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Timeline Twins, Music and Movies

When I was a kid, “oldies” music and movies seemed ancient. Even though I’m now in my 30s, the entertainment that I watched and listened to in my youth still feels pretty recent to me. Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t all that long ago, right? But comparing my distorted recall of childhood favorites to the oldies of the time jogs my memory in unpleasant ways. For example:

Listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller today is equivalent to listening to Elvis Presley’s first album (1956) at the time of Thriller’s release in 1982. Elvis singles in 1956 included Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog, and Love Me Tender.

Thriller/Elvis Timeline

If you’re around my age, how old do you feel right now? Here are some other examples of timeline twins:

Watching Star Wars today is like watching It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) in 1977. It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated for an Oscar the following year along with Ethel Barrymore (b. 1879) and Lilian Gish (b. 1893).

Listening to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit today is equivalent to playing Terry Jack’s Seasons In The Sun (1974) in 1991.

Watching The Godfather today is like watching Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) in 1972. Modern Times was a silent film (Chaplin’s last).

Listening to the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks (1977) today…well, they didn’t really have rock or pop albums back in 1946. But popular songs on the radio were sung by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Dinah Shore, as well as many performers and their orchestras.

Back to the Future (1985) โ€”> To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Die Hard (1988) โ€”> Bullitt (1968)

Radiohead, OK Computer (1997) โ€”> Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet (1986)

Reader comments

Mike NNov 14, 2008 at 12:27PM

I have this conversation with my children all the time, and unfortunately I think it means that our culture isn't innovating as quickly as it did in the past. My 13 year old and I share a genuine taste for Green Day. I can tell you with some certainty that my father had ZERO interest in Van Halen.

mattbucherNov 14, 2008 at 12:37PM

I was thinking about this the other day because I like to sing my son the 1970s songs my parents sang to me (horrible Carpeneters, John Denver, James Taylor stuff), and I realized that my parents were pretty hip to be singing contemporary music with me (I don't sing Rhianna or Fallout Boy to my son). My poor son's equivalent would be if I had grown up listening to the Glen Miller Band.

HaarballNov 14, 2008 at 12:39PM

Radiohead, OK Computer (1997) --> Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet (1986)

Oh no, you didn't!

lupalzNov 14, 2008 at 12:40PM

Same here.
Oldies felt ancient because we never actually experienced them. Elvis has always been part of "the past" for people of our age.

DaveNov 14, 2008 at 12:40PM

You've touched on something that's been vaguely haunting me over the past few years. I'm 46 with a 16 year old daughter. Even though the distance between her music (Fall Out Boy etc) and the music of my youth (Talking Heads, Ramones, Joy Division etc) seems like a walk across the street to me, for her it must seem like the Grand Canyon.

My roots are punk and post-punk, two genres which are currently heavily influencing the musical landscape. Even though the musical connections between 1978 and 2008 are very obvious to me, when I suggest listening to Gang of Four, does she feel like I did when my dad tried pushing Benny Goodman on me?

I frustrates me to be 46 but very much feel like I'm still 16. The fact that it's been 32 years since I first heard The Ramones is mind-blowing to me.

BrooklynmattNov 14, 2008 at 12:43PM

@Mike N:
I don't know about that. I think there's also been a fundamental shift in the way we relate to popular culture as we get older. Think of 60's boomers who kept listening to the music of their generation into the 70's...and 80's....and 90's..... or 50's guys who kept their pompadours and leather jackets 30 years after their moment had passed. Something which is virtually incomprehensible for 30-somethings today. Imagine still listening to the music of your youth? These days we evolve and move on. And are in fact terrified of hanging on for too long to any one moment in history.

Sgt TurmericNov 14, 2008 at 12:44PM

I was thinking about an example of this recently:
Kurt Cobain's death (1994) --> John Lennon's death (1980)

Another one:
GnR Appetite for Destruction (1987) --> Beatles Sgt. Pepper (1967), although Appetite is actually 21 years old now.

scottNov 14, 2008 at 12:45PM


Long time lurker--love the site.

Sorry, though, you're wrong about this. You can't compare movies and visual media on this scale and have them roughly equate.

Imagine what you're doing when you're comparing Back to the Future to Bullitt, for example. Back to the future was after MTV, and the explosion of cable television. The collective attention span, and the language of media, changed completely. Someone from our generation can't physically watch Perry Mason without becoming extremely bored. Don't get me wrong. I like Perry Mason, sure. But there are scenes that start with someone parking their car, getting out of their car, knocking on a suspect's that with Law and Order. Visual media is the language of storytelling. There are seismic shifts in the construction of the language, that only happen every so often, similar to the shift from Middle English to the English of Shakespeare's time. Most kids today would still be able to sit through Back to the future and enjoy it. They would not like Bullitt, I imagine. The way we visually tell stories changed. There will be more changes in the future, at which point star wars and the like will become unbearable, too....

Anyway. Maybe the analogy works for music? I don't know anything about music.

PeterNov 14, 2008 at 12:51PM

The question isn't whether your kids would enjoy Bullitt but whether you, at their age, could.

But I agree with the implications being made that the timeline isn't necessarily linear (or maybe it just seems that way to those of us on the old side of the equation.)

Sgt TurmericNov 14, 2008 at 12:52PM

Oh, oh another non-music one:
Bill Clinton elected president (1992) --> Jimmy Carter elected president (1976)

I'm around your age, and yes I feel a little old. I sprung the Cobain one on my wife a few months ago and she almost punched me in the face.

Sgt TurmericNov 14, 2008 at 12:57PM

Sorry for the repeated comments. This is my last one. I think about things like this a lot:

HTTP invented (1990) --> PONG invented (1972)

Andy MNov 14, 2008 at 1:00PM

Even though it's definitely significant, I'm not sure Modern Times is the best example of the period, since talkies had been around for 9 years, and dominant for 7 or 8. Maybe a musical like Irving Berlin'sThe Great Ziegfeld or the Astaire-Rogers' film Swing Time would be a better example.

Jeff AkstonNov 14, 2008 at 1:02PM

Mathew Broderick lip synching The Beatles' "Twist and Shout" (1964) in the parade in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) would be like someone lip synching Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" in a movie in 2008.

jjjNov 14, 2008 at 1:05PM

It's 2008. Obama is going to be President. Can you admit that Radiohead sucks yet?

Bush years = as long as Reagan years

Iraq War = longer than WWII

improbableNov 14, 2008 at 1:06PM

I often play this game in my head, too. (Although more often with things other than music. Now --> Great Depression --> US civil war, for instance)

With music, over a few decades, what this really points out is that there have been periods of very rapid change, and others of not so much. There really was a lot more progress from say 1950-70 than 1980-2000. This is in no small way related to technology: the baby-boomers were the first generation who could afford recorded music before they owned houses, and so there was an explosion of recorded music catering to young people's feelings.

Lots of other fields have the same property of developing rapidly once the technology is there. We've had oil paints for how many centuries? The first few decades saw rapid innovation, and the grand masters are from not long after that.

Luke GattusoNov 14, 2008 at 1:07PM

I'm always amused by kids wearing leather jackets decorated with metal spikes and names of bands. That stuff was old when I was in high school, and I graduated in 1984.

I've noticed that KRTH, the local oldies station, has a bit of a sliding scale when figuring out how to define an "oldie." in 1984, the songs they played were all from the early fifties to the late sixties. Nearly twenty-five years later, they've only made it up to the late seventies.

Oh, and some of your comparisons are a little deceptive. After all, while "Seasons in the Sun" came out in '74, it was only three years to "Never Mind The Bollocks," an album that was a little more in tune with Nirvana than anything written by Terry Jacks.

RyanNov 14, 2008 at 1:09PM

A small correction: Modern Times wasn't Chaplin's last film and wasn't a silent film.

Chaplin made several more movies after 1936: The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), A King in New York (1957), and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967!--with Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren! Who knew?).

I'm not sure how this changes your premise, but it's interesting to think about. History is always popping up somewhere.

ErnoNov 14, 2008 at 1:16PM

That would be Ethel Barrymore? -- ethyl is a chemical.

I watched Bullit just the other day (I'm 40). Found it quite watchable, if flawed. I guess I would have had no problems watching it 20 years ago.

I agree with Scott in that there were short periods of accelerated change in the language of movies, and that films made before and after those watershed periods are going to have a very different feel. The late 70's-early 80's would be such a time, I think. Not sure if it had to do with MTV, though. Maybe some underlying technology was introduced at that time that made easy to do quick edits?

Same with music: some technology gets introduced, the landscape changes and we old dudes get left behind. Sampling, synthesizers, guitar distortion...

KevinNov 14, 2008 at 1:21PM

But with the way our culture regurgitates the old and resists change (something that is thankfully, uh, changing) we hear Cobain on the radio just as often as we'd hear something current. Nothing seems to die anymore... trends last for too long or come back before they're retro.

But, yeah... that said, it blows me away that Star Wars was over 30 years ago and when it was new, Citizen Kane was as old as I am now... 35. Jeez. Thanks Jason... I feel as old as stone. ;-)

jkottkeNov 14, 2008 at 1:35PM

Regarding deceptive comparisons, they're not really supposed to sync up. If you look at the list of top singles for 1974, I don't think there's an analog to Nirvana in there...maybe Kung Fu Fighting would have been a better choice? And yes, the Sex Pistols were only 3 years away, but those were really long years.

You're right, Modern Times technically isn't a silent film because it had synchronized audio but it wasn't a talkie either. Here's a video clip. And it was his last non-talkie...I meant for the "last" to modify "silent film", not just "film".

BGHutchinsNov 14, 2008 at 1:39PM

Moving within and without our generation(s) made me think of this book I have just finished reading. Some of the thesis is problematic but it does open one's eyes in a way similar to this post.

TaylorNov 14, 2008 at 1:42PM

I've alwasy been intriuged by how hip-hop will hold up over time. I'm looking forward to c"lassic hip-hop" stations: old-school Dr. Dre, Snoop, or even farther back to Grandmaster Flash and Sugarhill Gang.

My music taste is still framed by the Beastie Boys. Who are, indeed, classic these days...

MichaelNov 14, 2008 at 1:43PM

We're just about the same age. I do this all of the time. It makes me feel Really old. I agree with the others here: I don't have kids yet, but I am certain that I will have tastes way more in common than my father and I share. And yes, CBS FM in NY now considers the 80s oldies. I'm sorry, but oldies is not a sliding scale: its 50s and 60s, and I'll even allow some seventies in there.

We are pretty lucky to be born when we did. We straddled the analog to digital age. We knew when TV meant 13 channels, when kids shows meant Bugs Bunny, when simply dialing a phone number took a minute (rotary phones).

gNov 14, 2008 at 2:09PM

Agree with Michael, this it's a great great time to be living :D
And, what is MTV? I heard that they used to show music videos.

So the timeline is: The Hills (2008) ---> Air - Moon Safari (1998)

I know, WTH...

BarryNov 14, 2008 at 2:13PM

For me, I felt like I missed the release of Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" because it was 1975 before I heard it at the age of 14. Now I realize that I was pretty much there when things happened.

A better comparison than Terry Jacks is:

Radiohead, OK Computer (1997) --> Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet (1986) --> Bruce Springsteen , Born to Run (1975)

gNov 14, 2008 at 2:29PM

Updating my previously posted timeline:

The Hills (2008) ---> Air - Moon Safari (1998) --> New Kids on the Block - Hangin' Tough (1988) --> Grease - Original Soundtrack (1978) --> The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland (1968)

CoopNov 14, 2008 at 2:34PM

I'm 48 and I have a four year-old daughter (YIKES!) who, for some reason, is a HUGE fan of Darth Vader. We've been watching "Star Wars" this week, (she and her little sister cheer when Darth makes his first entrance in the film...weird to hear that), so this kind of hit home for me. When I was 17, in 1977, and saw "Star Wars" for the first time, I do not think that "It's a Wonderful Life" had even made it's way back into the consciousness of the general public yet. It was certainly not the holiday mainstay that it is today, but more of a forgotten film. No point really...just an observation.

gabeNov 14, 2008 at 2:35PM

There are 2 reasons why the analogies just based on dates don't quite hold up (for music) - one is the quality of the reproduction reaching a plateau, the other is that pop music has also plateaued in terms of its rate of change. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin have never become dated like Glen Miller, because the genre they worked in has never really gone out fashion (nor particularly developed either).

For films and TV, the 70s detective stuff is unwatchable but comedies (say Woody Allen) can hold up pretty well.

Lastly, we in our 30s grew up watching loads of 1940s and 1950s cartoons quite happily, and our kids still watch them and enjoy them.

judson Nov 14, 2008 at 2:44PM

I was born in '55. The first modern generation perhaps? Grew up on b&w tv now I watch most moving images via the net. Comparing the acceleration that occured after '55 to '75.... fast. '35 to '55 slow....

David WertheimerNov 14, 2008 at 2:57PM

My stark reminders come from my niece, who is 17. Van Halen's "1984" is as old to her (7 years before her birth) as the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" is to me.

jon_hansenNov 14, 2008 at 3:11PM

Then there's there groups that span complete lifetimes. Take for instance, the Blind Boys of Alabama, who formed in 1939, and released an album ("Down in New Orleans") this year.

Imagine the influence that accumulates over decades...

R J KeefeNov 14, 2008 at 5:38PM

When my daughter was in high school c 1990, I bought her a car that was two years older than she was, a 1970 Chevy. A car two years older than I am would have been a rare bird on the road in 1966, even if you could find a 1946 anything, what with postwar production just starting up.

Everything that happened prior to World War II occurred on the other side of an unfathomable divide; remaining everyday artifacts were few and far between. There was nothing around the house dating from 1938 when I was ten.

Mad Men note: I started working on Wall Street, summer jobs (mail room &c) two years after the recent season, in 1964. That is indeed what the world looked like.

Manhattan Note: I have lived in the same Upper East Side apartment building for close to half of my life โ€” and it still seems odd.

RachelNov 14, 2008 at 7:14PM

My variation on this is before May 1991 and after May 1991 - when my brother died. He was 23 and I was 18, but he is perfectly preserved in my mind as a hip, smart, pop-culture-savvy guy and sometimes I have to shake my head to remember what I shared with him and what I wish I could have shared with him.

Obviously a slightly more morbid way of looking at this.

HarryNov 14, 2008 at 8:50PM

This post struck me in a different way. I'll be 35 in a couple weeks. Just this morning I was reflecting about body aches, pains, losing my hair, things I was never concerned about before I turned 30, and it seemed childish to do so because I must look so young to older people.

I remembered being 12. My Sunday School teacher was 22 and getting married. He was so old then. I thought of my father who says he still feels like a kid sometimes.

My favorite movies are, in this order: The Right Stuff. Ghostbusters. I still listen mostly to artists from the UK and I believe that's partly due to my affection for 80's UK pop bands, and I believe that's partly due to my affection for 80's movies that featured that type of music. And it all feels like yesterday.

GregNov 14, 2008 at 9:45PM

I like the comparison. It is interesting for me to think about culture I think of as old and realize my parents probably think its recent. I think it's part of a cutting off effect, where, especially for music in my experience, at a certain point "new" culture just sort of blends in with everything and people stick with the "classics". My uncle calls it music snobbery.

Also, for what it's worth, the quick cutting MTV popularized was nothing new to video production. It has been used as far back as Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" 1929.

ACNov 14, 2008 at 10:44PM

@Sgt Turmeric, the Appetite for Destruction timeline twin is what I was going to use. It blows my mind that album is 21 years old. And Shout at the Devil is 25 years old! Man.

MichaelNov 14, 2008 at 11:05PM

I also compare my relative dates with my parents. I'm 38, with no kids yet. When I look back at family photo albums, I have begun to realize that my parents had me in their late twenties. Even up until I was age 10, they are younger in those pictures than I am now.

Hone? Lets get crackin!

R J KeefeNov 15, 2008 at 1:32AM

Rachel: Yours is a much more poignant problem. We ourselves go on living and cant' believe it. Your brother didn't go on in two ways: in his own truncated life and in your heart. You may find the new Francine Prose novel, "Goldengrove," still on point.

winterbearNov 15, 2008 at 2:12AM

when I was in Jr High in 1973, American Graffetti was all the rage. We laughed at how old and out of style all that music was. We were nostalgic about a period that was only 10-15 years before. It like being nostalgic today about the dot com era.

E-manNov 15, 2008 at 2:41AM

It works for sports milestones, too. In horse racing, for example, the span from today back to the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, Affirmed, is the same as from Affirmed back to Citation in 1948. Affirmed is part of my life experience -- Citation is practically ancient history -- the two are separated by the Korean War, the Cold War, the Kennedy assassination, Apollo 11, etc.

From Mark Spitz to Michael Phelps is 36 years. Go back 36 years from Mark Spitz and you get Jesse Owens.

SwetchNov 15, 2008 at 8:40AM

Great post. I could spend hours coming up with twins, like slowly picking out songs for a mix-tape, finding just the right transitions. If only I had release dates for all of my music stored in there.

Me: 38, with a 6 year-old kid. It's freaky to me to think that Air-Moon Safari is 10 yeras old (seems like yesterday, still feels modern rather than old), and that 10 years from now my daughter will be 16. Yikes. My parents had me when they were in their early 20s also (Michael - time to get crackin'!) - and I think our generation (or at least me) is deliberately more 'peter pan' like - refusing to grow up - than they were. I suppose my daughter sees me as an adult, but I hardly do.

My wife and I listen to a lot of music, new and old, and it's funny to think that my daughter - who's developing some musical awareness and tastes (outside of kiddie tunes) - is blissfully ignorant of the time it all come from. She knows some of what she likes is 'old' - even older than her parents (e.g. Elvis), and she professes to like country music. Some "twins" for music/albums she likes (@roughly 16 year increments):

1961 - Breakfast at Tiffany's Soundtrack - Moon River
1976 - Jim Nabors singing "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" on the Muppets
1993 - Dead Can Dance - Into the Labyrinth
2006 - Smoosh - Free To Stay

Thanks for the post - fun stuff to think about!

Frank PatrickNov 15, 2008 at 10:23AM

A few years ago, I was thinking about the Beatles in this context - 2008-1964=44 - 1964-44=1920!!!!

This 1920 list is dominated by Al Jolson (including Swanee), Paul Whiteman (Whispering, The Wang Wang Blues, and The Japanese Sandman), and some guys - John Steel and Art Hickman - I've never heard of. Other songs of 1902 include I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time, St. Louis Blues, and that classic, My Little Bimbo Down On The Bimbo Isle.

Stephen DownesNov 15, 2008 at 11:08AM

I have played with that with my birthday and world ways. Being born in 1959, only 14 years had passed since the end of the war. So I had my first natural twin at age 14. My next twin was at age 20, matching the start of the war.

1918 - the end of the first world war - is 41 years from 1959, something I observed in 2000. My birth was as far away for me as the end of WWI at my birth. Add four years each way, and you see me in 2004 reflecting on the beginning of WWI.

My twin points are now at 1910. The Edwardian pre-war years. It won't be long (9 years) before I get into the Victorian age, as my twin in 2017 matches the year of her death, 1901.

It is remarkable to think of the events that have transpired in that twin lifetime. The history of generations risen and fallen. Empires that came and went. From Kitty Hawk (1903) to Sputnik (1958) to Apollo 11 (1969).

Tony SingletonNov 15, 2008 at 1:21PM

The Homerpalooza episode of the Simpsons never fails to make me feel completely old and out of touch with today's youth. Original air date May 19, 1996. I was ten years old and in the 4th grade when the Simpsons premiered in 1989.

"Depressed about his inability to keep up with the existing music scene when Bart reveals how uncool his interest in 1970's rock music truly is, Homer decides to take Bart and Lisa to the Hullabalooza music festival to show them this isn't the case. Failing at that, he nearly sparks a riot and gets shot at with a cannon(ironically for Peter Frampton) which bounces a fake pig off his fat belly, and ends up being hired as part of the festival's freak show, touring with bands such as Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth, and yes, Frampton."

NixtaNov 15, 2008 at 1:51PM

This is all a little odd to me. I'm 35 and grew up in the UK, but I didn't engage in popular culture at the time. I didn't listen to pop music growing up in the 80s. I had to catch up on all that once I got to college.

In the greater scheme of things there was great revolution in the world in a number of ways between the 40s and the 70s. WWII forced worldwide innovation and the cold-war drove that onwards for decades. The popular reactions to political meanderings drove other developments, particularly in the US in the 60s and 70s and it will again, and it's of course all interrelated. This spirit of innovation and revolution permeated in general. Everyone wanted to see flying cars the whole world with plenty of food (even if it was a turkey-dinner-pill).

That said, music and movies developed differently of course because of different influences. Music was a voice for popular expression whereas movies were influenced to a greater degree than music was by technology, although I concede that music in the 80s embraced technology to leap in a new direction. But it's still a lot of drums and guitars and tambourines, and even with all the new technology democratising video, music still has the democratic edge (it's more engaging - you don't dance to a movie).

But anyway, that's probably all poppycock and should be ignored. The important thing is that I watched Bullit for the first time 2 days ago and came across this review linked to from Netflix and written by Roger Ebert in 1968. That's 40 years ago. Yes, 40! Ouch. Incidentally, I think I know plenty of youngsters who'd love to watch that now.

Don't forget the Rolling Stones are still stumbling about. It's not that long ago that Johnny Cash was still crooning. And Kevin Bacon still hasn't aged.

Dyna MoeNov 15, 2008 at 3:29PM

Thanks for linking my Don Draper shirt.

Additional Mad Men mindf_ck: The baby Rich Sommer's character had on the show this season is old enough to be his father/mother in real life.

I grew up watching Monty Python as a kid in the 80s, which would be the equivalent of a kid today watching the second season of SCTV 90 (or "Strange Brew" a year later) or a kid in 1969 (Python's first season) listening to Bob and Ray.

None of those are real mind-shockers... they're all part of the same nerd continuum.

DickStock DoodahNov 15, 2008 at 9:05PM

On another "note", a few years ago I was in Beijing when someone offered to split a gram of cocaine with me.

"No thanks," I sez. "I quit using coke in 1977."

"Gee," sez he. "I was born in 1983."

CBNov 16, 2008 at 2:44AM

As a current teacher of high school students I asked them to name their favorite song - defined as the one they have listened to the most number of times. Many named much older songs - not current pop songs. One girl even named Led Zeppelins' Over The Hills and Far Away. This generation seems more open to appreciating what came before them and less inclined to automatically reject anything not current. They seem to generally dislike saxaphones however.

Ted DansonNov 16, 2008 at 6:22AM

You can't equate OK Computer to Bon Jovi because of one essentially important characteristic of art (music) - its quality. Bon Jovi don't possess much of this; OK Computer has it in abundance.

I'm 23 and I like music from Bach to Aphex Twin, so I guess this really applies if you only listened to contemporary music in the first place.

The Modesto KidNov 16, 2008 at 7:06AM

I'm not getting the "this makes me feel really old" reaction, possibly because just about all of the elements of my childhood that you list ("Thriller", "Star Wars", Sex Pistols, etc.) already seemed pretty antiquated to me (in my late 30s) -- I remember getting that reaction the first couple of times I heard Hall and Oates on the oldies station or whatever, but it passed probably ten years ago. However, I am finding the discussion very interesting -- so thanks.

WillNov 16, 2008 at 7:06AM

Watching Apollo 8 make it round the dark side of the moon (1968) - My first use of a cellphone (c.1988)

The first was literally awesome but led to little perceptable impact on people's daily lives.

The second was a bit of showiness to my friends. We'd all seen and used phones before. Now there are nearly 3 billion cellphone users in the world and it's the impact that's awesome.

SanfordNov 16, 2008 at 9:22AM

I'll be 60 soon and I have to say comparing now and then is tricky. I love the technology of computers and movies; dislike much of the new music, but there's some I enjoy. Reminds me of my grandmother talking about riding the buckboard into town for the barn dance. Times change and the media of the day express what their "viewers" are interested in.

QNov 16, 2008 at 4:01PM

I've been pointing this out to people recently. I'm 45.

Imagine in 1972 listening to 78rpms from the 1920s or 1930s, or the swing music of the 1940s. It's hard for me to picture. In my music education I was exposed to those artists and did play their music (Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Big Bill Broonzy, and Glenn Miller, etc). But to have replaced contemporary pop with that stuff... is unlikely, at best.

One reason is that there were technology considerations that prevented it: we didn't have iPods then (we barely had cassette tape), and the music industry was by the 1970s making ungodly amounts of money by driving their current bands to produce at a breathtaking and profitable rate. More records = more cash. Simple. There was no reason (or even ability, I'd guess) to resurrect those dead catalogs from years gone by. Even if there were a monetary incentive to do so, the marketing challenge of selling those old tunes to the 1960s youth would have been quite formidable.

Such is not the case today... catalogs of artists from the 1950s-on are still generating sustaining cash flows for digitally besieged record companies. iTunes plays no small part in that, yet at the same time it imperils their monopoly. Ironic as well is that iTunes is a direct result of the record companies' own throttle on the market.

My son and daughter (15 & 13) are well versed in the musical lexicon from about 1955 forward. Their iPods are jammed with music that came to life when I was their age: Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, Journey, Clapton, Rush, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, Queen, Yes, Johnny Cash... and now the Jonas Brothers, Britney, The Strokes, Fallout Boy, Foo Fighters, White Stripes...

I marvel at their cultural vocabulary and the fact that we share a common thread that I didn't have with my parents. It amazes me at the same time-- it colors a perception in my mind that they may be missing out on something by not having a stronger cultural identity of their own.

PeterNov 16, 2008 at 7:32PM

When I was 17, in 1977, and saw "Star Wars" for the first time, I do not think that "It's a Wonderful Life" had even made it's way back into the consciousness of the general public yet. It was certainly not the holiday mainstay that it is today, but more of a forgotten film.

"It's a Wonderful Life" became a holiday mainstay after its copyright expired and TV stations could show it royalty-free (or is it residual-free?). I believe that happened in the 1980's.

Having been born in 1957 (yikes!), I'm intrigued by the fact that there was still at least one living Civil War veteran during my lifetime.

J.CormierNov 16, 2008 at 10:30PM

I recently made a mix CD of popular standards, big band, and jazz hits of the World War II era (nothing newer than 1945). I gave my grandmother (who was born in 1927) a copy, and we have both been listening to it and enjoying it for the past few weeks. She and her sister have been listening to her copy during car rides. Recently, while all of us were having dinner at my mother's house, I saw noticed my great-aunt immediately identify "Sentimental Journey" after hearing only the first few bars. It's entirely possible she hadn't actually listened to that song for decades, but despite the 60-odd years since it was last a radio hit, she still recognized it immediately, in the same way I might immediately know "Smells Like Teen Spirit" decades later. While I admit to a certain child-like fascination with mining the memories of my elders that may not be shared by others, it's nonetheless amazing how indelibly good (or popular) music embeds itself in our minds, and how little time degrades our memory of the music we loved while we were young.

DNov 17, 2008 at 10:20AM

Harrison Ford is 66 years old. When Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released nineteen years ago in 1989, Sean Connery was 59.

In 1970, nineteen years before Last Crusade, Sean Connery was in between You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, while Harrison Ford was still doing bit parts in things like the Elliott Gould/Candice Bergen movie "Getting Straight".

Or, in the spirit of the OP:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) ==> Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) ~=> Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

plpNov 17, 2008 at 11:15AM

improbable: "I often play this game in my head, too. (Although more often with things other than music. Now --> Great Depression --> US civil war, for instance)"

I do the same. And apropos of your comparison, I'm always dumbstruck by the fact that, for instance, it is entirely possible for someone old enough to remember being a slave as a child to have sat in a movie theater watching "Gone With the Wind" late in life. (And furthermore, that if that elderly ex-slave brought her 15-year old granddaughter with her to the cinema that day, said granddaughter (now in her early 80s) might have cast a vote two weeks ago for Barack Obama...)

kurt9Nov 17, 2008 at 11:52AM

It is also worth considering that this is the first decade since the 1920's that a new genre of music has not shown up. Consider that each decade from the 1920's to the 1950's, a new form of jazz music appeared. From the 1950's to the late 70's, a new form of rock music has appeared. Of course we also got disco in the late 70's and punk and new wave in the late 70's and early 80's. 80's pop came in the 80's and rap became big in the 90's. The 90's also had techno/rave/trance along with grunge and hip-hop. which is derivative of rap.

This decade has not produced any new sound at all. I am actually rather disappointed. Being 45 years old, I find it amusing that the young people listen to much of the same music as I do and that they also don't even have a new way of talking either (remember "valley girls" or "dude"?). I expected young people to show a bit more imagination and initiative.

mattNov 17, 2008 at 3:31PM

These are questions that are coming to me as I read these comments.

To what extent can we measure cultural change and speed of change? How do we measure that? What are you measuring? What are your "metrics"?

In music, is it harmonic complexity? Number of chords used? Certain chord progressions? Rhythmic complexity? Lyrical subject matters? Breath of lyrical subject matter. Which one of those metrics makes the music "feel modern" What does it mean when I set up a certain metric to measure "old" versus "new" and then find examples that counter my metrics? To what extent does the recording and playback medium contribute to the feeling of "oldness"? Why do some Beatles "sound old" e.g. "Love Me Do" while others still sound more modern e.g. certain Abbey Road tracks or "revolution # 9" which is still forward looking today in many ways. Why does "Blackbird" feel timeless to me? What's makes "when I'm 64?" sound dated even for the time it's produced in? Modern electronic music is some of the most harmonically simple music created, but often rhythmically complex. If I took a modern electronica piece and found a way to reproduce using a classical orchestra, how would it sound? What if I did the reverse? What I translate Bach in to some form of electronica? It is old or new, or just old music in a new medium? Could I possibly trick you with the age of a piece of music?

How much of this is eye of the beholder? Self-perception? The idea that "age is just a number or just a state of mind"? What about Dylan's line "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now"?

Why is it that I could not appreciate James Taylor when I was 22, but i can appreciate it now (at 32)? Why does Born to Run seem contemporary, but "never mind the bollocks" sounds dated? Why does children's music sound like children's music? Am I just too old? If I like it, am I young, or just immature? If certain people become mired in emotional stages of their life (i.e. refuse to "grow up" or "let go" of something) then how does that influence their perception of what is old, versus new? Dated versus timeless? To what extent does "emotional maturity" allow one to "appreciate the grander themes of human existence" and seem them, and also appreciate them is all sort of cultural artifacts?

If I can't appreciate the cultural artifacts currently being produced? Am I just old, or do I just lack appreciation/context? If I can't appreciate cultural artifacts of old, am I too young, or just naive/ignorant?

MarkNov 18, 2008 at 10:41AM

Great post. Stephen Downes' comment inspired me to knock up Hideously ugly at the moment, as I've only been working on it for about ten minutes. Watch this space for more prettiness and features.

BabyMNov 18, 2008 at 3:16PM

Actual exchange:

My friend Dan (about 10 years older than me; I'm 47): When I was in high school, I had a job delivering telegrams in downtown Cleveland.

Dan's son Andy (15): What's a telegram?

GinaNov 18, 2008 at 3:17PM

Matt said "Could I possibly trick you with the age of a piece of music?" ..

It's certainly possible to trick me. Nick Drake springs to mind, as does John Cage. Upon hearing both artists for the first time I was convinced they were new and "alternative"... imagine my surprise when I found out Nick Drake died when I was six and John Cale was part of the Velvet Underground!

(Exposed to both for the first time on Radio Paradise, which is a unique testing ground as it's not era-restricted, so you can hear Louis Armstrong, Massive Attack, Aimee Mann and Jimi Hendrix in the same hour.)

Prof BNov 18, 2008 at 4:30PM

As a 45 year-old university professor, let me say that I have this experience nearly every time I sit down to write, update, or revise a lecture. Cultural -- and political -- points of reference that are obvious for me (Reagan in Grenada, the Saturn V opening of MTV, Jesse Jackson's 84 and 88 presidential runs, Bush (George Herbert Walker) in Desert Storm or standing at the supermarket scanner, black-and-white television, the anti-Communist movies Red Dawn, Invasion U.S.A. -- or any movie from before 1995) are head-scratchers for my students.

The other day I wanted to make an argument and tried to use a scene from the Meryl Streep picture, "Out of Africa." Nope. Not registering on the collective undergraduate unconscious. Showed a clip from the 1973 Elvis Aloha special as part of a discussion on globalization and culture -- might as well have shown them Al Jolson. For someone as immature as I am, it's horrible to reminded of the creaking of time.

mattNov 18, 2008 at 5:24PM

One of my earliest memory of experiencing a time line came in the early 70s (born 1966). While watching Bugs Bunny every Saturday morning, they occasionaly ran the one where Bugs travels down south and gets attacked by a southern gent (Yosemiti Sam) for being a yankee. Bugs tries to tell him that the war between the states ended almost 90 years ago, which of course dates one of my beloved cartoons in the 70s to the 50s.

I agree with others who mentioned that in the 70s, the 50s seemed ancient. I think some of that had to do with TV and early shows and old movies being black & white Does anyone else think that B&W Andy Griffith or Lucy seems classic and timeless, but the colored ones just seem old?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.