The past is another country

I'm currently reading Since Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen's chronicle of the 1930s. Towards the end, there's a fascinating passage about that crazy noise the kids these days are listening to:

Among many of the jitterbugs--particularly among many of the boys and girls--the appreciation of the new music was largely vertebral. A good swing band smashing away at full speed, with the trumpeters and clarinetists rising in turn under the spotlight to embroider the theme with their several furious improvisations and the drummers going into long-drawnout rhythmical frenzies, could reduce its less inhibited auditors to sheer emotional vibration, punctuated by howls of rapture. Yet to dismiss the swing craze as a pure orgy of sensation would be to miss more than half of its significance. For what the good bands produced--though it might sound to the unpracticed ear like a mere blare of discordant noise--was an extremely complex and subtle pattern, a full appreciation of which demanded far more musical sophistication than the simpler popular airs of a preceding period. The true swing enthusiasts, who collected records to teh limit of their means and not only like Artie Shaw's rendering of "Begin the Beguine" but knew precisely why they liked it, were receiving no mean musical education; and if Benny Goodman could turn readily from the playing of "Don't Be That Way" to the playing of Mozart, so could many of his hearers turn to the hearing of Mozart.

It seems literally impossible for us to hear swing the way Frederick Lewis Allen did--for our brains to render Begin the Beguine, or Don't Be That Way, or even Sing, Sing, Sing as a "mere blare of discordant noise". They sound smooth, sweet, nostalgic because we're trained from birth to understand those sounds, not only through the music, but through all the associations our culture has built up around those sounds. I've been downloading some of the popular music from 1912, the year Allen graduated college, in an attempt to get myself in that frame of mind, but after several listens through hits like Back to the Land of Golden Dreams I'm afraid it's impossible. Especially the noisy kids downstairs won't turn down that crazy hip-hoppety stuff they listen to.