Music. Boy, I Don’t Know.

There are times (and these times grow ever more frequent) that I begin to worry about how little I know about contemporary music. I don’t just mean the crappy teeny bopper nonsense that, like some viruses, die as soon as they’re exposed to the air (although I partly mean that, as ignorance of them removes for me a common subject of derision). I’m mainly talking about quality stuff made in the past handful of years.

I’m not an old guy per se at 34, but I feel like my knowledge of new music essentially ended around the time the New Pornographers showed up. Just about every subsequent trend, fad, movement, or wave has since flown right by me.

On its own, this has not bothered me. I have so much to think about and do, that I don’t miss keeping up with popular music like I once did. In these recent years, I’ve been broadening my tastes to the more abstract (that last album I bought in full is the soundtrack to the movie Hanna by the Chemical Brothers), as I’ve begun to find the convention of verse-chorus-verse rock songs to be a kind of tired form (though it’s the form I still traffic in). I don’t mean to presume that this has just happened to the art form at this point in history, indeed I have to guess that many folks when they reach my age come to similar conclusions; that the music that might have moved them if they were 15 simply doesn’t mean as much. Somehow, it feels smaller, less, well, important.

Importance, or some sense of “meaningfulness” is probably the key for me. Life is so unbearably short, and there is so much music out there, that it can seem absurd and wasteful to chase after what might be happening in the music industry this very minute, especially when I don’t have any real understanding of jazz or Beethoven or what have you. What do I know about Eastern music forms? Opera? Almost nothing.

So, if in the sturm and drang of everyday life, with parenting, work, and all the rest, a) how can I be expected to give a damn about yet another edgy, acclaimed act or b) learn to appreciate the vast array of music forms that I’ve never been fully exposed to? I feel similarly about books: who cares what’s on the best seller list, when I haven’t read Dostoyevsky!

When I am asked if I am familiar with a current radio hit, I admit, I’m almost proud to say no. But that pride is laced with shame, shame that I’m not familiar with much else either.

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