Author: Campbell, Bruce

How to Sound Like an Old Person

“Old age sticks up Keep Off signs & Youth tears them down” e.e.cummings

This past weekend, I was witness to a lively after dinner discussion that featured folks from my generation and my son’s generation. Not surprisingly, my generation sounded cranky and old and my son’s generation sounded impassioned, a little naïve, but still eloquent. In the end, no one’s mind was changed one iota. Well, maybe mine.

My buddy Ken was positing an assertion that today’s youth will pass into adulthood without an appreciation for, and maybe not even an awareness of, high-fidelity sound. I seem to recall having an intra-generational discussion with Rick Cornish about this very topic as well.

The popularity of personal music devices like the iPod means many people will never bother to own a real high-fidelity sound system, preferring instead to listen to music through earbuds, rendering compressed digital files.

Ken was right that there will be many people that won’t appreciate the sound of real high-fidelity. He was barking up the wrong tree with my son, who owns a turntable and buys a lot of his music on vinyl. Music fans who care about fidelity can get their digital music in formats with higher sample rates and less compression – CD quality or something near to it.

But what about those masses that never bother to buy a turntable, or seek out higher fidelity formats? I suggest they will still live decent lives, be productive members of society and some of them, dare I say it, will actually be music lovers. Let’s face it – the percentage of people who invest in really decent sound gear is not that great. I have had many more lousy stereos than really good ones. I have really enjoyed the music when I had access to nice systems to hear it on, but I have also spent many hours enjoying music on little transistor radios, cheap turntables with quarters taped to the tone arms, and cheap cassette decks.

The conceit of age is when we assume our generation is smarter than the ones that preceded us, or the ones we precede. It’s when we assume the younger generation isn’t as nice as our generation was, buying into the sloppy intellectual conclusion that a few bad examples actually define a whole generation. I own a book, published in 1928, (titled “The Revolt of Modern Youth”) that hilariously declares the younger generation to be sex-crazed, devoid of manners and generally headed for depths of depravity. Socrates railed against the youth in his day as well, with the very same complaints.

So yeah, the kids drive us crazy, and they don’t appreciate how good they have it, but youth is always wasted on the young, isn’t it? And lest you think I portrayed my buddy Ken as a hopeless curmudgeon, you should know that he teaches middle school and was the subject of a recent article in the local paper about how he plays music with the students and knows how to play all the songs THEY like.

What’s even cooler is, the next day, we played some music together, in a rock’n’roll ensemble that included us old geezers on electric guitars and bass, and, representing his generation (which will inherit this Earth for a little while), my son on the drums. It was a splendid jam!

So, the next time you reach for your mallet to pound in a Keep Off sign, remember – the kids are just gonna tear it down.

Posted:  9/8/2010

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