I've been hearing a bunch of songs that Elder now listens to, (among other things, it makes me want to call up my mother and apologize for all the Zepplin I had ringing through the house back in the day) and a few things have struck me.
First, the music isn't that much different from what I used to listen to. The difference between my time and hers is roughly the same as the difference between my time and my father's. He listened to Big Band and Swing, and while the rock and roll I listened to evolved out of Swing, they could hardly be described as the same. Much of what she listens to could be transported back to a seventies or eighties radio station, and not be terribly out of place, musically.
That seems sad to me. Each generation had its own music, its own styles. These kids shouldn't be listening to our old styles- or even the bands, as quite a f ew of them are still around and touring. They should have their own music, their own sound. Popular music appears to have ossified.
There is one thing about the music that has changed, though: musicianship seems to be gone. The bands of the swing era were tough for a musician to get into, and only the best could hope to join one of the bigger orchestras. Rock bands tended to be more stable- always the same group of guys, until they had a fight and broke up- but while not on the whole as skilled as the players of the previous generation, they still played their own instruments. We have travelled farther down that curve, and musicianship is all but eliminated. The music is produced in whole or in part through computers and voices are run through auto tune. Still, these are both trends that were well underway in my era, and, as I said, the music is not terribly different, which brings me to the second point.
Second, the words are different, although they have moved along the same curve. Again, a lot of what I listened to was about sex, and getting it on, or whatever euphemism you care to employ. That was part of the weird psychology of my era, as we were coming up in the age of the AIDS terror. What that meant was we were desperate to have sex, but terrified we'd die if we ever pulled it off. But in my time it was coated in love- the guys at least pretended they were in love with the girl and viewed sex as the natural outcome of that love.
Now, it is sex without meaning or emotion which leads to a natural conclusion. Now they make no pretense to love or any form of commitment. And it shows. The songs Elder was listening to the other night were all breakup songs. Three was, for instance, Taylor Swift, who has made a career out of such songs. She often claims she is writing from experience, and judging from the stories about her, this sweet and innocent looking young woman is going through men like a dog goes through chew toys. Nor does she appear to learn from past disasters. But at least they make fodder for her songs. And she does play her own guitar, so there's that. And in her new song she is telling her former love that they are never Never NEVER getting back together. Good on her. Has she learned anything? Probably not. On to the next one.
There is also the current hit from a soon to be one hit wonder Gotye :Somebody that I used to know, in which he sings about how they were once in love, but now it is over, and his former lover, who actually lived with him, is "Just somebody that I used to know." Interesting phrase, that. I have used it many times in the past. I am usually referring to someone with whom I went to high school. We had a few classes together, and knew each other well enough to say hi to each other in the halls. That was somebody that I used to know. It seems grossly inadequate for a former lover. That this phrase is now being used to describe people who were once in love and broke apart- even without sex- is one of the saddest things I have heard.
We are living in an era that has a kind of schizophrenia about sex, On the one hand, it is the best thing ever, the most wonderful thing there is, the only thing that makes life worth living. On the other hand, it is no big deal. We did it. It was great. Now you're just somebody that I used to know. On to the next one.
Mark Shea has pointed out that society moves through two phases: What can it hurt? followed by How was I supposed to know? Judging by the music, I think we are starting to get the answer at least to the first question. Boys in my time had to at least pretend they cared. Today they need no such pretense. Women have been taught to demand nothing from them, and they deliver nothing. We were told that sex would set us all, particularly the women, free. I would say that it hasn't made women free, although it has made them remarkably cheap. And they write songs about it.