Give other people's music a chance...even if it's terrible
If you enjoy music and have a few spare minutes, you should check out a YouTube video on the "Evolution of Music (40,000 BC â€“ 2021)." It starts with a simple, lovely melody from the neanderthal bone flute, circa 40,000 BC and takes you on a musical journey that features Om Chanting -- which was apparently a big hit with teens roughly 3,000 years before the birth of Christ â€“ as well as a variety of hymns and other chants that peaked on the Top 40 countdown as we transitioned from the BC to AD years. Lively Medieval ditties began to gain popularity as civilization moved into 1000 AD and beyond but the first song that most people would recognize, Green Sleeves," didn't appear until 1580. Then came the classical music invasion. If the Ed Sullivan Show had existed during the late 1700s and early 1800s, teens would have been losing their minds on screen as Wolfgang Mozart and Ludwig Von Beethoven took the stage. But by 1850, it would be Stephen Foster, with his hit single "Camptown Races," who would have drawn a frenzied crowd at JFK Airport.
Popular music would later go through a patriotic march phase â€“ think "Stars and Stripes Forever," a big hit in the late 1800s -- then forge forward into big band music in the early 1900s. Jazz and swing scenes followed as did the crooner craze, all of which ultimately preceded rock and roll, birthed in the mid-1950s. And from that point forward, popular music changed and evolved at a breakneck pace compared to the previous dozen millennia.
In less than 20 years, we went from Elvis and the Beatles to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, from Motown to hip hop. Rock started out with a roll, then went folk, then went metal, then went alternative, then post-alternative. And of course, my wife would kill me if I didn't bring up the simultaneous evolution of country music. I'm sure I missed many other genres, and there are enough sub-genres of music and subsets of those sub-genres to fill a book.
I bring all this up not as a history lesson but as an entry point for an important discussion about our musical tastes and how we must â€“ no matter how asinine and painful it sounds â€“ tolerate the musical interests of others. From children to the elderly, we should resist the urge to call it "a bunch of noise," or "twangy nonsense," or "a crime against music" or whatever. Who are we to decide what's good?
It is difficult to put into practice. I spent my teen years developing a love affair with the alternative rock scene that sprang out of Seattle â€“ bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden still get my head bobbing and toes tapping (and inspire the occasional air guitar solo). But I can tell you beyond any shadow of a doubt that both my parents would rather listen to a chainsaw cutting through sheet metal at close range. They grew up on Elvis and The Beatles, the music of the moment when they were teens. And I suspect their parents hated their music, too. Shoot, there are probably some parents during the late 1700s who told their child who was blissfully enraptured by Mozart's latest offering to "turn that crap down!"
On the other side of the time continuum, my kids have gravitated toward some stuff that I think is supposed to be music â€“ I don't know, I usually tell them to turn that crap down â€“ so now I am seeing both sides of this phenomenon.
But at least I have come across an explanation for it.
According to an article published in Psychology Today magazine, we grow more attached to the music we hear as adolescents than at any other time in our life. When we love hearing a song, our brain's pleasure circuits get activated and the brain releasesÂ dopamine, serotonin,Â oxytocin and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. Our prefrontal cortex retains the personalÂ memoryÂ music evokes, and dancing to the music or singing it helps it stick.
The article adds that during our youth, when we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that "becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growthÂ hormones." These same hormones, experts explain, tell our brains thatÂ everythingÂ is incredibly important — especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenageÂ dreams.
So, in summary, the music you love is not necessarily the greatest music ever written. Instead, the chemicals coursing through your teenage body just tricked you into thinking it is. If you had been a teen in 40,000 BC, the sounds of a neanderthal bone flute solo would whip you into a frenzy â€“ "Dude, this bone flute solo is sick!" "I know, right?"
And once those hormones settle down, and music inevitably changes and doesn't pack the same emotional punch, we just assume it's not as good. And then it changes more, and we eventually reach a point where we think someone needs to "turn that crap down."
But here's the thing â€“ in journalism, the goal is to encourage objectivity. It's in that spirit that I suggest we all approach music, old and new, with an open mind. If the kids like it, there must be a reason, right? â€“ just like there was a reason we liked the songs we did when we were youngsters. Sure, it might sound like a four-minute crime against music theory to you, but if it's capable of stirring up the emotions of our youngsters, isn't it possible we're maybe -- just maybe -- missing out on something great?
I, for one, am willing to put it to the test. I have recently opened my radio listening catalogue to include music from the 2010s decade. It's pretty far removed from the 1990s "soundtrack of my teenage dreams," as Psychology Today puts it, but I tolerate a good 40-50% of it. Some of it even gets my toe tapping â€“ which makes up for the other times when a song makes me question the standards of modern record execs.
I invite those of you who are well past your teen years to join me in my journey to broaden my musical tastes. Find out what the kids are bopping to, take a listen and resist the urge to dismiss it as inane discordant garbage. Who knows, there might come a day when you're telling kids to "turn that crap up."
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