By Jason Menard
They say that music is the soundtrack of our lives, but why should we restrict ourselves to repeating the same song over and over in perpetuity?
Music takes us to a time and a place that may never have existed. It lets us imagine our lives in a different context and helps to define the person we envision ourselves as being – the true inner self manifested through a horn section.
We look at the music of the past through rose-coloured glasses, embracing its ideals and purity, without being tainted by the day-to-day reality of life. That’s why, on a long drive, I spent the better part of an hour swinging with the Rat Pack, Louis Prima, and their contemporaries, being transported to an idealized hipster lifestyle. And, yes, I lament the loss of the fedora (I did try, unsuccessfully, to bring it back into vogue during my high-school years).
Music’s also the reason why I want to walk down the street with a 70’s blaxsploitation groove in the background. My inner funkster demands to be set free. And think of how cool it would have been to woo my wife with a four-man Temptations-style band in the background, echoing my sweet words of inspiration!
But music is more than just a representation of who we want to be, it’s an indicator of who we are.
In our early youth, we want to conform and be like the others – and that’s why teen pop has and always will be so popular. Yet, what the critics don’t understand is that teen pop is a necessary evil. It’s an introduction into music based on conformity that forms the foundation for individuality. And many of us cynics tend to forget that we, once, were young and passionate about music – appreciating it for its ability to move us, not stand up to scrutiny.
In our insecure youths, we all have a need to fit in, which is why we’re drawn to the music of our peers. And because music is such an integral part of our self-validation, we defend it with fiery passion and vigour. Try reproaching a teen or a pre-teen about their music and the response you’ll get is akin to an emotional wound – and that’s because, in a way, it is.
By questioning a youth’s music choice, we’re – in essence – questioning who they are and where they fit in this world. When you define yourself by your musical taste, having it called into question also calls into question your sense of self.
Eventually youthful passion burns away and a desire for exploration takes hold in all of us. That desire to conform to the masses fades away and is replaced by a desire to assert our individuality. And the best way to broadcast our newfound emancipation from the masses? Music!
Of course, the irony of all of this is that we move from conforming to one set of norms to another – but on a smaller scale. As we age, we are defined by our musical affiliations: rockers, punks, skaters, hippies, artsy types, etc. We move in smaller circles, embracing a new sense of self that’s reflected in the lyrics. We wear our musical tastes as a badge of honour and use them like secret handshakes into a private club.
In a rejection of the music of my youth and in an attempt to set myself apart from the crowd, I embraced the music of the 50’s, particularly that of Elvis Presley. And as I moved through the halls, I encountered little musical cliques, ranging from the Led-Zeppelin retro-rockers, the CSNY-influenced modern-day hippies, the Cure and Smiths-fed melancholic popsters, and the various members of Public Enemy’s Nation (please remember I was a child of the 80s…)
Of course, university was no different. Despite the increasingly diverse collective of people, the basic need to affiliate to a style of music remained the same. Except now we increasingly encountered the Hipper-Than-You Brit Poppers, the Smarter-Than-You College Rock fans, and the Drunker-Than-You Frat Boy/Tragically Hip collective.
But what meeting all these people throughout our lives enables us to do is to search out new styles and genres, learning from our musical history and appreciating what came before us. Like a musical buffet, we’re able to sample the flavours of each and every style – embracing what we like and rejecting others as not suited to our tastes.
It’s then when we learn to appreciate all the genres, styles, and forms music takes. Ask most teenagers to listen to Bach and you’ll get indifferent stares back for your efforts. But find those same people 20 years later and they’ll be more receptive to the idea.
I may be a child of the 80s, but I’m by no means defined by that musical era. However, that music is why I can spend an enjoyable morning passionately discussing with a friend of mine soul/funk music that predates both of our births. It’s why I can feel my frozen Canadian blood warmed by Latin and Brazilian beats. And it’s why I’m now able to appreciate music for what it is – an expression of life.
No matter when we’re born, our contemporary music gives us the foundation from which we are able to build a varied and diverse appreciation of music. Eventually we outgrow our youthful passion and zealousness and learn that one style of music doesn’t define us completely.
We are, by nature, rich and diverse people that move – and are moved – by different beats at different times. And that’s truly the soundtrack of our lives.
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