What Kind Of Music Were You Listening To At Age 14
One of my favorite television shows is Criminal Minds. This dark and dreary crime drama about serial killers often finds comic relief in the antics of genius Dr. Spencer Reid, played by actor Matthew Gray Gubler.
Usually to clarify the plot, but often to bring some much needed levity, Dr. Reid spouts facts, statistics, and tidbits of information that only a computer could know. Some of his interpolations make you visit Wikipedia to see if the scriptwriters got it right or are just making stuff up.
One of Reid’s utterances caught my attention as a rock n’ roll pundit and really stuck with me. He claimed that the music we listen to when we’re 14 years old shapes the music we listen to for the rest of our lives.
That can’t be right can it?
Well, I did a little research and apparently the fictional Dr. Spencer Reid is onto something.
“Fourteen is a sort of magic age for the development of musical tastes. Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity.” – Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and the director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University.
So what music were you listening to when you were 14 years old?
Are you still listening to that music today?
This concept of 14 being a pivotal age for one’s musical tastes came to mind while I was reading Chris Parker’s article “Growing old with Widespread Panic.”
Widespread Panic is a jam band from Georgia founded in the mid-1980s. They followed in the footsteps of groups like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band. Today, Widespread Panic finds themselves in the same rarefied air as Phish and Dave Matthews Band.
Widespread Panic has released ten studio albums but it’s their live shows that separate them from mere mortals.
According to Pollstar, Widespread Panic raked in more than $270,000 per concert in 2013. That’s a big number especially for a band that’s released no single of note and whose highest charting album is #27.
As of 2014, Widespread Panic holds the records for the most sold-out performances at two of the United States’ most renowned venues. Widespread Panic has sold out the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado 42 times and Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia 20 times.
Widespread Panic tickets will be collected this summer as well. Their sunny-weather jaunt began June 5 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Look for Widespread Panic in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 24. Their trek ends Nov. 2 in Broomfield, Colorado at the 1st Bank Center.
From July 2 to July 4, Widespread Panic will be jamming in Las Vegas at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. Another set of dates to circle is Sept. 6 and Sept. 7. That’s when the band will be in Arrington, Virginia to participate in the Lock N’ Music Festival.
In Parker’s article, he talks about an adult who first saw Widespread Panic in 1990 while he was in high school (for our purposes we’ll pretend he was 14 or close to it). He then went on to attend more than 200 Widespread Panic concerts.
Today, this adult is a booking agent and club manager who organizes after-parties for Widespread Panic whenever they roll into Raleigh (which is about every year).
Despite being middle-aged, Parker’s case study has found a new way to enjoy his favorite band.
“As authority and adulthood begin to press in, related music lovers—be they goths, punks, backpackers or metalheads—can form their own communities. No genre has inspired quite the same fervency and lifestyle as the Grateful Dead and their acolytes, Phish, Widespread Panic and a score of successors. As those kids age, many turn away from the pack, divesting of those stints following their favorite band for mortgages and day jobs.” – Chris Parker
The responsibilities that come with adulthood mean if you want to see Widespread Panic when they come to town you must plan ahead and be organized. Instead of capriciously following the band around for a week or two, when you’re an adult, the best you can do is a long weekend.
As you get older music becomes less of something you do for recreation and more a piece of furniture.
For example, when I was 14, I’d come home and listen to records. Now that I’m older, the adult alternative channel from my local cable provider is my house’s music of choice. That on-demand channel spins music you can cook to, talk over, and dine to without upsetting your digestive system.
As a teen, music is in your foreground. As an adult, music moves to the background.
Also, we must not confused nostalgia for musical taste. For example, there’s a special place in my heart for Tony Basil’s “Mickey.” She released her version in 1982, long before I turned 14. It’s special because I remember dancing to it with my cousins at my grandmother’s house. That song takes me back to my halcyon days of youth, i.e. it’s nostalgic, but it does not represent my musical tastes.
In Parker’s article, the adult subject grew up with the band. That fact probably endears the band to him more than any psychological connection he made to them when he was 14.
I have a similar relationship with Madonna. I’m not a particular fan of Madonna’s music and she became a huge star long before I celebrated my 14th birthday. She was, however, the biggest pop star of my youth (minus Michael Jackson who quickly became radioactive).
Madonna will always hold a place in my musical canon but she doesn’t represent my musical tastes.
In a 2011 article published on the New York Times Web site titled “Forever Young? In Some Ways, Yes,” David Hajdu points out how many popular music legends turned 14 in the mid-1950s, the era rock and roll exploded and took over teen culture.
His list includes Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Carole King, Lou Reed, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Garcia, and Jimi Hendrix.
Hajdu admits that there are always a bunch of famous people turning a certain age, but goes on to quote Dylan and McCartney that when they heard Elvis their musical tastes, and subsequently their lives, changed forever.
There are a couple of problems with Hajdu’s speculations. One, Elvis influenced a lot of artists that weren’t 14. Two, none of the aforementioned legends sound anything like Elvis.
Furthermore, in the case of Aretha Franklin she was a mother of two when she was 14. That probably had more of an influence on her music than anything she heard on the radio.
The age 14 has some physiological significance but it’s mainly a cultural benchmark. In the United States, 14 year olds are generally in the 8th or 9th grades, the age when music starts becoming part of one’s identity.
If you live in a different country, or if you’re home schooled (or you just don’t care), the music you listen to when you’re 14, 15, 16, etc. doesn’t matter.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t think the music you listen to when you’re 14 permanently locks you into a sound for the rest of your life. Additionally, if you’re an adult and you’re only listening to music from when you were 14 you may want to reevaluate your iTunes collection.
Certainly as you grow and mature so should your musical palate. Regardless of what you were listening to when you were 14, you should be constantly experiencing new music as well as attending a Widespread Panic concert this summer.
Whether it’s the June 21 Widespread Panic show in Somerset, Wisconsin or the June 25 Widespread Panic concert in Kansas City, Missouri, the Georgia jam band will blow your socks off regardless of what music you were listening to when 14 candles were on your cake.
The music you listened to when you were 14 has contributed to your musical tastes but it doesn’t define them. That’s great news for all those music fans that turned 14 when boy bands were all the rage.
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