Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Music and age: you've always wondered

I could once veer effortlessly from reggae to country to punk to old Rogers & Hammerstein to RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN (which was especially fun to listen to, if you consider the fact that Richard Nixon was forced to sit through it and even applaud afterwards) and then start all over again. Last year, I finally sold the ancient vinyl record collection (which you may remember I threatened to do HERE), and was embarrassed to find GUY LOMBARDO AND HIS ROYAL CANADIANS, good Lord, where did THAT come from?

For every White Light, White Heat (which made local collector/entrepreneur Gene Berger's heart go pitty-pat when he saw it), there was something goofy like HEAVY METAL TOP HITS, which featured B-sides nobody ever heard of, they weren't top hits at all. Scanning the cover, I realized I bought it dirt cheap just to listen to Golden Earring's RADAR LOVE.

At left: poster advertising the famous communist opera/ballet, RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN. It sounds pretty much like you think it does.

I find it difficult to listen to new music now, in the proper open-eared fashion. At first, didn't think much of this, but later, I worried. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME? I think we know the name for it: its called getting old.

I have lost so many of my favorite musicians recently, age and death are unavoidably on my mind. David Bowie lived on the edge for years, so it was not as surprising that he didn't hit age 70, although still heartbreaking. But Prince? He was a vegan, didn't even drink. And (take note) he is YOUNGER THAN ME. I repeat, YOUNGER THAN ME. People younger than me ain't supposed to die. Alarming and saddening.

Also alarming and saddening, regarding the musical tastes of aging people, here is a fascinating account of some research by Stanford University neuroscience professor (and great author) Robert Sapolsky:

[Sapolsky], irritated by his young administrative assistant’s eclectic taste in music, tested whether there are maturational time windows during which we form cultural tastes. He and his research assistants called oldies radio stations, sushi restaurants in the Midwest, and body-piercing parlors and asked the managers when their service was introduced, and how old their average customer was. They found that if you’re more than thirty-five years old when a style of popular music is introduced there’s a greater than ninety-five per cent chance that you will never choose to listen to it. For sushi restaurants, the window of receptivity closed by age thirty-nine; for body-piercing, by twenty-three. The findings were reminiscent of studies that show that creativity declines with age. These studies also indicate that great creative minds not only are less likely to generate something new but are less open to someone else’s novelty. Einstein, in his later years, fought a rear-guard action against quantum mechanics.

Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton has shown that the decline in creativity and openness among great minds isn’t predicted by age so much as by how long people have worked in one discipline. Scholars who switch disciplines seem to have their openness rejuvenated. That may be because a new discipline seems fresh and original, or because a high achiever in one discipline is unusually open to novelty in the first place. Or maybe changing disciplines really does stimulate the mind’s youthful openness to novelty. Or it may just be that established generations resist new discoveries because they have the most to lose by them. The explanation is not neurological: in most brain regions there isn’t any dramatic neuron loss as we get older, and there is no such thing as a novelty center in the brain. Given that aging contracts neural networks and makes cognition more repetitive, it would be a humane quirk of evolution if we were reassured by that repetition. There may even be some advantage for social groups if their aging members become protective archivists of their cultural inheritance.

But the writer remains dispirited by the impoverishment that comes with this closing of the mind to novelty. If there’s a rich, vibrant world out there, he figures it’s worth putting up a bit of a fight, even it means forgoing Bob Marley’s greatest hits every now and then.
It also seems important to listen to as much different music as you can before this cultural "window" closes.

The problem isn't just that the window seems to close, but that we haven't seen everything out that wide window first... therefore, expand those boundaries as far as you can. Best advice would appear to be: Listen to it all when you are young and have open-ears.

RED DETACHMENT OF WOMEN still doesn't annoy me the way it does most people... and its undoubtedly because I heard it so many times as a young pup, even if I WAS forced by the Progressive Labor Party.

And what would the eager young comrades in this 70s, old-school Maoist opera-ballet company say if they saw modern, hyper-capitalist China? Relieved, upset, suicidal, happy? The opera is the sound of a whole nother China, which sounds more familiar to me than today's China... just as I feel oddly warm and cozy when I see now-extinct cold-war thrillers on TV: Its all over now kids, at least the worst! Whew, was that some shit or what?

Entertainment like The Hunt for Red October used to stop my heart, and now I am thinking: I never noticed how Sean Connery's Russian accent needs some work.


Annie ODyne said...

whenever I am asked what type of music I like I say "all types, but just the good stuff". was genuinely saddened by the demise of the unique Mr Prince. his baby dying age 7 days must have affected him very very badly.
even loved Tom Jones when he did Princes KISS.
and silly Sinead Conor when she did his Nothing Compares To You.
and oh yes I loved RADAR LOVE and may have bought the single [memory is now shot due to being 67 I think], and I love Joan Jett AC/DC, cerntry, swamp rock, Lerner&Lowe, Mancini, etc, but cannot think of anything moderne which draws me, possibly because I hear the influences and loved them first time round - who needs Adele or any modern chick who tries to sound like Aretha when I had Aretha in 1968 .. y'know?

Ha ha Sean Connery. a Mr Universe. check ZARDOZ.
best regards from Australia to you Miz DD

JoJo said...

My taste in music is pretty eclectic too although these days I don't listen that much at all, except in the car. I would never part with my vinyl though.

Daisy Deadhead said...

Annie, I LOOOOVE me some Zardoz. lol

Jojo, I'd really enjoy going thru your vinyl collection!!!

Carolina Consigliere said...

I learned opera appreciation in seventh and eighth grades.

In that same time frame I wound up loving everything from Broadway show tunes to The Archies. I bought Silver Apples of the Moon by Morton Subotnick and Puppy Love by Donnie Osmond.

Then things got hectic. ELP, Beatles, punk, new wave....

Later I was exposed to VERY early rap...you know...when breakdancing was a thing? Run DMC, Fat Boys, KRS1.....

But where do you put Joan Armatrading? Joe Jackson?

Zydeco, Jazz, Classical, bluegrass, authentic country are all genre I enjoy.

I turned on to RATM in 1999.....when I was what...40?

I find myself listening to new music rarely. One way to deal with that would be to go out and see live performances.

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Steven Thompson said...


Personally, I think that music is some kind of form of food for the soul. Although I can no longer relate much to the music genres of today’s generation, I always find time to search and locate for the music that are very much inspiring and moving.

I am a music lover – classical, jazz, metal, name it but the electro or what they usually call EDM nowadays, I just find it so loud although some of those are really great.

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