It was Wordsworth, I seem to recall, who suggested that we all start out as radicals and end up as conservatives. This notion came to mind as a result of a comment that was made by GloNo‘s sab with regard to my piece on Hall & Oates. Actually, it was one phrase: “I’m not convinced.” Which led me to think about what it takes to actually convince someone about something as personal as music.
In the case of Wordworth’s observation, I think that what he was saying is that there is a tendency, when we are young, to be different than those who have gone before us. This difference manifests itself in a number of ways, from the clothes we wear to the books we read to the music that we listen to. In each of these cases (clothes, books, music), it is typically because there are new designers, new writers and new musicians that we have the opportunity to select new things. And so we do. Compared with what our elders wear, read and audit, this is seemingly “radical.” Just as what they had selected was perceived to be that in their earlier days.
What happens, of course, is that as time goes on, the “new” things that we have brought onto our own become dated. They are no less “radical” in and of themselves, but when they are considered in a wider context, a context that contains the works of new designers, writers and musicians, they become perceived to be conservative.
Although most of us would like to think ourselves to be culturally flexible and adaptive, to be willing to consider “new” or “different” things, there is still that fundamental structure that has been built up over time, a structure that essentially helps define who we are. “Who we are” is, in part, defined through our “tastes.” Our tastes aren’t instantly developed, for the most part. Outside of, say, sex and candy, there are probably few things that we instantaneously perceive to be good. Think of your first beer or first cigarette. I would submit that this is the case even for music.
We hear a song on the radio. Perhaps we really like it. But a single song is not representative of an artist’s work. So we buy a disc. Chances are, there is more on the disc that is different from the song we liked. But our appreciation of the original song makes us continue to listen to the other work. Eventually, we find ourselves either (1) appreciative of a better part of what we are hearing (there will invariably be something that we don’t like) or (2) dismissive of the whole thing, including the song that we “thought” we liked.
Let’s consider that it is the former. So we buy more discs. Attend concerts. Share our discovery with our friends (and chances are, because they are “friends” they are of like—or at least similar—mind). And over time, our understanding of what is “good” is created. We create mental categories that are based on certain characteristics: If at least a critical mass of those characteristics are present in a given thing (this could be clothing, reading material, music, or what have you), chances are we will appreciative of it. If they aren’t there, or if they somehow subvert what we believe is good and true, that new thing has little chance. That isn’t invariably so, of course. Because when we are young, we are still creating categories. Not all of these categories are retained. Some are discarded with time. We don’t necessarily like the same clothes, books, and tunes that we once revered. Yet there is still a group of things that transcend time. It could be an on-going like of athletic shoes or mules, science fiction or mysteries, Neil Young or Nirvana. These categories remain and are sustained. As we age, the number of categories that we are willing to accommodate is reduced—unless we make a conscious decision, unless we make the effort, to work toward greater accommodation.
If we go back to the other comments on the Hall & Oates piece, it is clear that most of those who posted comments are those who have long been “fans,” that these are people who have created a sustained category. They “know” what they like. And knowing what we “like” means, perforce, that we “know” what we don’t like. No one is likely to convince us otherwise. Conviction is personal. And what is “personal” to us is what we are.
Our conceit on this site is that “rock and roll can change your life.” But is that always and invariably the case, or does each of us come to a point where what we will accept as sufficiently provocative is truncated? I think that it happens. No, check that. I “know” that it happens. Or at least I think so. Certainty is not the same as conviction.