thoughts on music

18 March 1999

So I was sitting in Applebee's with Ian tonight before work, munching away on chicken fingers and fries and longing for a Guinness to celebrate St. Paddy's Day. And I was idly watching SportsCenter on the TV over the bar and half-listening to the pop station being piped in over the stereo system in the restaurant.

Whatever this music network is, the selection is... interesting. It ranges from 90s bubblegum pop to disco to reggae to ballads to country to hard rock -- and everything in between. I think every mainstream, franchise/ chain restaurant in America has the same radio network, cause the music is ALL the same. Anyway, some Lionel Richie song or other came on, and it made me think of the early eighties. Lionel Richie songs always make me think of the early eighties for some reason.

And it occurred to me that music has the capability to make us think of an era of time, even if we weren't alive to experience it. Not exactly a new revelation, I know. But the next thought that occurred to me is that this may possibly be a phenomenon unique to this century.

I mean, music historians can point to a baroque piece as being from this centuryor that, or a popular drinking song from the 1860s as being a prime example of Civil War period music, yes. But never has music been so wide-spread and widely propogated as in the twentieth century. Let us not forget that until this century, we didn't have the capability to record music and keep it for posterity. We do have sheet music, but every musician who's spent any time studying classical music will tell you that the symphonies and concertoes of the masters have lost something over the years. It really is a shame we can't hear how it was when Beethoven was directing the orchestra in his Fifth Symphony.

But in this century, anything we attempt can be recorded and laid down for generations to come, just the way it sounded when it was performed, for better or worse. I still have tapes and LPs of my old high school band performances, with all the squeaks and squawks preserved in hi-fi glory. Regardless of how you feel about them, they're here to stay, at least as long as we preserve the technology to play them (which is another debate altogether).

This isn't even mentioning restoring old recordings from the early twentieth century. It's one of the nice benefits we're reaping from the digital age. Personally, I'm glad we've been able to rescue decades of music through the magic of digital remastering. The world would be worse off if not for the resurrected wailings of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, or Billie Holiday and Lena Horne crooning at us from forty years back. From here on out, there is no excuse for us not to have any type of music, from any time this century, at our disposal. This will finally let us have the closest we're going to get to a time machine. What is a time machine after all, if not something that sends us back to a certain period in our lives?

Anyway, just some thoughts. I dunno... I think I'm thinking too much. Especially since all this was inspired by a Lionel Ritchie song. Shudder.