Tired Song Keeps Playing on a Tired Radio

As I write this I'm sitting in a pub listening to an acoustic set by a pair of gentlemen I guess to both be about eight years my junior, barely out of college at best. They're actually pretty talented. Steve Vai wouldnt' be impressed but they're both competent guitar players with better than average voices.

What's odd is that they're set consists almost entirely of indie-rock hits from the nineties, music that was popular when they were in elementary school. Since I've arrived I've heard Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Oasis, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Porno for Pyros, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Matthews, Barenaked Ladies, 4 Non Blondes, Goo Goo Dolls, Offspring, Counting Crows and Bush. Sure, quite a number of these bands are still active today but the particular songs being played were all radio singles when I was in high school.

What is it about this era in music that persists? I understand why I like it; it's the music with which I grew up. It was the soundtrack of my adolescence and early adulthood. Each of these ditties is tied to a distinct and vivid memory of my coming of age.

That is likely not true for the two guys playing, who were barely done watching Mr. Rogers when these songs were first popular. It's also not true for most of the rest of the people in the bar who all seem to be much older or much younger than I. Much of the music of the eighties has faded, or at least has been forgotten and reclaimed by the twin spirits of nostalgia and kitsch. Most of the music of the still-young twenty-first century has receded from memory like a cultural tide. Not so for the flannel-clad rockers and cosmopolitan lamenters of my youth. They've never gone away. Songs like "Jeremy," "Lithium," and "Spoonman" have been on heavy rotation for more than fifteen years.

Some of these bands have been putting out albums continuously for the last decade and a half but the singles rarely last six months while songs from their first or second record continue to be imbibed by entirely new generations.

Someone please tell me why I hear more of Dave Grohl's drums than I ever do of his vocals?

I'm not making a judgment about the quality of the music. I'm wondering about why it endures when so much music that preceded and followed it has either faded away or become artifacts of a bygone era. I was in the middle of the generation for whom this music was first composed. To us it was simply what was on the radio. Do nineteen and twenty year olds get the same musical experience out of these songs or is something different going on? Has popular music become less sophisticated and I'm only interacting with the most tasteful of listeners as they cling to the superior works of days past, or perhaps exactly the reciprocal? Am I simply not paying attention to newer music and thus only perceiving that with which I'm already familiar?

Someone enlighten me please.

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waldo said...

Am I simply not paying attention to newer music

Any muso or music afficienado will tell you this is a generic trait of humanity. The music we hear in our youth is the stuff that resonates all our lives ~ new stuff will reveal many beautiful moments ~ we discover brilliance that we may have overlooked as we progress but the music we grow up with is the foundation of our listening lives.

peony said...

The passing of one generation's songs to the next is a time honored tradition. Between 9 and 14 you could sing almost the entire discography of Jim Croce..dead in 1973; Billy Joel from the early 70's; The Who, formed in 1964, and Pink Floyd formed in 1965. All long before your time. Just as I can sing along with Glenn Miller, Patti Page, Perry Como, Kate Smith...the voices and bands of my parent's generation. Those old
30's-50's songs still speak to me as I'm sure the ones from the 60's and 70's speak to you. Perhaps what these young men are singing are the songs that first brought them to music. As a man who loves tradition that should appeal to you.

Tom Harper said...

I don't have an answer to why certain older music groups are eulogized and covered endlessly while earlier and later groups get forgotten.

I'm old enough that the music of the '60s is imprinted on me. I liked all that music then, but I hardly ever listen to it any more. I like all sorts of music -- jazz, heavy metal, current radio hits. But I can't believe how many people in their 20s are really into the music of the 1960s, even more than their own current music.

I also don't understand why it's so popular to do acoustic versions of hard rock songs. I like both acoustic and electric music, but for me they're usually 2 separate things. If Peter Paul and Mary did a speedmetal version of "If I Had a Hammer" the audience would die laughing and/or go storming out. But for some reason it's just ultra-cool to have these electric guitar whizzes do acoustic unplugged versions of their hits. I don't get it.

nursemyra said...

I'd like to hear a speedmetal version of "If I Had a Hammer"

renalfailure said...

Funny... I was in high school during the whole Nirvana/Pearl Jam/STP era but I wasn't much for it. I was mainly rocking out to Dead Kennedys and Butt Trumpet.

And I was way ahead of the 80's revival. I loved the 80's way before that VH1 show told us it was okay.

nursemyra said...

Butt Trumpet?

renalfailure said...

Yes, Butt Trumpet.