Thursday, February 2, 2012

Songs of Yore

by Brendan Cavanagh

My name is Brendan Cavanagh, I'm twenty years old and I have a huge problem: I'm getting tired of my musical catalog. Certainly, I've made a number of infrequent musical acquisitions over the last year, but even the major breakthroughs I've experienced with my favorite albums listened to in 2011 seem to mostly be albums I already had in my possession, yet never fully discovered previously. Even the most recent albums I've picked up from the library recently seem to be as neglected as most of the same tired music on my iPod. When I pick up my iPod nowadays, I can't help but play the same smattering of songs each time- current, passing favorites and the like. I thirst for an album that will electrify and inspire me like some of the foundational albums in my repertoire once did. It appears to me that music these days doesn't affect me in the same manner that it used to. Let's look back and find out why:

Overlooking that short time in eighth grade when I had a "Rio" mp3 player ('cause everyone at school had one, Mom!), my first exposure to the harmonious rapture of crisp, stolen mp3 songs was as an eighth grader with the sleek, black iPod nano I received from Santy Claus. There were two songs I especially desired to "own," the appreciation of which I could happily attribute to Ken Burns. My eighth grade history teacher took several weeks out of our year to watch, at separate times in the year, his documentaries about Lewis & Clark and the Civil War. Each had a "theme song" of sorts- an historic, instrumental song that served as a running motif throughout each series of movies. For Lewis & Clark, there was "Beech Spring," and for the Civil War, "Ashokan Farewell."

My uncle Randy, whose 90s wardrobe has recently become my own- cardigans and flannels, and a short sleeved-button down I am actually wearing as I write, with "Randy" stitched on one side and "CO OP" stitched on the other- is the Cavanagh family's technological guru, and he offered to let me use his computer to try out a program called Limewire, from which I could acquiesce myriad songs I desired, without having to purchase or struggle to locate. Naturally, I was absolutely smitten with the idea, so I made regular visits to his house a mere three blocks away from mine on weekends and pirated music to my heart's delight. I can acutely recall sitting down at his home-office swivel chair, downloading favored songs illegally as often as I twirled around in that black leather chair. At first, I mostly downloaded songs I had always loved that my parents turned me on to. When I finally did get my hands on "Ashokan Farewell," I was ecstatic. To test the song quality, and hear it blasted directly into my ears for the first time, I blared the volume as I played it on my appropriately-timed four minute walk home that foggy, silent day of Autumn 2010. I unabashedly had my parents listen to it too; I desired that they should hear the same beautiful song I was once exposed to during each daily installment of Ken Burns' The Civil War, as well as hear mp3 music for the first time (Ah, the 2000s). Once, I recall, I was at my grandmother's Townhouse flat downtown, and I figured she, more than anyone else, would appreciate such an old-timey song, and surely she had no prior exposure to an iPod at the time (she currently owns an iPad, if that properly puts things in perspective), so I relinquished control of my iPod to her and made sure she listened to "Ashokan Farewell." The song came to her as a shock; literally, as I failed to keep in mind that she might not have been as hearing impaired as I was at the time, so the music probably blew out her failing ear drums at the time, as evidenced by a terrified shriek upon the song's commencement. Even so.

The music I downloaded illegally at the time seemed so much more different than it is today. Personally, it was harder to acquire. Of course, this is well before I learned of the passively pirating strategy of burning CDs from the library to my computer. Anyway, since I couldn't truly enjoy a song until I had it in my possession, on my iPod, directly played into my ears, my frenzied anticipation built each song up into a ballad of unprecedented effectiveness. Therefore, when I finally waded through the inexplicably ubiquitous mp3 files of Bill Clinton impressions and pornographic videos that veiled desired songs, the acquired song rang so much more loudly, and truly, and fully and effectively.

I wish I had more to say, or ideas to elaborate upon. My basic point is this: I don't appreciate music as much as when it was harder for me to acquire. This, of course, comes along with growing up in a constantly technologically advancing society, but traces of the primordial feeling can still be felt in finally acquiring that key album within the repertoire of an especially favored artist or musician after great waiting periods and eager anticipation (In particular, I'm reminiscing about my three-year crusade in high school to gorge myself on Bob Dylan's repertoire). Hell, maybe I just miss being in eighth grade, in a simpler time. Naturally, that would make sense, as most of my blog posts revolve around the idea (and oft-used tag) of overt sentimentality. Take me home, country road.


  1. As an old soul, I'm sure you can only imagine how it must have felt to come home from the record store one day with Bob Dylan's brand new record in hand and to finally lay the needle on. I will never experience that kind of musical gratification.

    More importantly, I've been trying to remember the name of the song "Ashoken Farewell" ever since I forgot it in high school, and it's probably caused me more stress in my life than almost all other things. Imagine not being able to access one of the most beautiful songs you know of, and then slowly over time even that beautiful melody starts to fade in your mind. So maybe I did just experience that kind of musical gratification. In short, that makes this my favorite blog post in Classic Brian history.

  2. Robert, I'm glad to hear you understand what I mean. And your first point reminded me to include my thirst for Dylan records in my post. Also, I hope that now you've rediscovered "Ashokan Farewell," you can close your eyes and once again fully immerse yourself in Mrs. Aiello's history class. Remember when the song was played during that one section of The Civil War, where David McCullough read the soldier Sullivan Ballou's final letter to his wife before he died?

  3. I really like being able to listen to music whenever I want. You guys are dumb.