I’ve been playing a metric crap-ton of the new Harmonix/Hasbro musical card game DropMix recently, which has had the unexpected effect of starting more conversations about music than I can remember having in a long, long time. And a lot of them have been great discussions about key and tempo and genre and the common threads that wind through the totality of popular music. Far too many of these conversations, though, have boiled down to one curmudgeonly premise: That no good music has been made since X, with X being the year of the curmudgeon in question’s birth plus 25 years (give or take half a decade).
Look, I get it. I do. Much as I love Andrew Bird and Sarah Jarosz and Bleachers and all manner of modern musical artists, they don’t have quite the same emotional impact on me as do Nirvana and 10,000 Maniacs and Guns N’ Roses. And the reason they don’t mostly boils down to one major difference: I wasn’t listening to The Mysterious Production of Eggs when I did my first load of laundry in my own apartment, or Song Up in Her Head the first time I got laid, or Don’t Take the Money when I was learning how to drive.
The thing is, these curmudgeons know deep down that they’re full of it. Because every time I come back with, “But have you even heard the new Sleater-Kinney album? Or Mates of State’s new jam?” they invariably roll their eyes at me, as if to say, yeah, look, I realize there’s some good music these days, but most of it sucks.
Here’s my reply to that: Most music has always sucked. Want to play a fun game? Think of your favorite year for new music. 1968 just happens to be mine, despite the fact that I wasn’t born yet. It’s the year that gave us Electric Ladyland and “Mrs. Robinson.” It’s the year of The White Album and Waiting for the Sun and CCR’s eponymous first effort. In ’68, we got Music from Big Pink and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Janis Joplin belted out “Piece of My Heart” and Cream burned down the house with “White Room.” The No. 1 song of the year was “Hey Jude,” for goodness’ sake.
You know what No. 2 was? “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat. Yeah, no, I don’t have a clue, either. Venture out of the safe territory of the Top 25 tracks for 1968 and most of it’s just utter garbage, aside from a handful of gems like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Magic Carpet Ride.” And again, this is the year I uphold as the single finest in pop-music history. Fast-forward to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—my formative years—and the situation is far direr.
The thing is, we don’t remember the stinkers, do we? We put the best of our youth up on a pedestal and imagine them to be representative of the music we grew up with. And here’s the thing: Your kids and grandkids will do the same. If you think a bunch of old folks are going to be sitting around their retirement communities in the year 2073, rocking their walkers to “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, I want some of whatever it is you’re smoking.
You want to discover the music being made today that’s really worth listening to? Grab your twentysomething son or daughter or niece or grandkid, go on a road trip, and take turns picking the tunes. You’ll quickly learn what they dig, and you’ll be able to share music from your youth that resonates with them. And they’ll return the favor.
Road trips with my daughter have turned me onto some righteously awesome new tunes and artists, running the gamut from Alexi Murdoch to Rae Morris to Little Jackie to the Lumineers. And spending that time with her listening to all of that music rewired my brain in the same way the best music of my youth did. To the same degree? Of course not. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. But ask me again in another twenty years, and I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that Alexi Murdoch’s “Orange Sky” is going to resonate with me just as much as the Breeders’ “Cannonball” does now.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.