Back in the day, if you wanted to hear an older song, you either needed to find an "oldies" station on the radio that would play it by request, or buy it through a K-tel infomercial at 2 a.m.
Now such things are but a mouse click away, and for that reason I have a substantial library of my favorites.
However, there is a gray area in music - songs you neither love nor hate, but which nevertheless remind of of a time and place. You're not particularly fond of them, but they are part of the soundtrack of your life.
Which brings us to Carly Simon. I'm not a fan, don't own any of her work, but I recall hearing her music frequently as I was growing up.
I came to utterly despise the lyrics to one of her first hits, "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be," perhaps because my own experience of having divorced parents.
For those unfamiliar with the song, it is a one-sided transcript of her conversation with her future husband. It's an interesting concept, often repeated with great effect in other works, but her take on marriage is less than flattering.
Stumbling upon it the other day, I was reminded two of my previous blog entries. The first that came to mind was my memorial to Pat Conroy.
This was because the song opens with a description of her parents' relationship, which she interprets to be cold and lonely. However, as I pointed out in my Conroy piece, pre-Boomer parents often hid their affection for each other from their children. For a man to openly dote on his wife (or children) was considered to be a sign of weakness. There could be considerable tenderness in the relationship, but that tenderness was reserved for private moments.
My father is like this. He is not a Boomer (being instead a War Baby) and his bearing is very stoic - which contrasts sharply with the more relaxed attitudes of his younger siblings.
Unlike Conroy (and presumably Simon), I accept my father for who he is. I don't demand that he emote simply to please me.
The song quickly leaves Simon's parents and then focuses on her contemporaries, who are uniformly portrayed as having miserable, jealous marriages that produce resentful children and self-loathing.
Instead, she insists, she wants to learn to be "just me first, by myself." This is one of the most pure distillations of Boomer narcissism ever put to music.
Here it is useful to reference my observation that people tend to write what they know. Simon was raised by artists, married another artist and lived in a world of artists. Such people are not known for emotional stability or strong interpersonal relationships. It is a very rare thing to find a singer or actor who marries for life.
Simon's catalog of songs returns to the theme of broken relationships several times, including a particularly plaintive tune urging a spouse to reconsider adultery ("You Belong to Me"). I'm not sure what inspired it, but it's kind of a specialized genre, no?
More than a decade after her ugly picture of marriage, she reversed course and penned "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of." This song is also half of a conversation, but instead of debating with her suitor, she is now offering advice to a married friend who has soured on her relationship. It's basically a pep talk, and the contrast is striking.
Whereas her earlier song fretted about keeping the excitement and passion alive, here she lauds "the slow and steady fire."
To be sure, Simon's wisdom is incomplete. She's still a conventional celebrity with all the vanity causes they typically pursue. From my cursory glance at her biography, she remains unattached (and no longer even communicates with the father of her children, James Taylor).
There's also a cautionary tale here regarding the fleeting nature of youth. The Boomers famously distrusted anyone over 30, and yet the youngest of them is now over 55. (If you stretch their generation to 1969, they're still over 50.)
Boomer culture celebrated youth and rebellion and part of the richness of 80s culture was that it was the final flowering of Boomer youthfulness.
I can't help but wonder how much of our current trouble is simply a generational embrace of nihilism now that their culture of perpetual youth - complete with beauty treatments, plastic surgery and obsessive diet supplements - is failing.