Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love With Music My Whole Life?

Mark Joseph Stern, at Slate, who is still in his 20s, explains why the music we love as teens (from 12 to 22) is the music we remain most passionate about our whole lives.

The fact that this is pretty much true we see in evidence with almost every post here at Rock Remnants, and we all have a lot more water under the bridge than Stern does.

I’m sure his explanation isn’t quite the whole of the answer, but in general terms it feels pretty much right (and it involves brain imaging!). What came to mind for me, one of those teen moments, was a memory of reading in Lisa Robinson’s Hit Parader magazine, maybe when I was 13, about Jerry Lee Lewis’s song Breathless as the apotheosis of rock ‘n’ roll.

I went to the music store in my home town and found a copy of the single in the oldies section, and probably paid a quarter for it. If memory serves it was b/w High School Confidential. I brought the 45 home and put it on the fat spindle on my cheap record player. I was tremulous, with heightened expectations, almost giddy I recall. I anticipated something incredible, and when I pushed play, I got something I’d never heard before.

Bye bye Herman’s Hermits, hello better stuff of all sorts. I’ll never forget that and now I know better why.

6 thoughts on “Why Must I Be A Teenager In Love With Music My Whole Life?

  1. There’s a problem with this nice story about Breathless. It seems Lisa Robinson didn’t take over at Hit Parader until 1974. So, I either gave up Herman’s Hermits based on a different recommendation, or I discovered Jerry Lee Lewis years later, when I was in high school, long after the Hermits were a fond memory. No Milk Today, if you know what I mean. I suspect the latter was true. So was the anticipation and the payoff.

  2. I don’t buy it, or rather I don’t wholly buy it. There is much music that I heard after and even before my teenage years that I love as much as anything I heard then. And there is much music that I loved as a teenager and don’t love now. A lot of that music brings a smile to my face as it conjures up specific times and people, but do I want to hear it now? No. I did a mix for an old friend of mine, of music we were listening to when we were 14-15 years old, and while not much of it is BAD, most of it is stuff I do not own now. I loved Spooky Tooth for crying out loud. Mountain. King Crimson. Ten Years After. Led Zeppelin – there aren’t many Zep songs I would even listen to today. They don’t do it for me anymore except for a few songs. The Beatles were finished in the year I turned 15 years old but I loved them beyond words when I was 8. I learned to really love Howlin Wolf in my late 40s. The Pillows and Raveonettes I discovered in my 50s. I don’t know what neurons are involved when I first hear a song at age 57 that reminds me of when I was 18:

    The other thing is that I don’t trust summaries of research. All too much research these days begins with a conclusion and massages the facts until they conform. I want to know what and how the information was gathered, and I’d like to see the results in full. They might have missed something. They may draw an incomplete or even wrong conclusion. In this case, the point of the article makes intuitive sense, but then young Americans have been culturally herded into pop music since before I was born. They gravitate to music naturally of course, but everything around them encourages them, including especially an abundance of leisure time. Adults usually don’t have time to get into anything that deeply. So the physical manifestations described in the article COULD happen to adults (or young children), given similar circumstances. Just sayin’.

    This one makes me smile, laugh actually, and no doubt refired some synapses. But I ain’t throwing over the Only Ones or the Pretenders, two bands I got into later in my 20’s:

    • I agree with you generally about the worth of consolidated studies to prove whatever. The proof is dubious, at best, though I wrote up this one because to me the ideas in general seem right.

      This isn’t to say that you can’t form later attachments, but if you’re citing the Pillows and Raveonettes as examples of that I think you’re spinning your wheels just a bit. Both are brilliant and retro. They would have sounded right at home in your emotionally charged sweet spot, in 1970 or so, if they existed then.

      And, I think it’s obvious that rebutting this notion of teen primacy because you fell for bands when you were in your mid twenties (I was 23 when I first heard the Pretenders) is splitting short hairs.

      Why shouldn’t the period of maximum excitability range from 8 to 28?

      In any case, the proof for me is from my own experience, which may well be hooey, but it’s what I have in this case.

      And I’m making no argument that one might not come to love some new music in your 30s or 40s or 50s or 60s. That surely happens.

      But it sure seems to me that the irrational and wholly emotional charge of music that grabs you and holds you for, like, ever, is a lot stronger when you’re 8 to 28 than when you’re older.


  3. OK, but ALL pop music is retro now – there haven’t been any cultural changes in more than 20 years, which is unprecedented since pop culture entered its modern phase in the early 20th century. I don’t think the Pillows would have fit in to 1970 at all, they’re more a cross between the Beatles and Nirvana. The Raveonettes definitely have a retro feel but their love of noise was not acceptable in pop until Suicide and rap softened up the public. it’s interesting that you choose some 70’s soul music Peter, because speaking for myself, starting in the early 70’s it began to take me a while to get into many black pop songs. The instant connections of the 60’s were no more – and a lot of it I like much more now than then. I wonder what the scientists would make of that. Anyway, interesting topic.

  4. For one thing, I don’t think we represent the masses with respect to our opinions on anything, especially music.

    I am with Gene, but I still think we do form our associations with the music, or movies, or whatever during those formative years. That explains why there are not only oldies stations, but now oldies is relative to whether you are a boomer or gen x or whatever.

    However, we are anomalies to the curve.

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