By Christian N. Kraus
Not everyone knows this, but my full-time day job is that I am lucky enough to hold a position as (now tenured) Associate Professor at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro. I’ve been there since 2010, and have taught everything from the foundational composition and sophomore lit classes to Creative Writing, and Intro to Film and Theatre. And, I recently received my PhD in Metaphysics from Abide University—I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about the true nature of things and reality. It’s tough to keep from taking it all too seriously, which is something I tend to do with most everything, anyway.
Being a professor is, at least for me, the greatest job I can imagine. But, what really makes it all so wonderful is that I work with the best bunch of people on Earth.
It isn’t just that they are so genuinely passionate about what we do, even though they all are, it’s that we have some of the best “sidebar” conversations, I’m convinced, of any workplace anywhere. And they are real, deep, thoughtful, considerate, and conscientious dialogues, the subjects of which can range from a breakdown of the UGA/Auburn/Alabama games from the Saturday before to whether or not William Blake should be considered a Gothic mystical poet to which guitarist from the 60s-80s we consider BOTH the most intelligent songwriter and most passionate player.
It is in that latter vein that a recent conversation we had got my brain stuck on something that I keep having recurring “oh, yeah” moments about.
I listen to music pretty much non-stop during my waking life. As I write this sentence, the speakers from the kitchen are playing a song by the William Eaton Ensemble—a sort of new-agey, Native American group—perfect for the sort of temporary “vision quest” that I go on when I write. I listen to most anything, depending on my mood, but in the past few years, I have gravitated to a pretty even split between early 20th century blues and jazz and classical composers, with a hefty dose of Frank, Dean, and Sammy when I feel like dancing. Yes. I listen to old white guy music, pretty much exclusively. And maybe that’s part of what is feeding these recurring moments of musical frustration.
Maybe frustration isn’t quite the right word. Here’s what is happening. I find myself annoyed as hell at a LOT of the music I listened to as a kid growing up.
And I don’t mean just a little annoyed. I mean the kind of annoyed that I’ll be riding down the road and a Bon Jovi song will come on the radio (for some reason, Bon Jovi is one band that seems to produce this effect more intensely than some others), and I simply can’t listen to it. I have to change the station. And since there are only two stations within signal reception that play a halfway decent mix of music from across the decades, if there happen to be Bon Jovi songs playing on BOTH of them (it’s happened—I literally screamed), I just have to turn the radio completely off and drive in silence, which is also uncomfortable, but it’s a damn sight better than Bon Jovi.
And once I started thinking about it, and changing the stations on these songs that are making me nuts, it started happening more and more frequently. I’d find myself close enough to Savannah that I could pick up I-95 (can’t get it on our side of the county), and a Motley Crue song would come on and I’d throw up a little bit in my mouth. Change the station. Or an Elton John song—nope, not today. Change it. Or that always awful band Rush, who I really didn’t even like back then, but just can’t begin to stomach now—give me radio silence if you must. It’s been happening now for a couple of months, and it’s getting to the point that I almost can’t listen to the radio. I’m glad I only have about a fifteen-minute commute to and from work.
So, that’s what’s been eating at me so much lately. There seems to be this ever-lengthening list of musical artists from the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, about fifteen years worth of music, that I just cannot bring myself to listen to anymore. I don’t exactly know what it is, either. It’s like—the music just doesn’t hold up at all anymore.
I suspect that a couple of things are going on.
One is that I am, as I said early, just getting older and more set in my ways. I’m almost 50, am a father of two, soon to be both out of the house (for the most part) girls, and am approaching spitting distance of retirement. This is, of course, just a side-effect of living that, I suppose, happens to most everyone. As we age, and we see, first, the hour hands, and then, later, the minute hands on that eternal clock moving faster and faster towards that last tick that, though we don’t know when, we know is coming—we just start to feel less compelled to put up with things that do not really matter, or that we simply don’t want to do. Our time becomes a more precious commodity and how we spend it falls under greater personal scrutiny. This is one reason I do not do social media.
But, another suspicion that I have is that I have started looking back at those years of my life in stark contrast to how I look at my life now. And I am, subconsciously, associating the way I feel about those years of my life with the music that I absolutely LOVED at that age. The insecure, angsty, glandular little twit I was, blaring “Livin’ on a Prayer” on the stereo in our old Nissan truck, driving way too fast down dirt roads, as become inescapably intertwined with the song itself. And, to be fair to that little twit, that’s what music from that era reflected…this kind of raging, indignant, gasoline-fueled angst. It was all either “me against the world,” or “you and me, baby, against the world,” in one set of lyrical and tonic combination or other, depending on the genre. It was the story of our time then…the narrative that, whether you think life reflects art or the other way around…that we were telling ourselves. But, it’s become an intolerable message to my aging ears.
It’s a way of thinking about living that, for whatever it’s worth, just doesn’t hold up for me anymore.