I’m 48. Music from my youth that every American of my generation remembers fondly includes:
- Michael Jackson
- Janet Jackson
- Whitney Houston
- Huey Lewis
Was this the last time everyone had a common musical lexicon?
The decline of radio, rise of iTunes, and mushrooming mp3 players meant increasing musical personalization. By the time I finished college in the mid-90s, I only listened to narrow genres of music on the radio: smooth jazz in Pittsburgh and contemporary Hawaiian and slack key guitar music in Honolulu. Once I identified my favs, I only listened to them. No commercials and available at will.
iTunes indulged this desire of music consumers and made it easier than ever to choose songs and create, share and edit mix-tapes, now known as playlists. Pandora offered further fractionalized musical tastes in radio-style mixes customized with your thumbs-up and thumbs-down ratings.
With that, we no longer had a shared musical experience.
What does that do to a culture?
We no longer share a musical experience or memory. When you hear “Purple Rain” or the first few notes of “Thriller” don’t your fingertips twitch in air guitar synergy, and your insides perk up preparing to dance?
Losing our sound meant losing our common ground. As the absurd Roxbury Guys (an 80s Saturday Night Live skit) bebopping to “What is Love?” demonstrate,
Music is a powerful uniting force.
We can disagree about everything else. Shared band love makes up for it temporarily. And that brief recess from acrimony is a place to start seeing each other again. [In Hawaii, we play music and have potlucks. By eating together, everyone usually gets along. You mainlanders should try it: hard fo’ fight over who you like vote for if you stay eating his kalbi BBQ ribs!]
Earbuds and sound-canceling headphones do the opposite of what music should do: bring people together. We are beings powered by and sensitive to energy waves—light, sound, electricity, and intention. Isolated musical enjoyment cuts us off from the good vibrations of others.
Think about the cultural ripple Elvis and The Beatles made. Yet another thing American society has lost is our shared musical craze. I don’t have to like you, your politics, or your religion, but we used to be able to enjoy a concert and rock out together.
People from opposing sides don’t do anything together anymore.
As a teenager, I was happiest dancing to the tunes of the day. I was the odd duck, but grooving to music we all liked made me feel less so. I remember the universality of music. Everyone was welcome to it.
When was the last time “everyone” applied without controversy?
Everyone did not have to like the same music, but everyone was free to, if they wanted. We shouldn’t be confined to categories of who can like what.
I miss you, musical America.
Gather several friends and go to a concert or make your own in the car overlooking a view. Turn the music up and Feel the Powah! No one does it better than Earth Wind and Fire.