Feel What You Hear

It was once suggested to me that we will spend the rest of our lives loving the music we listened to in our youths more than anything else that we will ever hear.

And that may be true. But I disagree with the presented rationale.

The presenter of this argument, let’s call him Tim, claimed that this preference for the songs of our youth boiled down to these three points:

  1. Music is tied closely to emotional memory.
  2. When we’re young, we’re experiencing new emotions and new music all the time. There’s more of a chance for music-emotion bonding to occur.
  3. After a certain point, you run out of new emotions to tie to new music. Once your proverbial emotional scorecard is full, there’s nothing to tie new music to.

I’ll absolutely agree with Tim on points 1 & 2, but I cannot bring myself to assent to point 3, which I think is too short sighted.

While your first adult perceptions of major emotions like love and loss will likely come during your childhood/adolescent years, to suggest that by the time you’ve reached full fledged adulthood you’ll run out of new emotional ground is outright disheartening and, I think, wrong. The human emotional experience is infinite and as we grow and change and explore new facets of it, new worlds of emotional experience are opened to us, even if those later openings are perhaps more subtle than those of our teenage years.

In my retort I would suggest that the reason we tend to enjoy music from our younger years – aside from the obvious nostalgic implications – is far more economical. It’s a matter of capacity and capital.

When you’re young and you don’t have a mortgage or a spouse or children or a job or any other of the adult challenges that demand your attention or your care, you simple have more attention and care – more capacity – to devote to other things, like your love of music. It’s kind of impossible – or at least inadvisable – to care about your children and the latest Coheed record equally.

And to go along with that last point, time is a factor. When you’re young you have responsibilities – don’t be one of those people who gets old and forgets how stressful being a kid is – but most of your responsibilities are less time consuming than they will be when you’re older. There are few things more likely to make you enjoy a piece of art than spending time with it and having the chance to truly, deeply think about it. That’s a luxury that you’re more likely to be able to afford when you’re balancing time between geometry homework and your shift at Jose’s Taco Palace than when you’re balancing time between rearing your child and getting all your TPS reports in on time.

Do we prefer the music of our youths? Yeah, I think we do. But I think that’s more about the circumstances of youth than it is about any exhaustion of emotional growth. We’re always growing, we just can’t see it as easily when we get older.

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