I am not nostalgic for my adolescence. If you offered me time-travel back to my seventeenth year, I would rapidly although politely turn down the offer.
But the experience of encountering music in days beyond recall (before the computer, before the internet) is something I miss because of its communal nature.
I grew up in suburbia, and found perhaps a half-dozen people my age (all male) who were interested in jazz. And when I had gotten my driver’s license, it was not difficult to go to someone’s house with a new record or a particular track one wanted to share or to hear. Someone had bought a new Lester Young record from Sam Goody; someone had picked up a hot 78 at the Salvation Army; someone had a 12″ 78 of Whiteman and Bix; someone had tapes of everything Bing recorded between 1926. Another friend had a new rare record which he wouldn’t let out of his sight, but would make a cassette copy of it.
I heard new music, new old music, in the company of other people. We sat on the bed or the floor, getting up to change a record or to put the needle back, saying energetically, “Did you hear THAT?!” and looking to the other person for shared joys, empathy, understanding.
I have more jazz friends in 2014 than I ever would have dreamed possible in 1974. They are very dear to me. Through YouTube and videos, we share music internationally. I can send someone an mp3 of an exciting track, or get one in my email. I just came back from a jazz party in England where there was so much music I occasionally felt perforated by hot music. I do not lack for sounds; if I turn ninety degrees from this computer, there are boxes of tapes and a wall of CDs.
But the human connection — two or three people in a room, perhaps drinking soda and eating supermarket potato chips, getting into a delighted frenzy about three Jo Jones accents after Tommy Ladnier’s particularly declamatory phrase* — is nearly gone. In the last decade, I’ve been part of perhaps four or five such listening sessions, and I miss them. I don’t mean a formal “collectors’ group,” with everyone guessing the soloist or the like or showing off that their N- copy is more shiny than your V+; I mean friends getting together to share their musical joys. Yes, there’s Facebook, but it isn’t quite the same.
I have had a few musical sessions at my house, where I’ve probably overwhelmed my visitors with jazz — in my eagerness to play everything delightful I could think of — and, oddly enough, have been part of a few sessions on wheels, where my driving host played music from his iPod, which is always gratifying. But it’s a rare pleasure.
That’s our century: we have an intense intimacy or faux-intimacy with constant accessibility through the internet. Physically, we exist at immense distances, too busy to be in the same room to rejoice over the things and heroes we love.
Of course, it could just be me. But somehow I doubt it.
*I am referring specifically to WEARY BLUES from the Spirituals to Swing concerts, with Ladnier, Jo, Sidney Bechet, Dan Minor, James P. Johnson, and Walter Page. Hear it here (amidst a 49-track playlist; such are the ways of YouTube):
May your happiness increase!