Taste in music, as in anything else, is acquired. While it is exceedingly individual—you are the one who forms a connection with particular compositions—it is also something that is shared. The people with whom you form bonds often like the same music that you do, more so than, say, they all share a taste for herring. Your friends may enjoy reading the same authors, but the likelihood of that is less than their liking the same music. This is because music is something that occurs in the environment such that while we are sharing experiences with our friends the music is there, at some level of common perceptibility: it may be in the background; we may be at a concert and it is in the foreground. This level of commonality can be built over time: people who share, generally, an affinity for a finite-yet-permeable set of musicians will, for example, read this website and not go searching for opera or chamber music or what have you. So there is a reinforcement of beliefs and tastes.
It is almost Pavlovian. You experience a set of circumstances. There is music playing. If the experience is sufficiently extreme at either end of the spectrum, you are likely to remember that music. You are likely to react to it in the future in a way that provokes, in some measure, the feeling experienced the first time. The classic “They’re playing our song” is indicative of this sort of thinking or being.
Like several other tastes (e.g., remember your first cigarette? beer?), there tends to be appreciation of the musical object through repetition. And unlike other things, music can be more readily repeated, so the possibility of hearing something with a degree of frequency—perhaps an excessive, obsessive one—is more achievable than, say, trying to learn to love beer posthaste. If you are in an environment that is supportive of the sounds in question (i.e., your peer group), then you’re more than likely to hear the sounds on several occasions. And so you learn to like it.
Consider a type of music that you abhor. You will not go out of your way to listen to it. You will avoid it. You will, perhaps, have a difficult time understanding why anyone would like that sound. For you, that sound is nothing but noise. Which goes a long way toward explaining why there is music that you like and music that you don’t but which other people find to be exquisite, at the very least. Chances are, there is little that can be done to change the status quo, your status quo.
There is music that you liked when you were young. Some of that music has worn grooves into your cerebellum that you may not realize until, say, you get a copy of a Rhino repackaging and suddenly realize that you actually know the words to songs that you didn’t even consciously remember existed. Some of the music from days gone by just doesn’t do anything, perhaps even being like the cheap wine that you used to swill: You’re not going to do that again.
It is interesting to note the proliferation of new music releases from the past, particularly from bands that no longer exist. Part of this is driven by technology. Part of this is driven by commerce. Part of this is driven by our desire to find solace in the music that once mattered to us, music that continues to reverberate, music that in many ways contributes to who we are.
And so we claim that rock and roll can change your life. But in many ways, rock and roll has helped create our lives.