Maybe it’s knowing that I don’t have an infinity of time stretched out before me, but as I get older I’m less and less nostalgic, especially when it comes to music. I’m a fiend to hear new sounds, learn new things.
What that amounts to is a diet of almost entirely classical music at this point, though “classical” includes a lot of new music. Basically, any time I read about anyone who sounds interesting I try to sample a little online and then, if I like, buy. You can purchase a lot of classical music on small labels in lossless digital, which is a plus for everything except my wallet.
But in two instances I have gone back to music I discovered when I was 14 years old. It’s not nostalgia; this music is as alive to me now as it was 40 years ago, maybe more so.
There was a jewelry store in my little town that had a record shop on the second floor in 1970 and 71.’ Why, I don’t know, but I went there a few times and one of those times I bought Captain Beefheart’s “Lick My Decals Off Baby.” Sometimes I wonder how many kids like me did the same thing back then. It would be a huge overstatement to say it changed everything – I still bought Eagles albums a few years later – but it was a wedge, it was one of those things that once you heard it you couldn’t ever un-hear it. And for 40 years I’ve sung snatches of “I Love You, You Big Dummy” and “Lick My Decals Off.”
I just bought “Sun Zoom Spark,” which is the collection of three Warners Beefheart albums remastered and released last year, so now I have “Decals” again, and if anything, I like it better now. The connection I hear most acutely is with the music of Mary Halvorson, the guitarist.
At about the same time I bought the Captain Beefheart album, my dad would indulge me by driving me to the university section of Syracuse, where back then there were many record stores. I bought an album I read about in Rolling Stone, Soft Machine’s “Third.” It was the heyday of the double album and extended jam anyway, but this, this was different; it was jazz (not that I knew anything about jazz then) and rock and because of Robert Wyatt’s sing-song voice a third, whimsical thing. I spent a small lifetime listening to “Third.” Add the Beefheart and a little later, “Miles Davis Live At Fillmore East” and “John Coltrane Live In Seattle” and you have a pretty good idea of the backbone of my gapped, odd musical education. It’s what I heard when I was 14, 15, which is why so little sounds strange to me now, and for which I’m grateful.
(I was recovering from surgery and asked my folks for a Miles Davis and a John Coltrane album. They bought what they could find, with no idea they were buying two of the noisiest, least friendly albums either artist produced. My first reaction when I played them was shock, but it was what I had – and no money to get more or different – so I kept listening. )
Now Robert Wyatt comes back around in the form of a double career-summing CD, “Different Every Time.” Most of this is new to me in the specifics, (I haven’t followed his lengthy solo career) but the general point – Wyatt is the small, friendly version of avant garde – is familiar. I like it now, and can imagine myself liking it 10, 20 years from now. I don’t fall in love with music the way I once did (as a rule), but I can still be charmed.