On living in the past

Robert Plant tell fans to stop living in the past and hear new bands:

All these magazines and internet platforms should be supporting new music and help new musicians to find an audience, instead of dwelling on the old crap all the time. It’s like there is nothing new and exciting out there any more, when in fact there is. So stop living in the past. Open your ears and your eyes. It’s not that difficult, is it?

This. Precisely. And really not just about bands.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the past; in fact, my whole career is pretty much based on preserving and studying the past, and making it easier for others to do so. But for me, the past is a place to visit and to use to build context about the present and the future. It is most decidedly not a place that I consider to be a permanent abode. While I may want to take a little vacation in noir-era Los Angeles (preferably with a digital camera with a lot of storage), it’s not somewhere I’d actually want to live out my days.

Music is actually a good example here. I think this whole notion that “all good music stopped being created the day I turned 25” is an idea that largely began with the boomer generation. It subjected us for decades to a proliferation of dismal “classic rock” radio formats–which I call “music for white people who refuse to move on (and by the way, get off my lawn, you millennial trash).” Now, I’m seeing it happen to younger people who should know better but still think that all “good music” ended in the 1980s. Or 1990s. (Hint: It didn’t.)

I get it. It’s easy to look back on certain music and memories and convince yourself that the past was a simpler and more idyllic place. But was it, really? You couldn’t pay me enough to make me relive high school or my first years in college in the 1980s. I was miserable most of the time, though I started many lifelong friendships (at least in college) as well. I lived my own past; I don’t feel the need to do so again. Granted, I do want to preserve my memories of it, both for context and on the very remote chance that someone else might care, but an obsessive focus on one’s own past seems like a symptom of depression. I’m comfortable with my past. As I often say, I have no regrets because everything I did up to the present contributed to who I am today, and I pretty much like who I am today.

Interestingly enough, I’m now much more interested in “alternative pasts” in places and times that I didn’t really experience firsthand, be it Los Angeles in 1949 or the Lower East Side in 1910 or Montréal in 1966. I’m at a point in my life where I need adventure and new things, even if some of them are new old things. And again, I really only want to visit.

And yes, there’s a lot of music from my past that I still really like, but it’s not the only fucking thing I ever listen to. While I can no longer stomach some of the most grating new wave synthpop from 1982, I do get excited when I catch a 1979 episode of American Top 40 on Sirius or a good 1990s alt-rock set. Most of the time, though, my radio (or alternative means of music delivery) is pushing out new indie bands, or francophone chanteuses, or old punk and jazz and standards I missed the first time around. There’s way too much interesting stuff out there to limit myself to listening the two hundred or so songs that “define” my teens and twenties over and over again.

I do not want to live in the past. I still have too much present and too much future.

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