Aging & Music: Why do we dismiss an old band’s new output?

There’s something I’ve noticed when talking with fans of older bands. For pretty much any band you can think of that’s put out more than three albums, there’s that certain subset, or even majority, of people who immediately dismiss their newer work, no matter the quality.

In some cases, the band truly is just putting out obviously inferior material (like, say, Weezer up until recently). But in others, I’m baffled – bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, or Deftones, or Coheed and Cambria, who are still putting out material that’s just as good as their early records, if not better. Why is that?

A huge component of this is nostalgia. It’s easy to see your favorite band’s early work through rose-colored glasses, because it’s the music you grew up with. No music makes as deep an impact on a person than the first music that they truly discover and fall in love with on their own, and for the most part, everything after that doesn’t bring that same raw feeling of discovery and enjoyment. So when you grow up, and that favorite band of yours is still soldiering on, those new albums don’t ‘feel’ nearly as good as the ones you loved when much of the music you love was yet to be discovered. They could be just as great, but when held up against your memories of those first few albums, of course they’re going to pale in comparison.

Besides nostalgia, though, there’s also a back catalog to consider. If a band doesn’t radically change its sound from album to album, it’s easy to not be impressed by a new one. Even if the songs are great, it can feel like just another iteration of what they’ve done in the past, so why not just listen to the prior ones? To remedy this, I like to listen to new albums from the mindset of, ‘if this was the first album I heard from them, how would I feel about it?’. Often times I’m left enjoying the music just as much as I did the first time I heard them.

As we grow older, we change as people – that’s as hard a fact as any in the universe. So it stands to reason that the people behind your favorite music will eventually change and grow, as well. Sometimes they’ll say something in an interview when they’re still in their early 20s, some anti-establishment sloganeering, or maybe they promise they’ll never do ‘[whatever]’ as long as they live. And often times, we still hold them to those inspiring words, even as they reach their 30s and 40s and have long since grown past being those people.

Here’s a mental exercise: imagine you found an old journal or diary of yours. It’s full of all of your insecurities, fears, hopes, ideals, and everything else you felt fit to document. Are you still that exact person whose heart is poured all over those pages? Probably not, but I’d be willing to bet that you’re happier with yourself now than you were then, and wouldn’t change that for the world.Now imagine being in that same situation, but instead of an old diary, it’s interviews, or on stage rants, or tweets, and these are all in very public view, and saved very permanently online. Instead of recognizing that you’re just as much in flux as a person as the rest of us, you’ll be held to those old ideals, and will be criticized whenever you stray from them.

The gist of what I’m trying to say here is that musicians are people just like the rest of us. They grow, they change, they try new things, and it’s very easy to dismiss or criticize them for straying from the idea we have of them in our memory. But often times, these musicians still have interesting things to say, and interesting new music to create, that we ignore for being different. Keep this in mind and give those old fucks another chance, and maybe you’ll realize you’ve been missing out on something this whole time.

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