Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Gratification

By Their Musical Taste Shall They Be Known

If you remember the hilarious movie The Blues Brothers, you might recall a funny line from the gangling, cowboy-hatted lead singer in a redneck band:  “Hey, we got BOTH kinds of music here: Country... AND Western!” 

The joke reminds Pi that among all the different ways of classifying and segmenting consumer groups, taste in music is one of the most effective.  It really does separate and discriminate.  Do you know any ABBA fans who are also deeply into Lynyrd Skynyrd?  Or a Dolly Parton aficionado who listens to modern jazz in between whiles?  Didn’t think so.

The problem is that, while the musical tastes of this or that consumer group haven’t changed dramatically over time, the artists and acts they were rooting for have been changing as frequently as a traffic signal.  How does a poor marketing professional keep up?  And how to avoid associating the consumer-goods brand he’s pushing with a recent hit song that the target audience doesn’t like?

It’s getting harder, and at the same time easier.  This is due to a phenomenon sweeping through the music industry:  the merging of the historical with the present-day.  Time was when you could accurately date someone by their chosen musical anthems, whether it was the Eagles’ Take It Easy, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody or the Spice Girls’ Wannabe.  But now it’s all melded into a time-warped blur.  You can classify people by the kind of music they listen to, but less by the era in which it was first released. 

The trend is further complicated by artists drawing on the legacies of stars of yesteryear – Christina Aguilera channeling Billie Holiday, Beyoncé doing Etta James... Then there’s Lady Gaga duetting with Tony Bennett (born in 1926) on The Lady Is A Tramp (written in 1937) and scoring a huge generation-jumping hit (in 2011).

Back in the late 1960s Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction writer and keen-eyed observer of humanity, imagined a race of aliens for whom there was no past, no present, no future;  for Tralfamadoreans, all of history existed simultaneously in the here-and-now.  Vonnegut’s idea has proven prescient, with music tracks from past generations again getting plays on the radio, and selling briskly online.  Classic pix of John, Paul, George and Ringo adorn this millennium’s bedrooms, where 21st-century teenagers argue the relative merits of Revolver and The White Album.  Kids at parties play selections from pop albums first etched onto vinyl half a century earlier. 

What are they doing?  Keeping faith with Mom and Dad’s taste in rock music?  Exercising some kind of weird ‘nostalgia’ for an era before they were born?  Don’t be silly.  There’s only one reason to play a piece of music, ever, and that’s because you like it.

The comeback of that 60s “manufactured band” The Monkees is a case in point.  Their tousle-haired (well he used to be) drummer Micky Dolenz, now a ripe old 69, recently had this to say in an interview:  “Time to some degree has become immaterial in the world of entertainment. People live on. The whole zeitgeist can live on. We now have the ability to capture time, and to capture the emotions of a time.  We’re not selling plastic. We’re selling emotions that have been magically encapsulated on vinyl.”

Pi says:  roll over, Beethoven...

Zone: Self-Gratification Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Leisure