For reasons too wonky to go into (though it should give you a pretty clear idea of a primary distraction from my work), I’ve lately been listening to all the songs in my library from the past 40 years, in chronological order.
I wish I could say that this was research for a particular writing project, or otherwise justify it in some clearly professional-related way. But no.
I do think there’s some grain of usefulness or insight in there somewhere, though, because of one thing I’ve observed: The music I actually did listen to during those particular years isn’t nearly as interesting as what I’ve discovered from that time period in the years since, and neither of those bunches of songs may bear any resemblance to what was actually popular at that time.
Take 1977, for instance, the year of Saturday Night Fever, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and “Hotel California.” There’s none of that in my library. At the time, my musical world consisted mainly of my dad’s Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker records from a few years prior. But when I listen to “1977” now, I hear a lot of Ramones, Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks, along with some Parliament, Iggy Pop and Bob Marley — none of whom I was the slightest bit aware of at age six in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Believe me.
But I can’t help but wonder: What if that music had been what I heard at that time and place? What would that world have been like? Is there a story there? And on a bigger scale, does this relate somehow to the act of writing for children and young adults? Is the opportunity to revisit and, perhaps, thoroughly reinvent our own past — and to contrast that with what “most people” remember — part of the appeal of writing for that audience?
That’s some mighty big pondering for someone who’s been listening to a lot of Georgia Satellites and Pet Shop Boys these past few days.