Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Alternative Do I Have?

Once upon a time, I was an obsessive music fan. I had a CD collection with easily more than 1000 discs (probably closer to 2ooo, to be honest). I read Rolling Stone and Spin obsessively to discover what was new, who was out there, what I needed to get my hands on. I worked to compile a music collection that was reflective not just of my tastes but of the very genesis of music itself. I owned CDs by artists I didn't particularly like (Neil Young, for example) because I recognized that his importance to music as a whole outweighed my own personal tastes. At the same time, I attended concerts on a pretty regular basis -- taking as many opportunities as I could to bask in the beauty of live music and experiencing a wide range of artists.

Those days are, sadly, long over. Over the course of the past decade or so, I slowly dismantled my CD collection, selling large chunks of it off to clear space and get some extra cash. I rarely if ever go to concerts anymore outside of the occasional Phish show. (I can't even remember the last non-Phish show I attended.) As I settled into my 30's, my priorities changed. No longer crashing in Mom's basement, I actually had financial obligations -- rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, groceries -- that ate up all that lovely disposable income I'd had when Mom was taking care of all those expenses for me. Suddenly, the new Beastie Boys CD or catching the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their latest tour wasn't nearly as important as, say, electricity. With a full-time job, taking off at a moment's notice to catch a show hours away became a lot more difficult, too, especially when I have to wake up for work before the sun the next morning.

Age became a factor, too. Here in the penthouse of my 30's, I realize that I just don't have the energy (or sometimes even the will) to try the sorts of things I did in my 20's. Dancing my ass off for hours at Lollapalooza? Camping out to buy the new Nirvana CD? Staying up all night to drive home from an Oasis concert in Chicago? "Easy!" cried my 20-year-old self. "Easy," cautions my 30-year old self. I reached a point where I realized I didn't want to be the creepy old lady jamming out to the band and making all the kids uncomfortable. And as music changed and evolved, it just became more and more difficult to keep up with what was new and cool, especially when so much of the music considered cool was so stomach-churning to me.

There is this part of me that mourns, though, the loss of my indie cred. I recently started subscribing to Rolling Stone again (sadly, I did this for the political coverage rather than the music culture that had me subscribing for nearly 20 years). A couple nights ago, I was perusing a recent issue (with Roger Waters on the cover -- hey! I know that guy!). I popped to the back page where the music charts are listed. As I scanned down the list of albums topping the Billboard charts, I grew more and more disheartened to see so few names I recognized. Of the ones I DID recognize, I could only name a song or two by a small minority of them. It was even more grim when I looked over at the college charts that had once served as my CD shopping list. Who the heck are these people?? (I will admit to being intrigued by a band called Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin. I think I might have to check those kids out.)

Of course, with today's technology, I could easily get back into the music world. Kids today have it so easy! I can remember driving an hour or more to find cool little indie record stores to buy the cool new underground music that I could not find at the local Musicland. (Hey, guys, remember Musicland??) I can remember staying up late to watch MTV's 120 Minutes, often taking notes so I could remember the next morning what awesome band I had discovered the night before. (I saw the MTV debut of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Yes, my mind was blown!) Now, all I'd have to do is pop online and check out a iTunes or a bevy of sites that could lead me right where I wanted. As argued in the first installment of what promises to be an excellent series on 90's music at The AV Club called "Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?" , there is no underground anymore. It's all out there and above ground if you know where to look for it online.

So why am I not jumping into this pool of music? Maybe I'm lazy. Maybe I'm too settled in with the music I discovered 20 years ago and still love. Maybe it's just that I don't have all that time and disposable income to really tackle it all with the same passion and fervor of yesteryear. It all seems so overwhelming. And it probably doesn't help that the couple of times I have dipped my toe back in the water, I've felt like I was swimming in rancid water rather than the sweet waters of my youth. Sometimes, the music seems like carbon copies of stuff I used to listen to -- why listen to a pale imitation of The Clash when I can just pull out my old copy of London Calling and listen to the real thing?

Rock music, especially the music that meant to much to me back then, was music of and for the young. Sure, I still listen to Jane's Addiction and U2 and all those bands of my youth. I'm not saying that older people can't listen to rock music. But the music of those bands from our youth belong to us and hold meaning for us just as the music of today belongs to and holds meaning for the youth of today. I can't co-opt their youth. And why would I when I can revel in mine? As great as I'm sure Arcade Fire or Never Shout Never are, give me The Pixies anyday because they knew what it was like . . . in 1989.

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