People say we turn into our parents. At sixteen I would have dismissed that suggestion out of hand but as I get older I am at least reminded of my father by parallel situations. He had three sons, I have three daughters. He had Dylan, ELP and The Beatles coming out of three different rooms to create some kind of sonic porridge in the hall. He couldn't have identified any of the constituent parts of this din, partly because it was all too alien to him but mostly because he had no interest in learning our language(s).
Strangely enough, and disappointingly really, I find the music my children play highly accessible. (Maybe that's because girls use clothes, more than music, to explore and express their identities.) I followed developments in music reasonably closely into the early 90s and have maintained an interest in more esoteric sounds since then. The music my children play often sounds like an aural equivalent of a DIY pizza; the combinations occasionally surprise and delight but the ingredients are very familiar.
What reminds me of my father, however, is not recorded music from all quarters mixed with occasional acoustic piano. It's not even the bleep, bleep, bang, whizz of computer games. None of this is remotely anarchic or threatens to shake the foundations of my 20th century value system. In fact it's all rather bland in a way that Jimi Hendrix certainly wasn't back in 1969.
No, what I struggle with is the requirement to attribute non-musical meanings to the sounds I hear. For most of my life a telephone either rang like a bell or trilled like mutant cricket. Alarm clocks were much the same, although there were also those that would switch on the radio or make luke-warm tea. Now, when I hear a piece of music, I have decide between:
- the radio has just been switched on
- a game is being played on the wii
- a text has been sent to an unknown recipient
- it is time for one of my children to wake up
- a phone is ringing
And that last one is the worst. Like many, I find it hard to ignore a telephone unless it belongs to someone else. I am not a willing convert to the mobile phone but since acquiring one my children, from time to time, decide I should change my ring-tone. I'm sure this is done to protect me from sounding un-cool and I am suitably grateful. However, my gratitude is tempered by irritation at their failure to notify me of these updates.
So have we arrived at some kind of Tower of Babel where sounds fly around whose meaning is known only to their makers? Or is it, as I suspect, that I am turning into a grumpy old man unwilling to learn these new languages? If music really is the universal language it has certainly been misappropriated, in my humble opinion, and that, along with Dylan's harmonica playing, is the subject of a future post.