Shuffle: Conservatism

V0050276 Charles Wood sits in a swing pushed by Lord Howick between t Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Charles Wood sits in a swing pushed by Lord Howick between the trunks of two trees inscribed "Whig radicalism" and "Conservatism". Coloured lithograph by H.B. (John Doyle), 1840. 1840 By: John DoylePublished: 6 February 1840 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

As we get older, we tend to get set in our ways, we become more conservative, often with a big C. I read somewhere that we set our patterns for our future at quite a young age and that we continue down those pathways – this includes our openness to accepting and understanding new forms of music, for the rest of our lives. I might be lucky in this because my musical maturity came late, or maybe I’ve not reached it yet as I’m still curious about new things (though as we see below this is something of self-delusion). I do think that it is true that, in general, we do get stuck into these repeating patterns, even if they are endlessly variable in small ways.

When I was growing up there were older men who dressed as Teddy Boys as a hangover from their youth – most of us throw off these things externally even if internally we are the same, we conform. Now, we have middle to old-age punks and goths, whose conformity to non-conformity knows no bounds. Externally they are signifying their tribe. All this is leading me to question whether my tastes are as broad as I think they are or am I just listening within narrow bounds that I think are broad because I can detail the minutiae between say Bill Callahan and Riley Walker. But, from the outside aren’t these just part of a continuum that is recognisable to someone whose taste is generated from a different place – let’s say, hip hop – they would see the majority of the music I listen to as guitar-driven indie/alternative rock. And all of it sounding pretty much the same.

I am beginning to think that they would have a point – as I walk at lunchtime listening to my iPod, I ask myself if my taste is as catholic as I think it is. Yes, there are forays into other genres; as I’ve noted before I’m partial to big band free jazz, I get lost in some electronica, and having been part of a collective that ran a club night in the late 1980s, early hip hop (I can admit here that my taste in hip hop rarely strays beyond the early years), same with go-go and house. I could continue to detail these genre excursions but I feel like a tourist in these areas – two weeks of my listening year I go somewhere else only to go back home to what is comfortable and familiar.

The drift towards conservatism is also reflected in our beloved Americana UK. Over the years, it has become further and further entrenched – we have all gotten older, we mine more, and more those seams that we know will offer up the gold. If we cover Bob Dylan, the numbers are always high. I cannot stand Bob Dylan which puts me in the minority but it is what people want. If an article mentions him or several others, I will not bother to read it or listen. I question if this is just the result of my entrenched thinking, my heuristics and of course, it is. I have tried several times to appreciate what others love and failed. Today Alison Kraus and Robert Plant are in the news. I reviewed their first collaboration and found it tedious, we give 10 to an album that is, as far as I can deduce, from listening to it, could have been released any time over the past fifty years. It says nothing new to me – if I was being generous I’d give it seven, if being ornery then six.

Just to be clear, I am not elevating myself, I am diagnosing that I am doing the same thing. I used to regularly crank out 10 plus album reviews a month, I had a real thirst to hear something new. I wanted to find things that challenged me because if I reviewed a record I was sure to pay enough attention to it in order to get a sense of what it was about: even if it was crap I wanted to understand why it was crap. Now I dig through my past for this column and write about that. Sure, I am trying to illuminate some darkened corners and push the boundaries of what this site is about but essentially, I am not covering anything new. I still buy new music but of course that is music I am pre-disposed to like, things that I will have made myself familiar with. These aren’t the days of sending money to obscure labels in the US based on a favourable review in a fanzine and then listening until you understood it. The paradox is that it is easier than ever to get hold of different types of music but instead we find ourselves working within ever narrower parameters.

As we age, we need to question ourselves, we need to make ourselves uncomfortable, we need to ask, are the opinions that we are comfortable with relevant? Are we seeing the other side, are we looking at new developments with the disdainful nose pinching of a Genesis fan at a Slaughter and the Dogs gig? Remember that you were once the upstart, remember how you were treated – we can all be more inclusive. Do not close your ears to new music; do not close your mind to new ideas. Try to understand other viewpoints. Nevertheless, always remember it is OK not to like Adele or Bob Dylan, especially Adele singing Bob Dylan. It is not hypocritical to change your mind and to grow.

I have a bunch of young nephews and I always thought that I would try to brainwash them, try to subtly introduce them to the world of Bonny ‘Prince’ Billie when I’m taking them somewhere in the car, play Built to Spill in the background when they are at our house. However, I have come to understand that they can teach me so much more about their world and what they are interested in, things I would never consider before. If, however, one day one of them should say Uncle David ‘what do you know about Richmond Fontaine’ I will probably cry.

About David Cowling 142 Articles
Punk rock, Go-Betweens, REM, Replacments, Husker Du, Minutemen, Will Oldham, Smog, Whiskeytown, Ass Ponys but probably most of all Howe Gelb, led me on this journey.
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