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Will Time Erase Our Heroes?

A few weeks back I had a conversation that rabbit-holed into food for thought that didn’t go down well. While music has always existed throughout human history, recorded music has been around for just over a century. It’s a blip on the celestial timeline, yet we’ve seen so many fabulous artists come and go, songs supposedly immortalized, and genres created. Going back just forty years, we’ve seen the advent of disco, punk, pop, hip-hop, rap, metal, grunge, techno, and sub-genres in between. All have one or more pages in history and all are pretty much derivatives of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. It got me thinking about how fortunate we are to live right now, where we (or our parents) saw most of the pioneers firsthand. Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Hendrix – all legends and all within a lifetime.

We’ve also witnessed every music distribution format that has practically existed.  The first piece of music my parents bought for me was on vinyl (Chipmunk Punk – Alvin did a damn good Tom Petty cover), my parents owned a stereo with both a record player and an 8-track. Since then we’ve seen cassettes, the music video, compact discs, and for now have settled in the digital age. Music no longer requires any physical space to own, heck, it doesn’t even require ownership. Thanks to streaming services, kids “music collections” will be nothing more than than playlists in the cloud. For us older folks, it’s strange and troubling, yet we embrace the benefits while lamenting the repercussions. Part of the magic of owning physical formats was having hard copies of artwork, lyrics, album notes, etc. Most of that is gone, and what is left is some artwork that might consume a few pixels on your phone screen. I still buy CDs, but my motivations are less about appreciating the music and its packaging and more about making sure an artist can feed their family. I’ll go to a show, buy the record, listen to it in my car CD player a couple of times, then put it away and just stream forevermore. Maybe that’s ok, the artist continues to get paid for my streams, but it feels less personal and more transactional. I’m still trying to process that.

We now have access to practically every piece of recorded music in history; and with the computing power at our fingertips, more are creating music than ever before. The worldwide catalog of bad music is exponentially growing, but each decade breeds its own legends and I can’t help but feel the number of great musicians we see will eventually outpace our ability to appreciate them all. How many decades away are we from “Hall of Fame overload” where the number or greats gets so large that true legends start being forgotten? Will there come a day where kids won’t know who The Rolling Stones are unless they take a music history class in college?  It’s hard to fathom but entirely possible.

My kid does the School of Rock thing, and as I sit here listening them learn “My Generation” by The Who, I can’t help but feel that absurd thought is completely rational. The school’s curriculum explicitly states that they want to “educate” kids on “the classics” and when they use that term they are referring to Hendrix, Clapton, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, The Stones, Sabbath, etc. Who will be on that curriculum 25, 50, or 100 years from now? We get exposed to music in limited ways – there is the media, your peers, and your parents. Parents play a huge role in that education and there will come a day where no one alive will have seen Bruce Springsteen perform other than on some YouTube archive. Our great-grandchildren might have to “study” The Boss like we studied Abe Lincoln, and with the continued de-emphasis of the fine arts in schools, even that might be a stretch. If that day ever comes God might send the asteroid.

(As a side conversation you can flip this entire thing on its head and start thinking about all the greats we’ve missed because there was no way to record them. Sure we’ve got the classical composers but who else?

Or you could get local. How will the songs and history of folks like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, TVZ, REK, etc. get passed down?

Talk amongst yourselves.)

Quick Riffs

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