Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reflections on 40 Years of Music

I've been playing drums for over 4 decades now. (I actually wrote 40 years but deleted it--too horrifying.) That means I've grown up with and played music from the early 60s to now.

If we look back from today to 50 years of music we have the folk,"pop" and psychedelic 60s, the groovy, light/heavy rock, and disco 70s, the new-wave British invasion MTV 80s, the singer-songwriter, U2 influenced 90s, and the hodge-podge mix of everything 00s. And get this: bands like the Rolling Stones, The Who and Bob Dylan have weathered their way through all of those decades and are still going!

Contrast those styles with me looking backward at the same time period in 1970 when I was six. I looked back and saw: 20s Ragtime, 30s beginning of the swing era, 40s Big Band, 50s birth of rock & roll and jazz goes be-bop and cool, 60s folk, pop and psychedelic.

Talk about a huge diversity from the 20s thru the 60s! Dramatically different styles, different instruments, different band make-up. I can't think of one artist that spanned those decades. Maybe Louis Armstrong.

One of the things I appreciate about all the playing (and listening) time I've been fortunate enough to log is how playing is now second nature. It's easy to hear changes coming in tunes when I play them or hear them the first time. It's easy to know when to play busier and when to simplify; when to crank the volume and when to whisper. Quite simply, I hear things quicker than when I was younger.

But I think that everything that is a plus as a drummer and lover of music, also works against me. Because of how long I've been around music, it's so easy to hear the past in new music. "Oh, that's just a reworked Motown rhythm...ah, it's just a surfer feel...hmm, ok a disco feel with a different melody line," etc.

Combine that with the reality that from the 60s to now, we haven't radically changed the musical game. The instruments are still the same (Fender & Gibson guitars, drums bigger or smaller but the same, amps and PAs, piano/keyboards, the occasional horn or string section.

That said, I do not think music now is any less creative, imaginative or cool than it has been. The difference? Me. Everything I hear sits upon all the music I've heard and played since the mid 60s.

The challenge? Not playing the part of the grumpy old musician, "Do you know how many times I've played that groove?! There is nothing new about that song!"

(Not that I'm going to totally shed my elitist tendencies altogether--I mean, c'mon--I am a schooled musician... ;-)

But seriously, this is a challenge. I want to be known by younger people as open minded and someone they want to be around and seek advice from. I want to be able to embrace what has come before me and what's coming now. As music changes, I want to roll with it, not against it.

So if you catch me being grumpy, just work the code word "rutabaga" into our conversation and I'll know what you mean ;-)