The man in 119 started all of this, really, back in 1987, which was one of those years where a lot of music stuck in my head, and a lot of things happened that would echo for decades in my life. Two years before this, I embarked on a quest to expand my culinary experiences. I started eating spicy food as a means to explore the different foods of faraway cultures. I grow Carolina Reapers today, and I’m more or less blazing a trail for new foods myself.
Mostly, my younger years were a time when I was told what music I liked. My parents bought me records when I was a little kid, Disney stuff and that sort of thing, and then later I listened to whatever they liked because children did not have opinions on clothes, food, music, or anything else. I grew up with a very weird streak in music and I have no idea why; Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and that sort of thing were the eight-track tapes I bought when I had my own money and could spend my own time. But the vast majority of music that was being created for commercial radio was three point five minutes long and as derived as it could possibly be. Things only got worse as the main delivery system for music, commercial radio, became a stronger force in music.
Oddly, digital music only seemed to strengthen the 3.5 minutes long formula drive popular music. Genre aside, there is no distinguishable difference in artists, songs, albums, such as they are, or musicians. How a singer looks, who that singer is sleeping with, currently, and how their music is advertised means a lot more than vocal strength, musical ability, and quality of the art.
But let’s stop for a moment or two, and examine what’s happening inside your head as you’re going down the road and listening to the radio. If you drive for an hour a day, and I drive a hell of a lot more, in that hour you’re going to get forty-five minutes of music in three-point-five-minute clips, and fifteen minutes of commercials in one minute or thirty-second clips. Your mind is being trained to latch onto to incoming information for these time periods. Thirty seconds, sixty seconds, or two hundred and ten seconds. Let’s take the classic rock song, “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. The single version of this song is two hundred seconds long. Segar repeats the song title fifteen times at the end of the song. Inside of the song is the tale of young love, seemingly lost, and then a lot of repetition. Your mind likes this song. But you’re training your attention span downward.
Back in 1987, and in the years that followed, I started paying more attention to content than hooks. I started trying to find meaning in the way music was created rather than how much of it was simply background noise. I went out and bought a copy of Verde’s Aida, and decided to listen to how music was once created and performed.
You might want to set aside about three hours of your life if you want to try this. Aida is not for the faint of heart. It’s a love triangle gone horribly wrong with betrayal and treason, lust and love, war and death. It’s a musical experience, unlike anything you’ll find in American popular culture today.
I do a lot of writing with classical music in the background. Sometimes, I stop to consider what was happening when a piece was written, how the composer went in one direction over another, and decided to put one instrument in or perhaps take one out.
I wonder if the rise in Alzheimer’s disease has something to do with how we treat our brains. You would expect for any organ to wear out if subjected to repetitive conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome. I wonder if years of blasting two hundred and ten seconds of musical junk food into our minds cause a certain deterioration. Hours of television, binge watching shows, and sitting there, being fed someone else’s creations while neglecting our own ability to release your mind is little more than keeping a dog chained to a tree in the backyard, and wondering why he looks so sad.