To be Fourteen and Inspired
In a New York Times opinion piece last week, David Hajdu wrote about how the music we’re exposed to as fourteen year-olds correlates with the creative output of tomorrow. Fourteen is an age for developing personal tastes, and as artists like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson turn seventy, it’s interesting to see how rock and roll’s infancy influenced and inspired these great artists when they were fourteen, allowing them to envision a world that up until then didn’t exist. One minute they were listening to Perry Como and Nat King Cole with their parents, and suddenly Elvis burst onto the scene, forever altering the musical construct.
A friend of mine with whom I graduated high school pointed out this article to me, and then made mention of who was big when we were fourteen years-old. He wrote facetiously, “Other than Juice Newton and 38 Special, I just don’t see it.”
Perhaps, though when I think back to 1981 and 1982, “Queen of Hearts” and “Hold on Loosely” aren’t the first songs that come to mind. I’m thinking more like “Subdivisions” by Rush, “Shock the Monkey” by Peter Gabriel, Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” Prince’s “1999” and Duran Duran’s “Rio.” But you could just as easily think of “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash or “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes. There was plenty of stuff – both good and bad – to capture the imagination of a young pimple-faced soul at the time.
You could make the argument that after the initial rock revolution, there were so many genres and sub-genres of music that it was difficult for a particular band or artist to be life-altering the way, say, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis or Buddy Holly were back in the day. If you ask a hundred 70 year-olds to name the influential artists of 1956, I bet you’ll get the same answers nine times out of ten. On the other hand, try asking a hundred 43 year-olds to highlight the music of 1982, and I bet you’ll get ninety different answers. There was just so much to choose from, and so much of it could have been considered trailblazing at the time, inspiring future artists to take up a guitar, a synthesizer or a saxophone, but none of it was MOMENTOUS (with the possible exception of Thriller, though I’d happily exclude this from my playlist).
Today, now that the digital revolution has firmly taken hold, music is even further diluted. I recall hearing stories about how in 1967 St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band could be heard up and down college campuses, and any summarization of my freshman year of college wouldn’t be complete without mentioning The Joshua Tree leaking through every doorway of my dormitory. But today, I’m not sure there’s an artist that could command that sort of widespread appeal, not due to a lack of artistry or genius, but due to a fundamental change in the music industry. My daughters turn fourteen this year, and there isn’t an artist that appeals to their class on the whole – tastes are all over the place.
So what about 1981 and 1982? Did those years inspire the great artists of the next two decades the way 1955 and 1956 did?
Well, they must have made an impression on someone, because here are the artists who turned 14 during ’81 and ’82:
Thom Yorke (of Radiohead)
Perhaps not in the same league as McCartney, Dylan and Simon, but still, not too shabby.