I crossed a threshold into old age this morning.
Ariana Grande came on the radio in the car. After ten seconds, I changed the station. The way she chokes out every word of her dopey lyrics made my eyes cross. It wasn’t safe to drive like that.
On the other station Bon Jovi was Livin’ on a Prayer with soulful verse, three-part harmony and guitar soaring in the background. It felt comfortable, like taking off Spanx and putting on yoga pants after a long day.
The song ended, and the station identification spot pointed out that music from my teenhood now plays on the classic rock station.
I once wondered why older generations generally don’t embrace the current music and thought that wouldn’t be me. Why couldn’t my tastes in music change with the times? When Livin’ on a Prayer topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986, Jon Bon Jovi and I had the same bad perm and big bangs. (I wonder which one of us used more Aqua Net?) Now, we’ve both moved on to something more 2014. If my hair can keep up, why not my musical preference?
It seems easy to change your taste in fashion. I even found a way to embrace skinny jeans. When it comes to food, our palates usually grow more sophisticated with age. When I was four, I picked the onions and peppers out of everything. French onion soup is a favorite dish of mine today. Our preference in entertainment makes a steady accent. I’ve moved on from Looney Tunes to Mad Men.
Yet the music of our coming-of-age remains our touchstone. I dabbled in Michael Buble, Maroon 5, even considered the post-pubescent Justin Timberlake. Then I mostly gave up on new music. Not that there isn’t any new talent. But somehow the newbies just never sound quite right. Not like 80s hair bands, R.E.M. and Madonna.
I remember the first time I heard Livin’ on a Prayer. It was in the basement of a friend’s house. We’d had a sleepover and were still sitting around in pajamas, our spiral curls askew and puffy bangs flattened. We turned the radio on because they were scheduled to play the song for the first time at 10 am. That’s how they did it pre-internet, when you couldn’t download music on iTunes or watch the video on YouTube. We were only in Jr. High, so we didn’t have the funds to go out and buy a cassette tape. Besides, we lived an hour away from the nearest mall with a record store. Songs usually aired on radio before MTV, so FM broadcast was our main source of new music.
The DJ introduced the song. My friend hit record on her boombox to make a pirated copy of Livin’ on a Prayer, and we fell silent, listening to the next hit rock anthem. We probably listened to the tape 20 times that day while we giggled, ate pizza, talked about boys and curled our bangs.
The classic rock station doesn’t just replay music. It replays memories: My first kiss, crying over that loser when he dumped me, slumber parties with best friends, prom, the class trip to Washington D.C., graduation, all the stupid things my friends and I did that I won’t tell you about because my parents read this, and that last night we were all together before we scattered off to college. It’s the soundtrack of my youth.
Music holds the stories of a generation. The moods, the fads, the hopes, the fears, and the memories are all background noise. Noise that’s missing from the new music. That’s why it never sounds quite right and will never be quite as good.