On Feb. 13, through no fault of my own, I turned 50. If I wanted to, I could relegate myself to the “Back in my day, we used to…” shelf and limit myself to the 10 albums that allow me to cement myself irrevocably into my past and preclude myself from checking out new artists and bands. I could. But I won't — ever!
Now and then, you may have to endure someone who insists that new music is either bad, a repeat or somehow not worth investigating. It is new — how could it possibly have any merit? This is, of course, a cop-out. New music is not boring; new music does not suck. At least not any more than it ever was or did. To be proprietary about an era of music and to dismiss that which came before or after your particular sonic comfort zone as mere filler is so completely off the mark.
Thankfully, that's not a trap that would ever ensnare you or me, is it? Of course not! We know better. We know that there's great music being made all over the world in great abundance at this very moment. We know that as long as there's people, there will always be great new music. Music will survive good times and bad, sometimes becoming even better in periods of turbulence and strife.
We know these things to be true. So how does one remain soluble to the uptake of different and new music?
A good way is not to plant your flag in the ground and stay put. I always thought that those who listened only to a certain kind of music were not only missing out but using music to cover up a bigger problem in their lives. If you're open-minded even to a small degree, then you are spoiled for choice for jam selection.
The principal reason I am open to all five corners of the record store is because of my mother. When I was a child, she whisked me off to the record store up to three times a week as she searched for new records. The small apartments we lived in all over the Washington, D.C., area were awash with music. Miles Davis, Miriam Makeba, Bartók, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Pete Seeger, Carole King, Dionne Warwick and countless others hit the turntable ceaselessly.
It is because of that inculcation into what would be considered a fairly eclectic world of music that I, by sheer proximity, developed a taste for all kinds of textures, tones and colors of music.
In the '80s, I had the great luck of meeting two major mavens of musicality: Deirdre O'Donoghue at 89.9 FM KCRW and writer Byron Coley. I went to KCRW in 1983 at the age of 22 to be interviewed by Deirdre. We did the interview and got into talking about music after her show was over. I think we were in there until past 3 in the morning. We became great friends and she turned me on to a lot of amazing music: Harold Budd, Eno solo records, the Arhoolie label, Laurie Anderson and countless others.
Byron used to come by SST Records, where I was living at the time. He would help the label with college radio ads. I would ask him about a band or an artist because it seemed that there wasn't anything or anyone in the world of music he wasn't conversant about. He started bringing me extra copies of records he had that he thought I would like. I listened to the records and artists that these two people generously turned me on to and took it from there.
As the years went on, my musical tastes only broadened. It's a hell of a thing to be into so many kinds of music from so many different genres and decades. It's hard on the bank account and one can lose a lot of sleep, but it's worth it.
The point I am making is that it's never over. In fact, it's perpetually just beginning. Marnie Stern, Dax Riggs, Vice Cooler, John Olson and his incredible American Tapes label, Tinariwen from Mali, Konono No. 1 from Congo, Buck Gooter, Crystal Castles and so on and so on.
(As for the past — hey, if you have not heard it yet, then it's new, right?)
I think we are really on to something here! Instead of nailing yourself to the floor as to what rocks, out of some sense of loyalty or insecurity, you can do something else and have endless amounts of incredible joy by digging the limitless mixtape that is open-eared listening.
One of the best things for me as a man of 50 is to go to a show and see that I could very well be the oldest person in the room. It happened the other night at the Deerhoof show. Music is music, no age limit, no ID required.
Go get some. Go get a lot.
Or take my advice and get too much. Because even then, it's never enough.