The future oldies
Erin McAuliffe | Wednesday, April 6, 2016
“I guess this was like an anti-war song — I just thought it was about sunshine!” the DJ for 103.7 “The Treasure Coast’s Oldies Station” states as I roll my eyes and peel my thighs from the hot, sticky leather backseat of my grandparents’ minivan. We’re on our way to the local suburban Olive Garden but are currently lost on a grandma-mandated Christmas light detour.
“Do you know the band The Who?” my grandpa asks me without turning around from the passenger seat as the DJ spins “My Generation.”
Feeling patronized by the question, I say yes — affirming the music tastes of my generation as he circles the parking lot waiting for a handicap spot to open up.
Musing over my grandpa’s innocently-conversational but pointed question, I think about my “Autumnal Hymns” playlist featuring songs by The Smiths, The Cure and Depeche Mode copied over from my dad’s iTunes library on our “Home Sharing” network. I sprinkled these songs amongst Bon Iver, The Shins and Kanye West to curate a collection transcending decades and genres. I was inspired by individuality and personal tastes, not tradition or musical continuity. The only sense of time that mattered was keeping the list under 90 minutes so I could burn it onto a CD to play in my car.
People predict “the death of the album” as a consequence of mixtapes and playlists, but it is this sort of musical association and juxtaposition that keeps old tunes fresh in today’s musical landscape. With overwhelming amounts of new music out for physical and digital consumption every Friday, it’s harder to qualify and relish oldies without missing out on the next best thing. However, consuming nostalgic sounds via new technologies opens the niche to the masses.
Our generation is listening to more music than ever before due to portable listening options, but the devices that bring an accessibility to music are vices to band loyalty: We can flip from the entire Bob Dylan discography to the new Rihanna album within a search bar — no tactile seeking required. Today’s music consumer can compartmentalize and curate to his or her personal tastes on a song-by-song level.
You might feel like scouring SoundCloud for obscure EDM one day, hunting through your local thrift store’s record bins the next and then pre-ordering the new Beyoncé album on iTunes. So do. We are not limited in what we listen to, so why should we be limited in how we choose to listen to it?
Today’s musical landscape mirrors the Floridian sprawl surrounding my grandparent’s gated West Palm Beach community. We’ll drive for miles in their minivan as they go on about the upcoming developments: they know every present and future building within a one-hour circumference of their house.
“We have these nice new condos going in here,” my grandma motions with approval to a dirt pit, crane and sun-washed pastel blueprint 45 minutes into our drive to Pepper Beach.
Attribute it to ennui, but their sense of ownership and knowledge beyond supposed boundaries parallels my attachment to today’s musical vastness. As my grandparents’ community expands, they’re open and proud of its improvements, even noting failed business attempts with a chuckle. They aren’t buying all the real estate, just appreciating and critiquing developments as connected but removed stakeholders.
Similarly, I attempt to scour and devour any music within hearing range. I strive to be an informed listener, critical of shortcomings and hopeful for sustained improvements. Although my listening options expand every Friday, I have niche areas that I attend to more. I will invest in these areas more, buying into the artists and labels with vinyl purchases on top of the singles dragged and dropped onto my monthly playlists.
Although I am removed from yesteryear’s bands, I take the time to learn the histories behind iconic buildings torn down to make way for new condominiums and the influences that past architecture and culture have on today’s street facing aesthetics: I appreciate the mingling of past and present aesthetics in an urban playlist of sorts.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.