Monday, July 16, 2012

The Age of Taste

There is a theory of taste that states or assumes that one's age determines what sort of music you will like. I've written before about the view that your musical tastes are shaped by whatever was popular when you were seventeen years old. I just saw an article in the Guardian about the same question, but this writer is taking the contrary view. The headline is "Our passions are not governed by age". Here is a key quote:
Why can't a 15-year-old like Wagner? Why can't grandad keep up with the latest trends in drum'n'bass? To expect the aesthetic preferences of the generations to have impermeable walls around them is to have frustratingly low expectations of what people are capable of.
It's to confine cultural life to a landscape of perpetually limited horizons, where people only ever desire to experience what's most "relevant" to them. Yet one of the great joys of art is precisely its ability to take people out of their immediate existences, to make them aware of lives different from their own.
 Yes, exactly. My view of music is that it can be like a bridge between people (and I felt this every concert I played), a kind of vehicle for voyaging to places far away (when you listen to Javanese gamelan music, for example), even a kind of time machine, taking you inside the feelings and expression of people who lived a thousand years ago. "Its ability to take people out of their immediate existences" is precisely the point. The writer makes the point that the dividing up of society into age groups serves the needs of advertisers.
The more pieces into which society can be sliced, after all, the better it serves the ends of consumerism, because each segment requires its own products and entertainments, to be discarded once the next stage is reached.
The problem is that in a society dominated by mass media, escaping or transcending the taste you are supposed or required to have by your age and social position is not so easy! In our world of instant communication, the ephemeries of the day are omnipresent. From one angle this can be good as they bring to us all the products of the world, not just our local region. From another angle this might be bad as it tends to wipe out the influence of local traditions and less popular cultural traditions--like classical music!

I think there is always a minority that make their own choices, when allowed to do so. Our horizons need not be limited by our age or by the prevailing trends of the day. The thing to realize is that there are options. You can go against the flow and there are real rewards in so doing. When I was in the last couple of years of high school I started to make some choices that were definitely eccentric given the cultural milieu. Some were trivial such as smoking a pipe. Just imagine an 18-year-old smoking a pipe! Back then smoking was not beyond the pale as it is now. I also listened to a lot of Bach, which is a little more relevant. The point is that I made these unpopular choices freely. I don't even recall being chastised for them by my peers. I think we tolerated more eccentricity in the 60s. Along with Bach and the Beatles, I also listened to music by the Incredible String Band:

One of the things I try to do in this blog is to open doors to as many different kinds of interesting music as I can. Now I suppose you are going to ask how can you tell the difference between interesting but unusual and just plain weird crap? Ah, that's an aesthetic question that I will save for another day! Here is some music by Bartok to ponder:


Mary said...

When I was about 15 I hung out with a group of kids who liked classical music. We were the school leaders, in a class of 750.
So in those days being a nerd was respected. I feel in love with Bach's B Minor Mass and would listen to it endlessly when I felt my most miserable. Bach gave me great peace, and hope during some very difficult years.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much for the comment, Mary.

I am quite sure that many people have received great solace, not to mention delight and ecstasy from listening to Bach.

Slightly changing the line Tom Cruise says in Risky Business: "Bach--there is no substitute!"