Music News

Nothing Not New: We All Suffer from "Aesthetic Atrophy," But at Least I'm Getting Help

"If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it . . ."

-- Wm. Shakespeare

I recently received some bad news regarding a diagnosis. It's never easy to hear someone (especially an expert in his field) tell you that you have a serious problem, and it certainly wasn't easy this time, either. At first, there was denial. Then, there was anger. And, finally, there was acceptance. I had to admit I suffered from the all-too-common malady of "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of the ability to appreciate new or different music.

It was New Times music editor Martin Cizmar who delivered the diagnosis to me about a month ago. He viewed me, a 40-year-old, suburban born-and-bred, college-educated, Midwest native, as someone who -- all things being equal - would in almost any instance pop a classic like The Ramones' Rocket to Russia into my CD player over something new that I was less familiar with but, given my tastes, would possibly (even probably) enjoy. Something like, say, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' It's Blitz.

Martin assured me that aesthetic atrophy is nothing to be ashamed of. It pretty much happens to everyone. In his year-end column for New Times, he wrote: "I believe it to be an unavoidable consequence of aging . . . In some people, the slip is more noticeable than in others, which I think has a lot to do with where the person peaked." He even admits (as someone more than 10 years younger than me) to suffering slightly from the same ailment, choosing to retreat to the warm and fuzzy safety of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds or a late-'90s Old 97s disc when faced with a stack of new releases.

For most of my teens, 20s, and into my early 30s, buying, researching, and reading about music was a huge part of my life. I was an avid collector of records. I read rock bios, read obscure zines like Forced Exposure, watched rock docs, attended and played tons of shows, and basically consumed music as much as I could. Then, I didn't. Chalk it up to money, shifting priorities, less time, whatever. I still love music, but I don't buy nearly as much new stuff. And as Martin mentioned in his column, I play guitar in two Valley bands, but both of them traffic in tried-and-true rock and pop idioms. I admit I'm not interested in breaking any musical waves. Though I still like to hear new music and see new bands, I acknowledge that I'm more skeptical of new music than ever.

When someone told me last year that I had to hear the new Grizzly Bear (the hands-down critics' indie darling of 2009), I graciously accepted a copy of GB's Veckatimest. I listened. Twice. Then my thoughts quickly turned to anticipation for the release of a box set celebrating the short-lived career of Big Star, the pop pioneers that made three classic records in the early 1970s. When I was told to check out Wavves, another you-gotta-hear-'em band, I was not moved. Pop songs buried in a lo-fi, scuzzed-out wall of sound were done better, in my opinion, by The Velvet Underground, The Jesus and Mary Chain, early Guided by Voices, and The Reigning Sound. I gave Wavves another chance by seeing them at the Rhythm Room this fall. They were okay, but I stood there thinking I'd rather be home watching the new Cheap Trick Live at Budokan DVD. Looking back, I guess my atrophy was full-blown.

Fortunately, Dr. Cizmar thinks he has a remedy for aesthetic atrophy. He wrote: "The process can be slowed through therapeutic episodes of forced exposure to various stimuli." That leads us to the point of this column and the public "therapy" I will undergo in 2010, a project (or experiment, if you like) called "Nothing Not New." In an effort to curb the disease, I must turn my back on the past (read: my record collection) and listen only to music released in 2010. Every Monday through Friday of 2010, I will write briefly on this blog about the new music I hear.

Before wrapping up this introduction to "Nothing Not New," I suppose I should reflect on my tastes and biases. I mostly lean toward rock 'n' roll, British Invasion, classic punk, garage rock, classic and outlaw country, power pop, and 1980s-era indie stuff (what they used to call college rock, before it became known as "alternative," which bears absolutely no resemblance in sound or spirit of the "alternative" rock of the 1990s and 2000s). My two favorite records of the 2000s were made by old-timers: Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros' Streetcore and Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose. My record collection starts with AC/DC, The Adverts, American Music Club, The Animals, and the Avengers and ends with Tom Waits, Wilco, White Stripes, The Who, Link Wray, X, Yo La Tengo, Neil Young, and The Zeros.

Of course, in 2010, I'll be forced to listen to stuff I'd never think twice about ignoring: hip-hop, twee indie pop, bland radio rock, the new breed of hard rock, and who knows what else. I hope you enjoy the series and will wish me a safe musical passage through what will be a year of uncertainty and, perhaps, some enlightenment.

I think I speak for you, me, and all of us music fans when I say I hope this disease isn't terminal.

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett