The music of my youth

I did a bunch of pleasant things on Saturday. Early on I walked the path along the beach towards the Farmer’s Market in Sandringham. It’s a very pretty walk that leaves you feeling privileged to live in such a place. At the market I wandered around browsing the different stalls selling bread and organic vegies, artisan cheese, chocolate brownies, grass fed beef and handmade sausages – and all the rest of it. There’s a plethora of pleasing options and in the hour I was there I came away with a bunch of things I looked forward to tucking into.

On Saturday night I went out joining with JV to go to a local bar in Highett. It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks and we plan to go to this bar, and though I’ve been a few times before I wanted to check it out once more. We sat down, had a couple of beers, then a couple of cocktails, and in between a selection of excellent Vietnamese bar snacks. It was a mellow, excellent vibe.

During the day though I spent it quietly at home. I had a yen to play my collection of Beatles tunes – it had been forever since I last had – and so I fired up the stereo and played them on loud one after another as I went about my household tasks.

It’s great music this Beatles stuff. Melodic and smart and so, so catchy. I wasn’t around as a music fan when they were still together, but I grew up with their stuff nonetheless. I remember vividly the moment I heard that John Lennon had been murdered, at school with my friends at Turramurra High School, and commenting well there goes a Beatles re-union.

A few weeks back I watched an excellent documentary on the Beatles called Eight Days a Week. It was probably that which re-ignited my passion for their music. I’d stopped on the channel it was on thinking I might watch 5 minutes of it, but instead stopped to watch the whole program. The pleasure was musical, but it was also cultural and sentimental. It seemed so real, as if I had been there. Certainly there were many clips I’d seen dozens of times before, but there was a lot of stuff I’d not seen before. I recognised it, though what the thing was I recognised I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it was a feeling, and remembrance of what it was to be a fan and music lover. As many of these older things do these days it made me think of my mum too – and the things I would have asked her if I could, but no longer can.

I’m convinced that music has a different relationship to society now than it used to. When I was growing up it felt like everyone was passionate about music. I went to school with a bunch of guys who either wanted to grow up and play guitar or drums in a group, or where already playing something. Even I played an instrument – albeit just a trumpet. At school we would talk about artists and latest albums and would exchange cassette tapes made of our most recent purchases.

I remember the feeling of saving my pennies for the journey one day to the local Brashs store where I would delight in purchasing the long awaited LP. It was a journey towards it, saving money, making the trip, then returning home to play it while reading the sleeve notes. As I’ve written before, the concept of the album has been lost in this digital age, and the journey itself much abbreviated by the simple click of a button.

Last month Rage had a retro program which I taped and watched the next day. Recorded were 30 year old programs of Countdown I probably watched the first time around. In comparison to the polished TV these days the old programs seemed casual and thrown together, but they were awfully authentic too, and very passionate. Then they showed an old Rock Arena program. Rock Arena was a bit more highbrow. I had a thing for the presenter, who was earnest and very knowledgeable and cute in that nerdy rockwiz way. She would interview obscure performers and focus on threads of music – the episode I watched was about Matt Smith, the man behind The The. I would watch that every week for years on end – was it Tuesday nights?

There was another program I would watch on SBS too – can’t remember what it was called, but hosted by Basia Bonkowski (all these years after I still remember her name).

These were programs for music heads, but it seems to me the equivalent to those programs don’t exist anymore, and the only music words these days more or less are those carried over from my generation.

I may have it wrong, but as an observer it seems true. There’s not the passionate performers who put their heart and soul into their craft because it means everything to them. There are no tortured artists, none riven by angst trying to figure out the right sequence of tunes on the new album. And while there are passionate fans, it seems to me to be largely of a shallow and transient nature – but then maybe I’m just old.

Music is such a fundamental part of an authentic life experience that it seems a pity that it has devolved to the level of a product.

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