Wednesday, 6 February 2019


Mind the (Generation) Gap

More often than not there is music playing here at the Crooked 9. I cannot imagine our lives without beautiful noise. Its sources vary. Sometimes it’s selections from our library of compact discs and vinyl. Sometimes it’s Ann practicing her violin for her season’s concerts. Sometimes it’s the radio, the dial always tuned to CKUA, Alberta’s public broadcaster. A visual representation of our listening habits would be a pie chart divided into imperfect thirds and quarter notes.

CKUA bills itself as accessible or interactive radio. There’s an app of course but the hosts of its various shows actively solicit listeners’ comments and suggestions via e-mail during their airtime slots. This aspect of engagement is the flip side of the dusty glory days of rock ‘n’ roll radio when as a fanatical teen I repeatedly tried to call deejays even though I knew I’d never get through. I’d been groomed for crushing disappointment though because the lady on ‘Romper Room’ never saw me through her magic mirror after my half day of kindergarten.

Last week the host of ‘Midmorning Mojo’ asked her audience to let her know which albums we knew by heart, backward and forward, the sequence, all the lyrics.

I thought: Gee, your show’s only three hours long and it would take me all day to type up a spreadsheet as I’m a little rusty with Lotus Notes. And how would you like it sorted? By year of release or alphabetically and then chronologically by artist?

Ann said, “Did you hear the question?” I replied I had and that it seemed a tad inane. Ann said, “Not really. Think about all the people we know and how they listen to music, especially the younger ones.”

Rock music these days resembles its fan base, a bit long in the spooky tooth. The obvious sign of its decline is the demise of the album format, the long playing record. Sometimes I think Ann and I are the last CD consumers in town. While it’s true that vinyl has staged a modest comeback with music buyers, I believe the black circles in their ornate sleeves generally constitute hard copy souvenirs of the enclosed digital downloads. I liken modern vinyl to the concert programs I used to buy at shows during the seventies.

Around 50 years into my existence, as rock music petrified into a subgenre, a popular song became known as a jam. The modern jam is a different beast from the Allmans, the Dead or Phish extending and exploring their songs on stage. Still, the term fits to a certain extent as a contemporary hit tends to be a collaboration of many writers and a canny assemblage of beats, samples and Auto-Tune tweaks. A song that did not chart, was not released as a single, is now described as a deep cut which to me implies filler.

Applying these terms retroactively to classic albums denies the totality of the long player. Young Americans, Bowie’s excursion into plastic soul becomes two jams and six deep cuts. The new language is absurdly irksome though indicative of how music is experienced in the 21st century. Consider a Bowie fan around this date in February, 1975 when Young Americans was originally released. The lead single had already been released to build anticipation for the entire (and more expensive) album. He or she had access to a stereo. There was the ritual of removing the cellophane and dropping the stylus on side one, track one. The sleeve and the liner notes required study. The record had to be turned over and then replayed in its entirety, after all this was new Bowie.

Now, consider the Bowie-curious in 2019. He or she has a laptop or a digital device about the size of a package of cigarettes, opposable thumbs and ear buds. They don’t buy recorded music on physical media. They rent a futuristic form of it, different delivery systems. Perhaps ‘Fame’ piqued their interest, perhaps because of the John Lennon co-writing credit. Why multitask through the seven preceding songs when they can scroll right to the track even if it means skipping ‘Win’ and ‘Fascination’? Who cares about the cover art when it’s the size of a thumbnail? Once, an album was a complete package, from the song sequencing to the graphics. This type of context no longer matters.

I thought: Gee, maybe the deejay didn’t pose such a dumb question after all, but instead one for the ages. The long and short of it is different strokes for different folks.

Copies of my latest novel The Garage Sailor are still available and ready to ship. Get aboard at

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