I pretty much disconnected from pop/rock music in the ‘80s and have shifted to classical (especially baroque) and jazz, but I have observed that one of the ways in which late 20C/early 21C culture is different than ‘back-in-the-day’ is the taste of young people. Naturally, their tastes run primarily to the popular music of their day, especially various flavors of rap. It’s not my style, but what is remarkable is their affinity for the music of my era. What are my friends’ kids doing lining up for a Stones’ concert, or going to see the Eagles’ (umpteenth) reunion tour??? Why are they downloading tracks from Santana or Stevie Wonder onto their iPhones?
There is part of me that would like to think that the popular culture of my era was distinctively great; with universal appeal that transcends generations. The first era of rock-n-roll (i.e. from 1956 up to Disco) was awesome, but I’m sure much of my opinion is solipsistic. Actually, however, I suspect that there is something else going on here. It has to do with the infamous “generation gap” and the evolving nature of mass culture in an increasingly technology-driven media environment.
For one thing, culture (especially music) is much more easily available today than 60 years ago when getting a record player or an “8-track” was a big deal. This has been true since CDs (the fax-like music technology of the late 20C) and even cassettes made it simple to get your hands on and swap the latest tunes. Making the “back catalog” available was low-hanging fruit for the music companies (and now, with streaming, even more so).
Second, we “owned” our music in a way that differed from our parents’ relationship with their music. Part of this was due to the inherent rebellion of Rock and its tight generational affiliation. We were proud of our music in a way I don’t think our parents ever were. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we were prone to push it at the next generation. Plus, the economic and cultural power of us boomers made it harder to avoid our tastes and memories than those of earlier generations. We can see this in the innumerable (and often horribly-named) tribute bands reviving the “Golden Oldies” of yesteryear; not to mention hearing “Layla” on Muzak.
Third, the evolutionary nature of popular music since the ‘60s made our sales job easier; i.e., our music is closer to our kids’ music than our parents’ music was to ours (e.g., in terms of volume or rhythm or angst). So, it’s a much shorter bridge and we were more willing to cross it and to bring our kids over to our stuff (and they were more willing to listen than we were, too!).
I wonder how much of this transfers to other modes of popular culture? Remakes of movies and play revivals hearken back to their originals; but that’s not new, Shakespeare and Euripides have been performed for centuries. What is different is the continuing availability of the originals. Although the first two tries at Dune are best left unwatched; the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol is still the best. The remakes say more about the profitability models of media companies than about an aesthetic judgement of earlier versions (see also King Kong). Still the continued availability of the earlier works makes it feasible for multiple generations to share the same cultural experience.
Overall, it seems that the presence of electronic media has fundamentally changed the nature of the inter-generational transfer of culture. Given the rapidity of technological change, it’s likely that the 20C phenomenon noted here will morph considerably on the rising tide of games, VR/AR, mash-ups, and other experimental/experiential genres. It will be interesting to see if grunge bands or rap artists carry the same longevity twenty to thirty years hence or if the current phenomenon was/is a “one-off.”
But for now, we can see that the nature of culture has changed. The past is still available in ways that weren’t previously possible. The ties between generations is different. Perhaps have we found one way to bridge the famous “gap?”