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Sounds Old

Sad, but true. The older you grow, the more elusive rock’s ultimate soundtrack becomes.

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Walking around the upstairs of Graywhale Entertainment on 1300 East near the U of U, an unconquerable sense of depression overcame me. It had been so long since I walked the aisles of a music store that I couldn’t find a damned thing. Not long ago, I visited the music store at least once or twice a month to scan the aisles for new releases, lazily absorbing the cover art of the latest discs while the attending clerks pumped the latest in Stereolab, or whatever.

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Now, years later, I realized I was helpless. I was forced by the dictates of time to ask the clerk for help. That’s something no self-respecting “hipster,” if that’s the right word, ever resorts to. At least, not back in the time when I fancied myself a “hipster.”

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That request was nothing, however, compared to my next lapse into mainstream, middle-age boredom. After guiding me to a copy of TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, I asked the clerk his opinion.

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“Absolutely fabulous,” he said, or something to that effect. “It’s got great choruses, fantastic cadences'just great. It’s one of my favorite releases of the year.”

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All of a sudden, I had the uncontrollable urge to place a paper bag over my head. I never had the humility to ask a record-store clerk what he or she thought of a release. There’s nothing at all wrong with humility. Except when I remembered not so long ago that I knew what the hottest releases were. By cross-referencing my own extensive music collection, which cost me countless hours of restaurant labor and therefore thousands of dollars, I knew almost by instinct whether something sucked or rocked. I had done my homework, capital G-o-d dammit!

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But here I was, listening intently'nay, sincerely'to a music store clerk possibly half my age. If this was what it takes to stay current in popular music in the first year of my 40s, I couldn’t decide if I was still interested.

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It all comes back to that pesky little phrase, “the dictates of time.” People grow older. Life’s errands, tasks and demands pile up. If you don’t feel worn out at the end of a day’s work, you certainly feel more mellow, or perhaps that’s a euphemism. I knew this already when I turned 30. There was no more turning up the knob to crank The Stooges’ Funhouse'on vinyl! I started reaching instead for Brian Eno’s ambient albums or the second half of David Bowie’s Low. Damn, but I was still so cool.

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I had absolutely no idea how far I’d aged, however, until certain articles in The New York Times’ arts & leisure section caught my eye. The first documented the apparent death of what used to be the most central fixture in my life, the music store. It turns out that hardly anyone bothers with music stores anymore except gray-haired middle- or old-age men. All the kids download. This made me nostalgic in the extreme. Some of the best moments of my life were spent scouring the racks of music shops in the days of vinyl, then basking in the glow of a hard-sought rarity freshly purchased. All of music is so much easier to find these days, but people don’t know what they’re missing. God, even now, I sound like an old codger.

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Another article reported how the American Association of Retired Persons had enlisted James Taylor to play some of its sponsored events. Even as we speak, the AARP’s busy scouting out other old rockers for marketing purposes. I’d always loathed Mr. Taylor and his smarmy music, but this was disturbing news all the same. How long would it be until The New York Dolls or Talking Heads succumbed? What about the fresh young faces inside my newly purchased TV On the Radio disc?

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Like most people, I didn’t always feel an affinity for everything rock and pop. Marilyn Manson bored me. Eminem induced yawns. You quickly discover what the sharp end of a rhetorical knife feels like when you express distaste for Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails.

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But rock music’s treasures are infinitely more pleasing and valuable than its runts. Keeping up still requires a thorough rifling of all the years’-end charts of “best” singles and albums. At the height of my music obsession, I knew for a fact, still do, that pop’s creative peak will never be surpassed by the best of Motown, the bounty of that tough little island called Jamaica, and the best bands of northern Britain and London in the late ’70s: Joy Division, Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd, The Fall, Wire, The Slits, The Clash and The Sex Pistols.

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Not heard of some of those bands? Good for me, then. Rock music hip-dom is among life’s best games, but also becomes extremely petty and condescending. That, too, is what makes it fun, though, even if people tend to lose sight of music’s power to seduce, beguile and charm. The mad dash to discover and enjoy something new is still a gas. Otherwise, the thrills of new talents like M.I.A., not to mention LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” the best ever song about falling behind in rock music fashion, would be lost to me. “I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s,” the singer laments. “I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.”

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When you’re old, no one cares about the music you listen to. Only you do. No wonder so many people my age stop buying music. It’s a lonely pursuit. At the end of the day, pop music doesn’t want anything from me but my money. How appropriate, then, that the only way to wash out that depressing thought is with another new disc. Once I’m tired of TV On the Radio, Cansei De Ser Sexy’s next on my list.

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