Why is it that so many people seem to reach a point (usually between 25-45) when they stop seeking out and listening to new music and surround themselves with the same old albums/songs over and over again? And is that bad?
Oh my, dear reader! Your question smacked the Elderly Aunt right upside the head. So much so, that she was forced to dance around her living room to a couple of Grateful Dead tunes followed by Toots and the Maytals’ rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” while asking herself that very question. Why is the music of her muddled youth so happy-fying now that she’s elderly?
The obvious reason that came to her is that music is her time machine. The Elderly Aunt is very much an omnivore of experience: she relished gobbling up both the delightful and the trying because that was how she’s gleaned (and adds to) her vast store of wisdom. Listening to old rock ‘n’ roll or reggae or Joni Mitchell allows her to exist in her past instead of just thinking about it—to experience again the over-the-top joys and desperate sorrows she once thought essential to feeling fully alive.
No way does she ever want to go back to her 20s, but it is lovely to be her younger self again for the length of a Crosby, Stills & Nash live Woodstock version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” (Although just because music is old, doesn’t automatically mean it merits heavy rotation. The Elderly Aunt has no desire to hear “Stairway to Heaven” ever again.)
As a handy metaphor for musical time travel—if, that is, you are too young to have experienced it yourself—the Elderly Aunt suggests tattoos. To be frank, dear reader, there was a time when the Elderly Aunt did not get at all why a lot of today’s young people chose to deface their skin permanently with inky names and dates and symbols of passing enthusiasms. She would surreptitiously observe a young man at her gym and wonder why on earth he had “Wanda” tattooed permanently on his arm, when “Wanda” might very shortly break his heart. If, that is, she hadn’t already.
Wanting as ever to understand that which she does not, the Elderly Aunt asked a very nice tattooist to explain the phenomenon. And what the very nice tattooist said is that “ink”—besides being a kind of art—is life, made visible. Sure Wanda may not stick around, but the relationship with her still happened and still mattered. And a tattoo is a way to own the experience and remember all that hanging out with Wanda entailed. For better and for worse. Tattoos, the very nice tattooist explained, are about wearing the past instead of burying it.
If you’ll allow the Elderly Aunt a rather tortured metaphor, old music is her tattoo. She has become who she is through the ups and downs of her long experience. Old music is her direct line to those experiences. Listening to old music is emotional to the Elderly Aunt. It is the soundtrack of her becoming years. For her, listening to new music requires listening. And understanding. Old music requires only being.
Fly on, free bird…
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. To get the Elderly Aunt’s advice on an issue that’s been intriguing or bugging you, email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).