muzak, in the Acme. It was right between the Kleenix and the toilet paper.
So goodbye Dylan, Donovan, Gordon Lightfoot, Creedence Clearwater, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, and Carole King, and hello Moby, Digable Planets, Bjork, Matchbox 20, J.A. Seazer and Yoko Kanno. Goodbye, hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye, hello.
"And we all nodded at him: the man of finance, the man of accounts, the man of law, we all nodded at him over the polished table that like a still sheet of brown water reflected our faces, lined, wrinkled; our faces marked by toil, by deceptions, by success, by love; our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone--has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash--together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusions."
But I'm cool like dat.