Aging, Changing, Technology, and Music

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, May 3, 2017

For someone whose childhood began in 1951, the year 2017 is the far fucking future. Sorry about the inappropriate word, but hey, that’s part of the relentless pace of change. We’re now allowed to use “bad words” in print.

I don’t think young people today can even imagine what a horrendous social offense it was to say fuck in the 1950s, much less write it down. If you could understand you might know what this essay is all about.

It Happened One Night

Last night I watch It Happened One Night with my friend Annie. I told her this 1934 picture was considered very risqué when it came out in 1934. After watching a while she asked why? By modern standards its so squeaky-clean it’s hard to spot the naughty bits. Even as a kid seeing it for the first time in the early 1960s, that old film still had its titillating parts. That changed after Midnight Cowboy.

I started listening to music in the 1950s on my father’s car radio when me and my sister could still stand in the front seat. This was before seat belts. It was his car and his music, but that’s how the times were back then.

For Christmas 1962 I got a AM clock radio. I played my music on that radio from 1962-1968. I turned it on when I got home from school and turned it off each morning when I left for school. I listened rock and roll while I slept, burning songs like “Rhythm of the Rain” into my unconscious mind. I grew up in Miami and loved WQAM and WFUN – the two competing AM Top 40 stations that played rock and roll.

My father had a second job bartending and would bring me and my sister 45rpm records that were pulled from the jukeboxes. In 1962 when I got the clock radio my sister had gotten a portable record player. I envied her that. (I might have stolen it.)

In 1963 an airman left his console stereo and LPs with my father was he was stationed overseas. That was my first introduction to LP albums. The airman left mostly folk music.

Our Man Flint soundtrack 

Eventually I got a little transistor radio to carry around. Then I got my own portable stereo record player when I started buying LPs in 1966. My first LP was the soundtrack to Our Man Flint. I would join the Columbia and Capital music clubs to mass collect albums. Joining, completing my fulfillments, quitting, and rejoining to keep getting those intro bundles.

When I started driving in 1967 I had a car radio. In 1968 I bought a console stereo system. It was my first use of credit, and I was only 16. The console introduced me to FM radio.

Just in the 1960s I went from AM to FM, and from mono to stereo. From tubes to solid state. In the 1970s I got a much larger console, started seriously collecting records, stopped listening to commercial radio, and eventually got into component stereo systems.

In the 1980s I switched to compact discs. I also tried different tape systems. As the decades past I used MP3 players and iPods, and even got into SACD audio for a while. For the last decade I’ve mostly been listening to subscription streaming music. I never got into Napster thievery. I guess I was too old fashioned to steal.

So in the course of half a century I went from listening to music on various physical media to listening to invisible streams of ones and zeros. In 1970 we were warned about Future Shock. Reading about what the future will do to us and living into the future are two different things. The future is both dazzling and tiring.

My point is the technology keeps changing. So does the music. So do the genres of music. I’ve bought some of my favorite albums many times, on LP, CD, cassette, SACD, and digital file (I was briefly into 24bit lossless).

The long playing (LP) record album came out in 1948, but it took a while to catch on. Because of streaming music, the concept of an album is fading. Not only have I outlived many technological changes, I’ve outlived an artistic concept.

And you know what? I’m tired. I’m fucking tired of change. I’m weary of the constant barrage of new technology. And I was a computer geek starting in 1971. Just read all those changes in computer tools I’ve used.

I’m happy with streaming music. Can’t we stick with it for a while? At least a quarter century, I hope. Give me 25 years and I’ll die on you, and the world can change as much and as fast as it wants after that.



17 thoughts on “Aging, Changing, Technology, and Music”

  1. “By modern standards its so squeaky-clean it’s hard to spot the naughty bits.”

    I thought so, too, Jim. And you’re right when it comes to movies. But have you read any books by Thorne Smith (1892-1934)? They’re surprisingly risque (and quite funny).

    Of course, in America, the Comstock Act was a big problem for nearly a century. And I’m pretty sure that motion picture studios censored themselves to avoid any problems with it (or with local obscenity laws). Heck, Smith’s books might have been a lot more explicit without the Comstock Act, too.

    Sex still existed back then, and it was just as interesting to people. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. 🙂

  2. I’ve shared this on my FB page – as a music NUT, I too have been down that music format road 🙂

      1. I have an office drawer I call “THE MUSEUM OF ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY” solely dedicated to just about every form of personal music player – now with SPOTIFY – all redundant

  3. I may have been an early adopter since we are not that far apart in age.
    As a kid I too listened to local radio – Dodgers, Rams, etc. Also, I listened to KHJ (Los Angeles) right up until I found FM stations that played that new “Rock and Roll”. The Doors, The Hollies, Buffalo Springfield, etc. The seminal (for me) change was the FM station KROQ in the late 70’s – half Top Twenty and half new music played.
    I never owned a dash-mounted 45RPM record player – but the older brother of a friend of mine did. I was truly impressed, until I heard what it did to the records while driving. “Screeeeee!”
    I ended up sticking to radio for most music (although I did have a small portable record player in my bedroom ) and that’s when I first listened to FM radio stations.
    Fast forward to my late teenage driver days and FM was the only thing I listened to while driving.

    Skipping the early homeowner days of amps & tower speakers (my wife’s choice of music doesn’t require deep bass) I’ve evolved as the internet has. I have plenty of CDs and LPs (some of the latter in very good shape). However, since I listen to that music in private, a good pair of headphones (<$100) and YouTube seems to work for me.

    After all, how much better than the original Beck's Bolero can you get? (and yes, I do have a pristine copy of "Truth" that I hold back for a rainy day).

    1. I remember buying Truth when it first came out and playing it for my friends, most of which only knew AM music. Blew them away! I got Truth again on CD. But today I play it on Spotify. I was listening to “Beck’s Bolero” just the other day.

      Jim, we probably have lots of overlap in music. Probably because of age. I’m working on a blog post about my all-time favorite albums. I want to create a list in year order. The LP came out in 1948, and I think it’s dying now. So it’s an art form that existed during our lifetime.

  4. My son and my daughter–millennials–make fun of me when I go to thrift stores and buy used music CDs. People are dumping their CD collections. In the past year I’ve purchased over a 100 music CDs at Library Book Sales for a pittance. Many of my friends dismiss music CDs as “obsolete” because they’ve all switched to streaming music services. Like books, I like the music CD format. I like the jewel box format, too. CDs will go the way of 8-track tapes, but I’ll have hundreds of music CDs to listen to for years to come.

    1. George, since I donate my CDs to the library I’m hoping people like you are getting them and giving them a good home. I’ve offered them to my friends, but none of them want CDs anymore. I have a few friends that are LP collectors. Most people don’t find CDs very nostalgic, even though they are superior in sound fidelity (despite what LP fanatics say). I’m keeping all the CDs where I love the album and still enjoy playing it whole.

      1. James, I thank you on behalf of the folks like me who are buying your CDs at the Library. There are people who actively seek out music CDs. As you point out, CD sound is superior to many of the streaming services. I sold my LP collection back in 1980 and shifted to CDs for the lack of snap, crackle, and pop of LPs.. Like you, I enjoy playing (and listening) to a whole album. That seems to be lost today as most music services are song oriented.

        1. You’re welcome, George. I hope all my CDs find great homes, with people who will listen to them regularly.

          I know a lot of folks tout LPs for audiophile listening, but I still think the CD has far more dynamic range. But I’m also surprised how good streaming has gotten with 320kbps rips. What really helps streaming music is playing it through a receiver and big speakers. Most people equate digital music to iPhone earbuds. That’s wrong.

          When I want to maximize my listening pleasure, which requires complete focusing on the music, I play a CD. But for most listening, even when I’m only listening in my recliner with my eyes close, Spotify is fantastic. I can kick back, holding my phone for the remote, and call up songs from a pool of over 30 million. It’s a matter of remembering the artist, album or song’s name.

  5. And yet I’ve been reading over the last year or so about a strong resurgence of interest in high quality LPs. And it’s been primarily among folks younger than us. I no longer have equipment capable of playing a 33 1/3 rpm shellac disc; and yet I have bought some. I’m sure they are no longer shellac, but I have them stored carefully for when I have the pocket money to buy a ridiculously priced turntable. And amp and pre-amp. And speakers to suit.

    And a better pair of headphones, because my wife isn’t going to want to listen to Jeff Beck’s “Truth”, Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Are you Experienced”, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, or any other high quality LP’s I’ve got.

    But when she’s out of the house, this pad’s gonna be rockin’.

    And I can do foundation checks and stress tests to make sure the place is Earthquake resistant (SoCal, y’know).

    Now, I do have access to my Mom’s 78 rpm collection, so anyone interested should step up.

    Re: Beck’s Bolero – have you ever listened to Joe Walsh’s “The Bomber”? According to musical lore, the second “movement” is a tribute to Beck’s Bolero. If you look it up, make sure to get the long version (the portions including Ravel’s Bolero phrases apparently caused the record company to edit out that portion on some recordings. Copyright stuff, y’know)

    It’s not Beck – but it is a fine tribute, especially when he tosses in “Cast Your Fate to The Wind” in the third.

    Quick, cheap and easy on Yoot Oob.

    1. Jim, it sounds like you’re ready to put some money into the project. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to abandon LPs the third time. LPs are now $20-25 each, and a lot more for special editions, which there are many I would want. I got back into LPs the last time with $225 Audio-Technica turntable and buying used LPs. They sounded good for the most part, but all too often they had pops and crackles. I did buy some of the new 180 gram LPs. They sounded wonderful, I couldn’t afford to buy a lot of them. I also got into 24bit FLAC files, which also sound great if you pay attention. But again I didn’t want to re-buy hundreds of favorite albums at $25 a pop.

      I actual love Spotify. Instead of worrying about collecting I spend my time trying out new stuff. Remember going to record stores back in the 1960s and 1970s and flipping through all the album bins looking at the LPs and wishing you could buy them all? Well, with Spotify I can go back and try them all. Spotify is like time traveling for a music lover.

      For example, I’m playing “The Bomber” by the James Gang as I type. It was merely a matter of typing in the title. It’s been a long time since I owned a copy of Rides Again.

      I play Spotify through good PC speaker when I’m at the computer, and through my receiver and floor standing speakers when I’m in the den. Also, I play Spotify through my phone on headphones. (just got to the bolero part)

  6. Quick retro – few guitar slingers can make maple syrup sound so good as Joe. And of course, you have to dig in and eat the pancakes in order to find Beck’s Bolero.

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