Music is one subject that most boomers have passionate opinions about. Paul Smith kindly invited me to write up some of my own ideas. I do so with nervousness, but look forward to hearing your own views and experiences in response.
The ‘50s and ‘60s clearly represented a major turning point for music. Music was one of the most important ways in which teenage culture took shape – separating out from other generations by developing distinctive (and provocative) styles of pop, dance, clothing, slang, etc. Then in the ‘60s rock also became a sophisticated form of artistic expression.
In my vicinity, rock and roll in the ‘50s was wonderful entertainment but still oriented mainly to teenyboppers. If you wanted to be hip you listened to jazz, which went with duffle coats, reading Beat poetry, and other sophisticated stuff. But then, when Dylan produced Highway 61 Revisited in 1965 and the Beatles brought out Sgt Pepper two years later, along with many other great albums of the period, it was clear that the genre of rock music could be a vehicle for as much poetry and musical experiment as anyone wanted.
Forty years later we are living in the vast wake left by this change. So much of the energy of the culture has gone into rock music that it now incorporates its own mainstream, its own avant-garde, its own ‘classics’ – the tradition offers something for everyone. This has had a big (and controversial) impact on classical music since there is no longer the social assumption that when you reach your 30s or 40s you will naturally put aside childish things and start listening to ‘serious’ music - light classical music at least, or maybe a little opera. Today, with rock musicians still active in their 50s and 60s, that is no longer the general expectation.
Not surprisingly, contemporary forms of classical music have sought to adapt by incorporating a rock influence (for example, groups like Kronos Quartet or Bang on a Can). Jazz has also struggled to remain fresh, with rock influence reflected for example in the greater prominence of electric guitarists (like John Schofield).
So much of the creative energy of the culture is now devoted to popular music that styles change with dizzying speed. If you visit a large CD store like Auckland’s Real Groovy only once every year or two, you will find each time that the layout has changed. Currently the Alternative Rock section is expanding since that’s where the action is. Metal has gained some new experimental energy. Dance music peaked a few years ago, after spawning a bewildering array of sub-genres, and it is now shrinking rapidly. Hip-hop has sustained its growth longer than most people expected, but seems now to be fading a little. It has been wonderful to observe the continuing growth of the New Zealand section, and it is good to see the popular return of vinyl. But meanwhile, classical music and jazz have been relegated to the far end of the downstairs floor, with few visitors apart from oldies like us. Even CDs are now an endangered species as more and more listeners obtain their music by downloading it from the Internet.
Follow Part 2 of Roger's Music musings in his next article on September 15