A Few Words on Popular Music

My thoughts today on current pop music would probably insult the teenagers whose tastes lean heavily in the direction of songs that are now heard almost everywhere we go.  My concern, however, over offending the young is minimized by the fact that it will be highly unlikely that any teens would be reading this blog.  Also, I believe strongly that anyone who listens regularly to such music is probably devoid of the tenderness of spirit to feel or even recognize an insult when it’s hurled at him. Yes, I’m horribly intolerant in this matter, especially when I’m forced to listen to rubbish that so many call “music” in our public places.

Last Wednesday while bowling at a local place for two hours, I listened, however unwillingly, to song after song at volumes strong enough to shatter steel beams, every one of the songs in common time with the same mind-numbing tempo and repetitively mindless lyrics, to the point that my brain began to feel immobilized by the utter dullness of the listening experience.  I’d like to blame my bad bowling scores on the music, but that would be going too far, I suppose.  Without earplugs I felt at the mercy of the dreadful music and being forced to hear what was surely more a phenomenon of electronic sound enhancement and technology than of actual musical talent or originality of performance. The term “performing artist” is way overused nowadays.

Maybe we’ve reached the point where we really don’t want to be stimulated mentally by background music but rather deadened by it as robotic accompaniment to whatever else we’re doing.  I guess we’ve all become multi-taskers anyway.  That kind of pop music seems paralyzed by a sameness that desensitizes life in a way that texting and cellphones do.  Primitively inarticulate, the music becomes as pervasive as a stupefying companion uttering the same word over and over again until it loses all meaning.

I’m old enough to remember that our pop music of the 1950’s through the 1980’s could certainly be dumb too, but at least it didn’t all sound exactly the same.  I’ve come to that juncture in life, where I can hear several pop songs in a row and not be able to tell they weren’t all done by the same performer.  Part of that is due to the aging process and my remembering fondly the music and lyrics by people like the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein, Jules Stein, Stephen Sondheim, and Irving Berlin, but a big part of it too is that much of the pop music of today is just inane. From a sense, however, of compassion, pity, or condolence, I won’t mention any of its specific names.  JB


About John

About John John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BS and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado, where he resided for ten years before moving to Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth book is, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014. John’s most recent book is a novel titled Resisting Gravity, A Ghost Story, published the summer of 2018 View all posts by John →
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3 Responses to A Few Words on Popular Music

  1. Jim says:

    We have become our parents. The music you listened to in the early 50’s and 60’s, and the music I listened to in the late 60’s and early 70’s was just as much of a pain in the ear to them as you think today’s music.

    Many of the great musicians you quote were actually well before your time, so you must be one of those rare birds who was out of sync with your own generation. Sure, some of them were still active in the late 50’s and early 60’s when you were a teen – but only “old folks” listened to them by them.

    I don’t like much of today’s music either. I consider RAP music more of a poetry performance, and bad poetry at that. I’ve never liked poetry and having it set to repetitive bass beats doesn’t help it any. Most of it is also vulgar, and while I have no particular moral objection to vulgarity, at least be creative with it.

    However, buried in all the trash out there is some really nice music. You just have to have the patience to look for it.

    Yet, I hesitate to look down my nose too far at the music of the current generation – hovering just off the tip of my nose I can see my parents shaking their heads in disgust at the “crap” I listened too.

  2. John says:

    Good concluding paragraph, Jim! Your opposing views always keep me thinking. I’d love to know at what kind of “music” the current generation will be looking down their noses in thirty or forty years. Maybe they’ll go retro…or people won’t have noses anymore to look down on anything, because we will have reached a musical rock-bottom.

  3. John says:

    I’d like to add that I don’t believe that any music should be banned, however annoying it may be. The most popular taste in any culture usually becomes our lowest common denominator as well, which is why you’ll probably never hear Mozart blasting over the sound systems of bowling alleys and fast food restaurants.

    My real complaint is that we’re forced to listen to booming, second rate swill almost wherever we go. Part of this is overkill on volume itself. Let people listen to whatever they wish in private, but don’t force me to hear “Do it in the Road” while I’m in a restaurant or bowling alley. In turn, I won’t force others to listen to Chopin, Frank Sinatra, or the Beatles. I believe in freedom for everybody…but the problem is that I’m part of that equation too.

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