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On Falling Out of Love With Music

30 August 2006

Fortunately, I still have many close friendships that have lasted more than 25 years, so to some extent we can hang on to the past. But often, old ties, be it friendships or our relationship to music we loved from our youth, mean less over time even if they subjectively still mean a lot.

Last year, I wrote a piece titled “Music That Grows on You,” a phenomenon that surely every serious music fan is familiar with. The flip side—music that you fall out of love with—is far less discussed. Why is that?

Could it be that our relationship to music is inherently a romantic one and therefore we accentuate its positive aspects while playing down our connection to formerly special music that now matters less? Whether it’s a case of music not standing the test of time or the bittersweet fact that our tastes change (or a combination of the two), the phenomenon is real.

By exposing ourselves to more artists we expand the prism through which we appreciate music and gain a richer context about what music exists in the first place and what preceded and followed it. We also hear firsthand how musicians can influence generation after generation.

In my teens and 20s, the music of STIFF LITTLE FINGERS (SLF), THE REPLACEMENTS and DEVO, among others, meant more than words could describe. I still have all my records from those groups (save a few clunkers by Devo) and have no intention of ever parting with them.

But that vital spark from my youth when hearing those records isn’t there the same way it once was. On some level I feel I’m betraying my youth, somehow mocking a once special time by implicitly saying “you were young and naïve but now you know better.”

Although that sentiment resonates emotionally, I ultimately don’t buy it.

I recognize that music speaks loudest to us at different times in our life. If you’re 18 and listen to one of SLF’s earliest records, chances are you’ll think you found the Holy Grail (and in fact you may have!). Such was their music.

No textbook could impart such a combination of passion, street smarts and worldly wisdom for helping a young person navigate a supremely confusing and challenging period. SLF stressed that it was crucial to be true to one’s self, to have faith in one’s abilities and to never give up.

SLF was always concerned with justice, principles, self-sufficiency and how to make the world a better place (that may sound saccharine but isn’t at all as channeled through their songs). If parents removed their judgmental hands from their ears long enough to listen to lead singer JAKE BURNS’s message they would likely hear the voice of a man they’d wished their kids befriended.

Almost three decades on, SLF’s legacy shines as bright as ever with band after band citing them as an inspiration. But for me, 20 years removed from high school, I have learned and digested much of Burns’s wisdom. Though I think his music will always be dear to me, my emotional/musical needs are more directly met today by other artists like LOVE and ROBERT WYATT, who ironically recorded some of their best music in the late ‘60s, a period that I absolutely detested while in high school!