27 March 2009

Jackson Browne and the Benefits of Aging

One of the consolations of getting older is that I've been able to shed all of the stupid prejudices of my youth. At a certain age I wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Jackson Browne. For some reason I thought there was nothing in his music that could mean anything to me. Besides, I listened to bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and X--there wasn't much room for plaintive California balladeers in my teen stable of artists. And while I still respect and love those bands, I find myself listening to them less and less. Partly, I suppose, because I know most of the music note for note: London Calling and Under the Big Black Sun are my Classic Rock albums. But it is also the fact that I am no longer a young man with a fire to change the world through political agitation (if indeed I ever was). The best part of punk was really always the music. A close second was the outsider status badge (clothes, attitude) that listening to the music conveyed.

All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that as you become more comfortable with being an individual you require less validation in your listening, and the world of music is truly and fully open to you.

Jackson Browne's first album is a masterpiece: a record fully of its time but transcending it as well. The songs are 37 years old now, and they are still fresh. Full of California gold-burnished piano ballads, it's arguably Browne's best work, but the LPs that followed in the early to mid 1970s were all excellent. The writing and performing are remarkably mature for a 23 year old (though the stellar cast of session musicians surely helped). From the opening "Jamaica Say You Will" through "My Opening Farewell" there isn't a clinker in the set. There is the perenially classic "Doctor My Eyes" and the lament "Song for Adam", but my favorite track is probably the four minutes and thirteen seconds of perfection that is "Rock Me on the Water", a secular gospel number that never fails to lift my mood.

I've found that the average person--for whom music is not really an important part of their life--that person tends to solidify their tastes. The music from their high school years is usually the music that resonates with them; thus the proliferation of Classic Rock and oldies stations. But for me, the universe of music is continually expanding. Much like the actual universe, come to think of it.


Jan Ferris Heenan said...

I spent about 10 years totally and hugely into Jackson Browne, esp "The Pretender," but have to say that "Lawyers in Love" did me in forever...and I can't shake all of the allegations and rumors of domestic abuse that have dogged him for years.

matthb said...

See, The Pretender did ME in! Of the domestic abuse rumors I know nothing. I stick to the music (usually) and with Browne that means the first record (why is it called "Jackson Browne" when the cover and spine say "Saturate Before Using"?), Late for the Sky and For Everyman.