Contemporary Pop Music and Classic Rock

Music was at the center of our lives when my generation was young.  There were no computer games.  So instead of hanging out and gaming with our friends, we would gather in a living room or someone’s bedroom and listen to classic rock.  OK, we usually got high, too.  With this much intensity surrounding music, it is not surprising how much really good music came out of my generation.  And with the gravitas now shifted from music, it is not surprising how poor the music quality is that is being produced now.  I think that music is now largely background to video games, repeating short phrases over and over again while one’s real attention is on the virtual characters.  I try to listen to pop music today, but very quickly get bored and turn it off.

Then I get philosophical.  Is this just another example of the older generation disparaging the music and customs of the younger generation?  I think about Dean Martin and Jimi Hendrix.  The silken sounds of Dean Martin and the melodic strings backing him were a mellow mix, soothing, if not mediocre.  Dean Martin was the music my parents liked.  What a shock to their sensibilities it must have been to hear Hendrix blasting onto the music scene in the ’60’s.  Hendrix, Clapton, the Beatles, Santana, and the other great bands and players of the ’60’s and early ’70’s brought a new and powerful sound to the world.  And none of them had anything near the silken tones of Dean Martin.  Young musicians are still learning Hendrix and other classic rock tunes.  No one listens to Dean Martin.  So I return to my philosophical question.  Is my disaffection with contemporary music just another example of the old disparaging the customs of the young?  Or is contemporary music really that bland?  I suppose the real question is whether there is any music today that will last like Hendrix.  Or is today’s sound fated to follow Dean Martin into obscurity?

But Dean Martin isn’t the only voice of his time.  Miles Davis, the great jazz trumpet/composer, lived approximately the same time as Dean Martin.  Miles Davis already has a lasting place in music history.  He took the jazz he inherited and took it into a new universe, inventing along the way the style called “Cool Jazz.”  The word is that Miles Davis wanted to collaborate with Hendrix just before Hendrix’s untimely demise.  Sadly, Dean Martin made more money and achieved greater fame than Miles did in his lifetime–except for those who cared about music quality.  So when I think of generational divides, it isn’t just a matter of Dean Martin and Hendrix.  Miles lived then, too.  And while Miles isn’t of my generation, my generation admires his music and, for me, envies the generation that produced the genius of Miles Davis.

So the issues isn’t one of generations only.  It’s a matter of the gravitas music holds for the listener.  I don’t think that there is a gravitas for music today.  So I doubt that any really good and lasting music will be produced in this generation.  And, sadly, I doubt that this generation will miss it.  Rather, I look into the future, when lovers of music will generate another climate in which a Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix will rise up in song.

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