Sweatin’ the Oldies

As the rock director of WSRN, people always seem to assume that I know all that there is to know about rock and roll music, and that I’ve heard most of it too, or at least the quality stuff. While that’s very flattering, it’s quite far from the truth, which I’m a bit ashamed to admit. Let’s hope I don’t get impeached from the Board for this revelation.

I know next to nothing about classic rock. Before this year, I’m not sure if I’d ever heard a full Beatles album, from beginning-to-end. I have never heard an entire Bob Dylan album. I heard my first David Bowie album a few months ago. I have not heard a full album from The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, or many of the other stone-cold classic bands of decades prior. This list could go on for quite a while. But before you burn me at the stake, or bind my feet in concrete and toss me into the East River, hear me out.

Of course I’m not too proud of this dubious distinction. How am I supposed to write a competent review of the new White Whale EP or any other contemporary work if I haven’t heard any of the important bands that have inspired them? Aren’t I missing out on a wealth of quality music that time itself has deemed to be Important and Transcendant and all that jazz? The importance and relevance of the classics cannot be understated, so why haven’t I visited them sooner?

That’s a relatively easy question to answer, and I think it has to do with my upbringing. As a young child, my parents exposed me only to the Classical tradition (which I regrettably have not taken up too well either), and I had no Cool Older Brother Or Sister to show me any rock music either. Hootie and the Blowfish were my favorite band on the radio in elementary school, which probably speaks volumes about my tastes at that point. The first time I’d even heard of The Beatles was when a coworker of my mom made me a double-sided mixtape (still the only actual mixtape I’ve ever received). And while I loved that mixtape to death, it remained the only exposure I had to them; there were no other records to peruse in the house, and no internet filesharing at the time either. Plus, Beatles albums were expensive, and I wanted to spend my precious allowance on Super Nintendo games and the new Hootie album anyways. So I became familiar with the hit singles, but none of the albums proper, and never gained any sort of perspective on their importance in rock history. So right off the bat, I got years behind all the kids who grew up with Mr. Tambourine Man or Ziggy Stardust, songs I wouldn’t discover until almost two decades later in life. Isn’t that incredibly sad and frightening.

And for some reason, I continued to ignore classic rock once I actually did have the capabilities, both financial and technological, of actually seeking it out. That’s what I greatly regret, but I’m trying to make up for lost time. As we speak, I’m getting through Blonde on Blonde, which bored me to tears the first time I tried to listen, but is currently blowing my mind completely. How did I manage to completely miss this kind of stuff? On my lunch break today I went up into the WSRN studio and listened to Abbey Road on the original vinyl, which was awesome. I just discovered George Starostin’s excellent website Only Solitaire, which I find to be incredibly well-written and unswayed by hype and reputation, so i’m using it as a sort of guide. How weird is that though, that the rock director has heard more songs by some no-name indie band Destroyer than by The Beatles and Bob Dylan combined. How have I not heard Abbey Road for so long? It seems completely wrong, so this is now a crusade to right that wrong.

I have to say though that sometimes new music just owns the old. Paid in Full still sucks so hard. I really don’t get that one at all.

So there you go, that’s my admission. Goodbye, all semblance of credibility. I feel both immensely relieved, and completely emasculated at the moment.

New links, better than the old links:

Edit: My mom has reminded me that The Beatles happen to be my dad’s favorite band. I do remember when I was a little kid watching Thomas the Tank Engine on tv, that my dad would constantly point out that Ringo Starr was the train conductor on the series, which in hindsight is completely hilarious. But in any case, I was just a young kid who was far more interested in the colorful talking trains than in the strange man my dad kept pointing out. I don’t think I made the connection until some point in high school. The fact remains that even though my dad loves The Beatles, we didn’t have any Beatles records in the house.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to talk about the role of vinyl at WSRN. During organic chemistry lab last semester, Professor Paley and I were having a discussion regarding the rash of cd thefts that had occured recently and what could be done about it. We both wondered whether such thefts had occured before the age of cds, when the entire rock library was composed of vinyl. The concept of vinyl theft struck me as completely absurd, and within the past few days I’ve realized that it’s because of another question I have.

Back in the vinyl age, did college students bring turntables with them to school? And does that mean that they carried their record collections along with them? Neither seems to occur these days. I only know three Swatties who brought turntables to school and two are legitimate DJs, and as for record collections everybody seems to have their music libraries in a digital format. Karina suggested that most students likely brought a radio with them, and kept their family’s lone turntable at home, and that strikes me as being much more reasonable. It also seems to imply that listening habits have changed, as I don’t sense that many of today’s students listen to the radio outside of their cars, as the rise of iPods and digital music collections now enables people to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want, rather than having to cave in to the whims of the radio. I’ve really taken for granted the increasing portability of music; imagine simply having one turntable or one radio in your home, rather than the current network of computers with speakers, not to mention the iPod in the front pocket.

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