As a kid, I had a hobby following pop music charts. Being young, broke and in pre-internet New Zealand, it was hard yards tracking down sources like magazines, newsletters, and radio shows. One weekly highlight for me across crackly radio stations from towns nowhere near my own was Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. It was common practice in those days in New Zealand to marvel at the pop culture in the US and UK from many miles away and seemingly a couple of years behind. FM radio here was yet to exist and outside of the big towns, you were as likely on radio to hear a buy, sell and exchange community noticeboard as you were a new wave song. I did not live in a big town.
Music is inherently subjective. What is good or bad? That wasn’t why I listened. I listened for the numbers, the trends, to be connected to what I thought was going on where things went on, because nothing was going on where I was. If there was a coming of age movie based on my life, the soundtrack would focus in on 1979 to 1985.
In 2019, thanks to the internet, I discovered some FaceBook groups of people who were WAAAAY more into the show than I was and it’s entertaining for me now to check in on the mega-train-spotting types who have memorised every Hot 100 song every week for decades and can spout it all from memory via cryptic quizzes (and they do). I guess all hobby groups have their zealots.
There are all sorts of background politics about the show and its broadcast, ownership, formatting, programming, etc. It seems the halcyon days were 1970 to 1988. Many of those shows are now re-broadcast on nostalgia radio stations around the world and there is at least one IHEARTRADIO station that plays on shuffle random shows from that period all day every day. If I’m running or gymming or working on my property, my ears will be plugged into either podcasts, or that station. Partly it’s nostalgia for my coming of age flashbacks for my own time of 1979 to 1985. Increasingly, it’s a curiosity for the 1970-1978 period where I’m aware of many classic hits from that period but they’re not the soundtrack of my life. I’m logically aware of peak BeeGees or early Bowie but it’s academic to me not personal.
This post is about revisiting contemporaneous expression. I know the Vietnam War and Watergate happened but I wasn’t there nor was I old enough to be fully engaged in the news about those events. I find it fascinating to listen to a top 40 show where Casey introduces a new song from a new act – for example, Elton John. In that moment in 1970, Elton is just some new act, no more or less than the one-hit-wonder one notch higher on that chart. Because I know what happens, re-listening makes it a different experience with a form of dramatic irony. Conversely, Casey had a habit of telling motivational stories about new artists with a promising future who just quit their day job once their first hit made the chart. I know they never have another hit. 😦
Outside of pop charts, news, and history, it’s useful for us to revisit our own past contemporaneous expression and that of people we let influence us. Every expert who genuinely predicted something in a blog post two years ago will point that out and cite the reference. What they won’t point out are the dozens of predictions they made that were simply nonsense. So, many countries, cities, and companies made decisions based on business-case studies and cost-benefit analyses. Who goes back and re-visits the prognostications in those for accuracy?
Quite apart from any specific lessons I learn from looking back on my mistakes from the past or my public declarations that didn’t pass the passage of time, I hope it reminds me to hold my breath, count to ten and think seriously whether what I’m about to say is worth saying. Our right to have an opinion is critical. The value of our specific opinion is far less so.