The older I get, the more my thoughts are occupied by my past. That’s hardly unusual. Neither is it difficult to explain. After all, more of a septuagenarian’s life lies behind him than ahead of him, exceedingly unlikely advances in human longevity excepted. Besides, a man in his seventies hardly has the range of possibilities of a man in his twenties. Worse, the most attractive of the septuagenarian’s possibilities involve eating and sleeping.
Well, anyway…as with most persons of my generation, my musical tastes were formed many years ago. I had a non-musical upbringing. My childhood home contained no music. That was probably for the best, as 78 RPM records weren’t exactly kind to the material recorded on them. My first significant exposure to music of any sort occurred when I acquired a bedroom radio.
Whoo! What is this stuff? It’s catchy. It makes you want to move. After you’ve heard it a time or two, you find yourself singing or whistling it. More, more, more!
During my teenage years I accumulated quite a lot of contemporary music in various formats. To the everlasting sorrow of many, I also learned to play the guitar. (In his novel Past Master, R. A. Lafferty describes the guitar thus:
“For the love of Saint Jack, what are those, Paul?” Thomas asked in bewilderment. “Are those not the instruments described by Dante as played in the lowest Hell?”
…and given the way it was played by such as myself back then, with considerable justice. But I digress.)
And of course, as did most young persons of that time, I acquired favorites: artists and groups that pleased me so greatly that upon hearing that they’d released a new recording, I would rush pell-mell to the nearest music emporium – does anyone else remember Sam Goody? – squander my pittance upon it, and delight in it to the consternation of family and friends.
Ah, the memories!
Time passes. Tastes change. (That was all the C.S.O. had to say when I broached this line of thought to her.) And sometimes, the discovery that one’s tastes have changed – perhaps even radically – can deliver a serious shock.
Just recently I got hold of a record from long ago that I played obsessively when I first acquired it. I was thrilled to discover that it was available, and cheaply at that. So upon the instant of its arrival at the Fortress, I stuck it on the turntable, set the needle on the rim, and turned up the volume.
And I was appalled.
Omigod omigod omigod. I actually used to like this…music? What was wrong with me back then? What’s happened since then that cured me?
I pulled the needle off the record, pulled the record off the turntable, shoved the disc into its liner, shoved the whole shebang into its alphabetically proper place in my collection, and sat to think.
The recording was from a very popular group that was riding high at the time of its release. The record itself was immensely popular. (I think it went platinum.) I remember playing it quite a lot. I think I remember actually enjoying it.
Well, tastes do change. And other recordings from that same group still please me greatly. Now I have to figure out whether the one in question was a “clinker” that I embraced simply because the group was one of my favorites, or whether there was some other, darker reason connected to…oh, God knows what.
A couple of months ago there was another incident of significance for a slightly different reason. I can’t say why – trust me, Gentle Reader: if I told you, I’d have to kill you – but a particular record from long ago entered my thoughts and refused to leave. The artist was one of the “new troubadours” of the early Seventies. The record in question was his first release, and became exceedingly popular. Indeed, you could hear young people singing snatches from it wherever young people might congregate.
I was similarly enamored of that record, and eager to hear whatever else the artist might record. But for whatever reason, I was never able to get a copy of his second record. He did have one; I became aware of it soon after its release. But I never found it on the shelves at any store I might visit.
Well, just recently I scored a copy of that second record, in MP3 format. I was so eager to hear what I’d been waiting for back then that I could not let a moment pass without queueing it up and sitting back to listen.
The disappointment was total, yet I can’t say why. I still loved the predecessor record from that artist. But the second one fell flat, and I can’t articulate a reason for it. The songs were much like the earlier ones. The instrumentation was the same. The performances and quality of the recording were impeccable. But it did less than nothing for me. It bored me.
And explanation came there none. I’m still groping for one.
Yes, tastes change. But some of the changes are well nigh impossible to explain. I still listen to a lot of the favorites of my youth, but not all of them. I’ve acquired new tastes as well, for music I dismissed fifty years ago.
Perhaps better memories are attached to the old favorites I still enjoy. Or perhaps when I listen to them today, I somehow enter into the young titan who first loved them, whose deteriorating shell I inhabit. But there’s no way to know, without contriving a time machine and going back then. And if I could do that, why would I continue to sit here and natter on about all this?
Well, it seems it’s time to take the legion of pills that sustain this old carcass. I hope there’s some decaf left with which to wash them down. So do have a nice day.