I was playing the Grateful Dead album 'American Beauty' earlier today. It's a wonderful record, but one that I have traditionally associated with my first marriage and the first decade of my time in America.
So playing it was a little bittersweet. There is a rather special aura about albums from the latter sixties/seventies that cements a relationship between the record and the time when they were heard. Obviously, much of this has to do with being a lot younger then, but, despite the obvious commercial realities of rock music, they were powerful emblems of a counter-culture that suggested an alternative way of doing things.
Not that most us whole-heartedly embraced that counter-culture, but the idea of it had a potency beyond its reality. The Grateful Dead and its following were prime sustainers of the 1960s counter-cultural shadow as it faded out of the mainstream, but from my perspective they had become hopelessly outmoded by the mid-seventies and the surfacing of a far more cynical counter-cultural outlook via punk music. However, my ex, growing up in the musically isolated Midwest of the 1970s, missed out on that little revolution completely and remained closely identified with the music that is now often labeled 'classic rock'.
So it was via her that I came to know 'American Beauty', and it really is a very fine record. Most 'classic rock' is very fine music – it's just that there is a lot more music that is just as good from later (and earlier) periods.
However, a lot of people of my age (50) don't seem to have picked up on anything beyond their teens and twenties. It's hard to sustain a teenager's enthusiasms into age, marriage and families. Perhaps that explains the waning of the magic associated with the owning a special album. I have not stopped listening to new music, but I certainly haven't recreated that special feeling despite deeply enjoying a lot of new stuff.
Today, with the album fading into post-iPod insignificance, the song has become the thing. Much as it was in the 1950s and before when singles ruled the roost. Not something to make the record companies very happy. At least music is still being made and listened to.