Monday, 19 June 2017

Tracking the Sounds of my Youth

We had a surprisingly warm Saturday back in May. It was very unusual for my late-autumn part of Oz, where winter always shows up too early.

People and their lives spilled outside all over the neighbourhood, just like they do in summer. Somewhere down the street, I could hear teenage girls giggling loudly in that carefree and self-conscious way only teenage girls can.

At one point, a couple of the girls sang along loudly, fervently and badly to one of those generic tunes currently getting lots of radio airplay. It could have been one of those swerve-up-and-down-the-scale-on-every-other-note songs, or one of those whiny “why doesn’t s/he like me” songs, or one of those “tonight, there’s a party tonight, where tonight, all my secret dreams tonight are going to come true tonight” songs. I couldn’t tell the difference.

I couldn’t tell the difference and I don’t want to be able to tell the difference. I do not relate to the current crop of songs on the radio. This is A Very Good Thing. I’m not the target demographic and I don’t want to be. (If you must know, I’m in an age group where I’m trying desperately to push the ‘middle-aged’ label away from me. And it’s pushing back. Hard). But anyway, I think both myself and the teenage girls down the street would have been horrified if we learnt we had anything music-related in common.

It did get me thinking though: at what point in our journeys into adulthood do we drift and shift from listening to “music that explains my life and my heart”, to joining the “in my day, music was much better" brigade? Because it happens. One day, you know all the songs on the radio and you’ve got your finger on the pulse of all the latest music, the next, all the singers are younger than you, they all seem to have the same naff hairstyle, the lyrics devolve into puerile twaddle, and all the songs sound the same.

Oh. And you hate them all. Every. Single. Same-sounding. Song.

This article from Slate explains the psychology and the neuroscience behind why the music of our teenage years is always the best. Read the article for the full explanation, but basically: brains develop like crazy during the teenage years and the music we listen to with intense fervour and passion during this time gets locked into our memories with an extra strong wallop of emotions.

It’s true, isn’t it? Even music from our teenage years that we didn’t particularly like at the time, we now listen to with a surprising amount of nostalgia. Because it’s part of the backdrop of that period in our lives (even if we didn’t enjoy those times very much).

My own soundtrack was influenced by our move from Mauritius to Australia in the mid-late 80s, just before I hit my teenage years. In those pre-internet days, one of the most vital ways I felt I could stay connected to Mauritius, was via the music around in Mauritius that we couldn’t get in Australia. So, I foraged, gathered and brought back to Oz any of Mauritius’ Sega music, French rock music and Bollywood tunes. All hoarded on cassettes and posters, man. Life-blood of connections and a vital supplement to whatever was playing on local Oz radio.

Indochine was one of the French bands I embraced. Between bootleg cassettes from Mauritius (the only kind available in shops) and singles on 45s, I got to know and adore several of their songs. It was several years after the songs had been released but that's beside the point. Some of these songs are the ones hardwired into my brain as part of that transition to Oz/teenage years emotional impact.

The Indochine sound is delightfully, quintessentially 80s. Guitars, synth, drums, a sax. My one solitary poster of the band had 3 of the 4 of them with super-80s hair (the flock of seagulls kind, probably with a generous bit of mullet thrown in) plus 80s eyeliner and eyeshadow, and fashion of course. To anyone who didn’t know the band during their teenage years, they probably sound terribly generically 80s (in French).

Thanks to the power of YouTube now, I now know many of these songs were from their album, 3. (Pronounced 'Trois', not 'Three', of course). If you're really curious, you can find the 3 album here (with apologies for the ads).

Ahh, YouTube, you came into the world a couple of decades after my teenage self needed you.

It’s funny to revisit the songs now and to realise just how many snippets of lyrics which have lingered in my memory. Despite my ability to spectacularly mondegreen lyrics in every language I half-speak, my recall for some of the Indochine songs is surprisingly accurate.

Listening to these songs again also re-kindles the vague impressions and images which accompanied the lyrics and songs at the time. Of a French, Parisian-style adulthood, of a gender-bending world where boys looked feminine and girls looked masculine, of being made-up like a fiancée, of dark eyes, of gamine haircuts, of inconsolable sadnesses, of forbidden lovers meeting in secret, and of tearing off clothes in a few elegant movements. Seriously, that last one is so French!

And yet, the irony of my imagining ‘French’ or Parisian images, is that, with a name like Indochine, I think the band drew on a fair bit of a (post-)colonial French/Indochina vibe. But I never (at the time)got to know how much. Beyond my one solitary poster, I never saw any of their music videos or any magazine articles, and so I never visually got to know the band or its music.

This is why now, when I finally have access to the original Indochine video clips from the era, I don’t really want to watch them. They’re going to interrupt those vague images and impressions which are now an integral part of my personal listening experience from that time in my life.

And look, I know we all have these special, individual relationships to our teenage soundtracks. It’s just, well, I hate to break it to you all, but mine is special. More special than yours. Much more. That’s just the way of it.

And this is also why we have to feel sorry for today’s teenagers who are going to get today’s hideous music as their backdrop. This current stuff is going to be their nostalgic soundtrack and connection. You poor, poor things. You’d better belieber it.

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