Wednesday, January 12, 2005

JH - Pop Culture, the Good Old Days?

I often meditate on whether I'm becoming more focused or whether I'm just getting older and running out of the energy to keep up with the world. Mitchell linked to this post the other day, but I'll do it again.

George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young." Perhaps, but I think that pop culture is better left to the young. It's something that takes too much time and requires a level of vitality that is perhaps beyond the ability of someone in middle age. No, better to be left with our memories of when everything was new and exciting and we had to experience everything before we got old, say 35 or so.

Music has always been a part of my life, a part of my being. I listened to everything when I was a kid - classical, folk, top 40, rock, swing, jazz and bits of everything else. I learned a lot of classical "tunes" by watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, listening to the records my older brother had and standing beside the old upright piano as my grandmother played. I loved the quaint old-fashioned sound of the 78s of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey my mother bought when she was young. My romantic nature was fed by the Child ballads that Joan Baez and Judy Collins used to record. And then came the Beatles. I just about melted watching their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. I carried a small transistor radio everywhere and could sing every song that came on the radio. I loved tv and watched it for hours. I read the trashy, gossipy movie magazines my aunts would give to us when they were done reading them. In the early 70s when I was finally able to drive myself around I went to every movie playing. I went to concerts, both popular and orchestral, listened to Alec Wilder's American Popular Song program on the radio and tuned in to the Texaco broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera. Then I'd put on a Led Zeppelin record. I was immersed in popular culture.

Somewhere along the line, especially in the last ten or fifteen years, I started to be put off by the fare which was offered to me by television and radio and movies. I started not to like the crudity, the silliness, the downright offensiveness of the wares that the purveyors of pop culture made available. I started to watch less television until what I watch now is usually on tape and in black and white. I rarely listen to the radio except for classical music (and even that has become the lowest common denominator, but I'll save that rant for another time. As a matter of fact, I listen more often to the classical music stations that are available from our satellite tv provider.) Movies? Instead of the three or four a week I used to see, I'm lucky if I can find 3 or 4 a year to see. Fortunately, there are DVDs of my favorites - Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, William Powell. I only know about current celebrities now from things I overhear other people say. By osmosis, as it were. I don't know, I don't want to know.

And it isn't just that I don't care about new things. I can barely stand to listen to or watch many of the things I thought were great when I was young. I think it's this: classics of any era stand the test of time and most things that are thrown out for public consumption - in any era - won't ever make it past those who have not yet been able to develop a discriminating palate. Many people, even those who don't like or understand it, think that all classical music is sophisticated, more learned, somehow, better, than other music. What they don't realize is that the drek of the 17th century never made it to the age of recordings and some of the trash written in the 20th century may be recorded for posterity, but may be forgotten in the hearts of most listeners. Not every song written by the Gershwins was a gem, but those that are still popular have stood the test of time. Who remembers most of the bubblegum music of the 70s? Who wants to? But the bands that could still crank out another concert - the Who, the Stones, Led Zeppelin - are still selling remastered CDs. U2 just issued a new recording that's wowing the critics and the music-buying audience.

There comes a time for each one of us when we begin to realize that there isn't that much time left before we shuffle off this mortal coil. What do you want to spend your precious time on? Another episode of Survivor or spending $8.00 to see Without a Paddle? It's your choice if you do, but I think that I'll be settling down with a DVD of Parsifal and a biography of Hilaire Belloc.

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