Stop Trusting Your Ears, by Daryl Gussin

Mar 30, 2023

Driving alone one night from my house to a friend’s bungalow in Silver Lake I found myself tuned to KROQ. This is not something that would usually happen, but I was just sick of scanning. The KROQs and KLOSes of the world have solidified themselves as the cultural cul-de-sacs that operate as advertising revenue and not much else. I’m a fan of NPR, but sometimes it’s too late to listen to it. And that time is once I’ve finished washing the dishes after dinner. That’s the cut off. This piece isn’t going to make too many unarguable statements. In fact, the whole premise is to trash the rules that exist in our heads and open the scope, but mark my words, no NPR after the dishes from dinner are done. Just no.

It was nice night in late April as I headed down Fletcher to Glendale to Hyperion to Fountain, KROQ was playing a block of songs from a band I have only heard of but never heard. A group that goes by a name that makes me feel like I should be collecting social security: Bring Me The Horizon. The songs twisted and turned in these odd ways. But it felt like we were meeting on neutral territory, me the old, decrepit punk, them the emo hair metal skate brats. It was whiny and obnoxious and overly produced, and I couldn’t help in that moment but appreciate it. Good on them for doing something that not only energizes their fans, but would illicit such disgust from a traditionalist mindset such as myself. But I listen to Peni, Crucifucks, Guyuana Punchline, combatwoundedveteran, and the like, yet this is annoying? And of course, I recognize the absence of political conviction as a deal breaker, but what about the legions of true punx who are down with Slayer, Motörheard, or the master architect of punk guitar: Johnny Ramone! Lines in the sand had been drawn. The tides have ebbed and flowed, and the waves crashed on the shore, there hadn’t been much movement. Stubborn? Yes. But happy with my desired preferences? Definitely. A subtle yearning to feel like the kids are full of shit, in the same way I had once been made to feel like I was full of shit? Maybe.

It’s believed that the “magic age” for developing taste in music is from 14 to 24. A heightened sense of importance due to pubertal growth hormones solidifies our interests in these formidable years. The combination of new experiences and relationships seals the deal with their zesty baggage. Music’s “golden ages,” “cultural peaks,” and “groundbreaking eras” are pretty much all based on the perspective of one’s individual experience. In “Loitering and Benevolence” I tried to make the point that in terms of posers and elitists: we’re all both and we’re all neither. In the spectrum of musical preferences, we’re dealing with a beast of a Mobius Strip with ever-changing gradients, of which none will ever make sense or be decipherable except to the viewer who possesses all knowledge of their own past and nothing else. It can mean everything, and nothing, and realistically any mutual ground should be celebrated as a church-ordained miracle. One time on the way to the corner store my old roommate Bryan proclaimed, “Listen, all I’m saying is, if you don’t like Sublime, you’re racist.” Possibly joking. Possibly serious. I responded unusually fast, “I don’t believe there’s such a thing as bad music. But some of that Sublime shit is just bad.” You can argue taste, and it’s something I do frequently. But you can’t win the argument. No one loses when art is appreciated.

I turned 30, Leatherface clicked, I finally got it. I got divorced, I became obsessed with Big Star, I get it! In no way have I been listening to the same bands since I was 24, or even positioning those bands on a superior pedestal. But my interests have still been painfully predictable when I take a step back. An endless track record of depressive, unpopular guitar-based music that all kinda revolve around the occasional life-affirming chorus. Should I worry? Am I going to learn anything else from another Billy Bragg or Jason Molina record?! Yeah, of course, you can never get enough, but in a world full of other identities, ages, and places of origin, there’s so much out there. A whole planet of stories and possibilities. Even if you hate the music, there’s something to gain from that.

I’ve spent so much of my life informally learning about music. Hearing about bands and shows that will never have a book or documentary made about them. I listened to people talk about bands that only held a personal magnitude to them, while also attempting to piece together the complete history of punk and hardcore. Recognizing the biases in the narrator, cross referencing, sussing out the rumors, getting some goddamn context to what led us to this moment. And for the most part, it’s always been from talking to someone older than me, my age, or a little younger. I think back to my eleventh grade social studies teacher, Ms. Patterson, and how her husband would make me mixtapes of the bands he saw when he went to UC Berkeley in the early ‘90s. Pivotal pieces of the puzzle I was desperately trying to solve. Could this get reversed? Could I ask my middle school art teacher partner if one of her students could make me a mixtape? Or, I don’t know, a playlist?! Is this a radical reversal of roles that could bring about generational harmony and a greater understanding of the future of culture and its impact on society at large? Why wouldn’t it?

When the second song on the song block started to play I remembered back nearly a decade to a conversation with my friend Andrew. He was talking about the music his 18-year-old son listens to, “Yeah, stuff like Bring Me The Horizon. They’re pretty cool.” “Uh, I don’t listen to stuff like that.” And I didn’t, ‘cause I didn’t even know what “stuff like that” was, except for a stupid sounding band name. And I didn’t have a teenage child who I was interested in bonding with. No connection. No interest. Just a smug, self-gratifying sense of elitism. Closed off. Doors shut, don’t try knocking.

I do an internet search for “Where do 17-year-olds find new music?” The answer is essentially social media and suggestions from streaming platforms. I kinda assume that that’s just the same for everybody these days so I do a search for “Where do 38 year olds find new music?” No locked and loaded analytics, just an article from titled “Why We Stop Discovering New Music Around Age 30.” The article states that the music we love from our 14 to 24 “magic age” is for the most part: free drugs. The brain dumps dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin when we hear these songs, and especially does this when we’re anticipating a specific part of a song we truly love. How is new music supposed to compete with that? One option is a drug-fueled brain orgy, and the other is the stark reminder that we’re old and only getting older. But with this knowledge, we can calibrate our expectations. New music will not supply a platter of free drugs. There will be no goosebumps as you anticipate the one bridge that made you feel like a human in the summer between 8th and 9th grade. It will be sobering, and it will be challenging, and it could possibly be your new favorite band. There are entire worlds that we’ve closed ourselves off to because of aesthetic preferences. But we can’t close ourselves off to the humanity of the soundtrack to other’s lives just because it doesn’t mirror ours. Don’t give in to the myopic narrative your brain has been diligently repeating since your mid-twenties. Time never stopped. Nothing ever stopped. The “magic age” is scientifically proven, but the unexplainable magic of music can be more powerful.

In all honesty, by the time I turned off Fountain onto Sanborn and was looking for a place to park, the third or fourth Bring Me The Horizon song was playing and it was really starting to annoy the fuck outta me. I might have even yelled, “Oh shut the fuck up!” as I hit the power button to turn off the radio. I basked in the cleansing wave of silence. Don’t trust your ears to determine what should be considered important, but life is short, and we don’t have to like everything.

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Daryl Gussin is the managing editor of Razorcake, where his writing and interviews can be found on a regular basis. Keep up with his other creative pursuits here-

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