Monday, September 22, 2008

Heavy Question of the Day: Has the best music been made?

by Myche

I want to get everyone's opinion on this as I have asked a few people and it seems to really get a healthy debate going.

Has the best music been made?

I will refrain from my views on this until others have weighed in. I've come up with follow-up questions to break this down even further:

1. If you had to decide today whether you could only listen to music created prior to today or music created after today, what would you pick?

2. Once all the facts are in (as far as you are concerned) and you are lying on your deathbed, do you think that you will say that the best music you heard was made before or after 9/22/08?

Are these equivalent questions?



Wayne said...

As someone involved in the arts, an optimist and one who is progressively-minded, I'm going to go with "The Best Music has yet to be made". With nothing but intense love for the music that has shaped my life to this point, I'm always on the edge of my seat for that moment when someone pushes an envelope and shows you things you never thought you'd hear, and wish you had thought of yourself. I crave more of those "wow" moments when you "discover" something. Remember the first time you heard Hendrix or "Blood Mountain" or Gojira or Allman Brothers or whatever you love? I wake up every morning hoping I get to feel that all over again with something else.

Myche said...

A counterpoint:

Let me just cut to the chase - in my opinion, I believe the best music has been made. I would first like to say that by “best music” I am talking about my favorite music and my personal tastes and not trying to impose this view on others. I’ve found that this statement can come off as a pessimistic and depressing thought for many people. The more I discuss this with people the more I’ve come to realize that it is a very complex question. I do feel that all three questions in the post are equivalent, so here’s my rationale as to why I would take all the music made from this point than all future music:

1. If I break it down into several genres of music, there are a few that it is very clear to me have already enjoyed their heyday: blues, jazz, country, folk, reggae, gospel, soul, R&B, and funk. The groundbreaking artists in these genres are put on a pedestal, and for good reason. There will never be another Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bessie Smith, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Otis Redding, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, or George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic (to name a few). Period, end of story. If you like this stuff, you have to look back, I‘m afraid. For the catch-all of “rock” and metal, this might not be so obvious. Yes, it’s safe to say that there will not be another Elvis, Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc, but there are bands that are currently moving these genres forward. But for me, I’ll bet on the past for rock and metal as well.

2. If I think of my 20 favorite artists or so, I believe most have made their best music (or aren’t making any new music anymore). Sad, but true. Yes, Dylan has been making great records as of late, but it could never eclipse his back catalog. Same goes for Queensryche, Y&T, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, Prince, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Fish/Marillion, Devin Townsend, Elvis Costello, and Motorhead.

3. I would guess the older you get the more the tendency would be to select music of the past over the future. I would doubt that many people over the age of 60 replace their top 10 artists from that point on. Actualll, I would guess the same could be said for most people over 30 or 40. I’ve personally had a great run on exploring new artists in the last eight years or so, and a couple would probably make it into my top 20. But I feel like I’ve hit a plateau, and honestly most of those bands that I got into had been around for some time and weren’t brand new artists. Additionally, you can’t take away the bias you have for music that is purely for nostalgic reasons. I could never turn my back on all that music I grew up listening to and all those memories associated with them.

4. I expect to favor all the above-referenced genres in the future. I don’t see myself going all-in on some future new music type which may emerge and thus have its own list of pioneers. The above-referenced kings of those genres will always be king.

5. I answer this question completely different for other media forms. For movies, I wouldn’t hesitate to permanently shelf all movies from the past to keep the option open to see movies made from this point forward. The same would be for TV and books. Music is different though. I love to pull out that favorite album that I’ve listened to 100 times, it’s like reconnecting with an old friend. And it can sound surprisingly fresh if you’ve left it alone for a little while…

6. I think I generally like music in its more “pure” form. In the past, whenever I have gotten into some band I have always been intrigued by what they were influenced by. It’s interesting to me to contemplate what happens to the quality of music as musicians are influenced by more and more different sources of music. I’m not sure I believe that this overall creates “better” music. I’ve always been more attracted to bands that have been influenced by the “original” sources. I’ll take a band that’s really into James Brown, or The Velvet Underground, or Sabbath over “we’re a funky, hip-hop metal band” anyday.

So there you have it from me. I’m willing to go with what I know rather than bet on the future and know what I would be missing. I’m also pretty confident that when my years of rocking are winding down, my favorite music will be pre-September 2008. In fact, knowing what I know now, if I was forced to choose between the past and future of music in 1990 I believe it would have been the right choice to pick the past. And I believe the last 18 years of music will be better than the next 18 years…

Chris B. said...

Do I think the world will come to a flaming end? No way of knowing. Same response to your question.

There is plenty of music out there that captures my attention, or even evokes a visceral reaction in my little brain. (I still get goosebumps when I hear Worlds by Monuments.)

Is it possible that I'll hear a song that brings me to tears at some point? Sure. I think discovery is a big part of it, but longevity adds to the definition of "best", so to say a song that I hear for the first time tomorrow is among the best I've heard would be short-sighted.

Check back when I'm on my death bed. I'll have a more accurate answer for you then.

p.s. - to address the subtext of the question, I'm actually encouraged by the new music popping up lately. Like the economy, music and art ebb and flow over the years.

Myche said...

It was not my intention in my question/response to imply a subtext of "all music today is shit." That's not my style, nor my belief.

Good posts, guys. It's a thought provoker. Thank goodness we don't really have to choose between the two: discovery and nostalgia are both pretty awesome forces when it comes to music...

Wayne said...

WHAT?? We didn't REALLY have to choose?!? I DID. Shit, I've never wanted to listen to Glenn Miller more in my life! (shaking fist into the air) Damn you Queensryche Myche!!!

Myche said...

Sorry, dude. I guess I should have made that clear. I forgot to mention that we were in "Hypothetical World." Better run home and get all your old CD's from the dumpster. I don't think there's much you can do about the mp3's you deleted. Oh wait - check your Recylce Bin on your computer, quick!

Wayne said...

Wellll...shit. No sooner had I pledged allegiance to the Future State of Music then I completely switched over to MiniDisc, which I assumed would hold some sort of hipster music listening status in the future ("everything sounds warmer on MiniDisc!" etc.). Let's hope "Chinese Democracy" comes out on MD

Myche said...

They really should make that the first album to ship platinum on MiniDisc! At a minimum it would make for a great trivia question later on (and nice coasters for the beverage of your choice in the meantime).

Wayne said...

I'm sure "Chinese Democracy" will make a good coaster in whatever format you buy it in.