On Generational Treachery

by Alexandra Molotkow


I have a very low tolerance for curmudgeons, especially when it comes to music — as I see it, old people who hate young person things are just too exhausted to get with it, and that’s totally fine, and not even the issue. The issue is the belief that your hang-ups are fact.

My tolerance is low because… I was once that person. I was a Dad in my teens and a Grandpa by my 20s. I spurned “today’s music” (even when I loved it) and tucked myself into a Snuggie of irrelevance. At 22, for instance, I believed that sunshine pop was literally the best kind of music. Like, you know the song “Cherish”? I would have told you it was a better song than “Teenage Dream.” (It is a really, really great song.) I only bought psych-pop vinyl and CD reissues. I once made a Facebook post to the effect of, “Once we had the Beatles… now we have DAFT PUNK,” to which a friend replied, What are you talking about? Could you provide one solitary defense of that statement and no, I couldn’t.

The attraction to old music comes, I think, from a desire for retreat. For me, music has always felt most like home, and I want to be alone at home, or alone with the people I choose. Songs from another era put some distance between me and my surroundings, in which I felt vulnerable, as teens do, as curmudgeons do. The past was like Middle Earth, or, I dunno, “The Galaxy.”

I used to think I wasn’t made for these times, that I’d have had a better experience in, say, Yorkville or Haight-Ashbury. That, of course, was totally false. Every era is full of the same jerks and the same sad teens and mean teens with the same insecurities. I would have felt just as alienated at the height of the ’60s, more so because in the ’60s you had to do drugs to fit in. And because the ’60s were a horrible time to be most kinds of person. The Summer of Love might have looked like fun from the aughts, where it was easy to overlook all the casual predators and gang-rapist bikers and the “revolutionaries” who hated women and gays and fetishized people of color while stealing their culture. It was a hot and heavy time to be white, male, and straight, but a predictably difficult one for everyone else.

Also: I was totally made for these times. When you’re young, you’re stuck with people you never choose, and who you don’t necessarily relate to. When you get a little older, if you’re lucky, you find your people, and then you realize there are more of you than you ever knew. You’re part of a cohort, with a set of references and a loose set of values: fluidity, as a general concept, as well as the sense that you can do a lot by yourself, and self-direction, and inclusivity. The music that seems relevant now reflects these values, and “music now” — of course I’m referring to the stuff that gets played on the radio I listen to and shared within my social media feeds — is way better and more interesting than music has been in a century. There’s more invention now, in more abundance, than there ever was. That is my opinion.

I say that, but I still love Steely Dan. There are hallmarks of old music that I sometimes miss in modern stuff. Someone once pointed out to me that the flute solo in “California Dreaming” is off-key. I love that! To me it’s evidence of character, not a flaw for its own sake, but a flaw in spite of someone’s best efforts, which is human — not a flaw, really, but a dimple. I have a hard time with high-gloss production — I just prefer a sound that’s a little more intimate, where you can hear the strings of Jorge Ben’s guitar or the wail in his voice. I catch on the off notes and when I pine for Michael Jackson or Laura Nyro, it’s for the spectacle of THIS PERSON WHO IS JUST A PERSON CAN DO THAT, HOLY SHIT.

Not that you can’t get that from Beyonce, or Bjork, or FKA twigs, all of whom I love, even when I’m listening to Todd Rundgren or George Duke. It’s just a matter of taste, which still feels like a retreat of sorts, the way an apartment does — it’s no better than anyone else’s, but it happens to be mine. A favorite coat might be a better analogy: it’s meant to keep me warm, but I want it to look just like mine, alongside yours. My hang-ups are ideally just dimples.