Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stepping Aside

Last week's Grammy Awards show diplayed once again, according to New York Times critic Jon Caramanica, how the academy "went with familiarity over risk, bestowing album of the year honors (and several more) on an album that reinforced the values of an older generation suspicious of change."

The story stung because there's more than a little truth to it. What sweet irony to have that charge levied at the baby boomers!

Oh, and to further sweeten the charge: Paul McCartney performed at the ceremony, perfectly timing his appearance to coincide with the release of the 69 year-old's "new" work: a collection of songs from the classic American Songbook.

I'm presently reading an interesting book for any music collector, Simon Reynolds's Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. It is not a pick-me-up for a baby boomer. In fact, I often put it down and stare at the shelves of vinyl directly across from my reading chair. Exactly what was the desire that drove me to hoard so much music? Why do I keep it when I know it's impossible to revisit it all? Reynolds has some theories, and some of them are not flattering. (For example, he suggests I might be suffering from a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome, or that perhaps I was substituting collecting for sex. The only way this is tolerable is that the author himself confesses that he's an obsessive collector himself!)

Anyway, to get back to the Grammy Awards: could it be the show reflects a reality that Caramanica simply can't accept? In this time when music of all time periods is so easily accessible, doesn't it make sense that the show isn't completely devoted to shining a spotlight on only the new? If the Academy's favorite song format is the ballad delivered by a female, doesn't that represent the mean in terms of the interests of the masses?

When I was young singers like Frank Sinatra weren't visible at the Academy Awards because his music was obviously out of fashion. The barometer for this judgment was record sales and radio airplay. Additionally, his music was so stylistically different from rock that it was easy to make the Grammy show all about what music appealed to the young people. That's where the money was!

Frank was only in his 50s when this occurred. Think of what a long run in the spotlight the boomers have had! Why are they still on the field, so to speak? It's because their music still sells - this time to younger generations who, more often exposed to a variety of musical styles, is much more open-minded and curious.

Now, when the CBS is trying to attract eyeballs to the Grammy Awards, they not only tease viewers with the newest sensation of the year (cue Adele) but they mention appearances by legacy acts like Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys.

It's very strange, I must tell you, to watch the Beach Boys and think, "Hmm. Let me think. They're around the same age as Perry Como was in the 1980s when I couldn't believe that old guy was still around!"

I'm enjoying Simon Reynolds's book, but I can't completely buy his thesis that "retromania" is some kind of disease that is preventing music from moving forward creatively. Yes, listeners like me are in love with the past, but it's a location that I enter out from to listen to new acts. Young listeners go the opposite direction: they venture from the present to an appreciation of the past, which is at their fingertips, a digital cabinet-full of musical spices just waiting to enrich their appreciation.

May the currents of music keep flowing in and out from decade to decade. It's a wonderful journey that lasts a lifetime!

Click here to hear Paul McCartney talk about his new album

No comments: