The only thing new is you finding out about something. Like nothing’s really new, but you reinvent it for yourself and find your inner voice.
— Mike Watt, punk rock bassist, most notably of the Minutemen
I’m a late bloomer. Always feels like what’s new to me is old hat to most of the rest of the world. Here of late, it’s been that way with the Minutemen for me, and Eighties-era American punk rock in general. Is it even possible to have a nostalgia response to something you didn’t experience the first time around? Maybe. But honestly, when I was a kid, punk rock scared me. Anything loud and dissonant scared me.
Now, pushing 42, “loud and dissonant” doesn’t scare me. Not always, anyway. It often makes me feel more alive. (Another great Watt quote, c. 1985: “We’re trying to show people we’re alive and that’s about it. I wish that was enough.”)
So all that’s to say I love the sentiment in Watt’s quote about “newness” above. It makes me feel better about myself, the perennial wetness I feel so conspicuously behind my ears. As did this email exchange with my new friend Stephen. We were sharing our musical tastes — his are far deeper and more nuanced than mine — and how those tastes have evolved and grown over time. And how sometimes there’s a punctuated equilibrium. Bob Dylan, in my case. One day, I just got it and, for the longest time, I just hadn’t. Here was Stephen’s really smart response:
Bob Dylan took me years to get. And maybe a year or two ago I sat and listened to Beethoven’s string quartets — especially the late quartets. It’s some of the greatest music ever written. Then I feel like an ass when I tell someone, “Man, have you heard this guy Beethoven (or Dylan)? He’s real good!” …Ultimately, it’s probably best to come to the things that immediately strike us, regardless of their status. I’m pretty good at doing that and I think it’s good. I also have this tendency for chronology that causes me to research or read in historical order, which often introduces me to work I wouldn’t have come to through my own tastes.
Our exchange was a welcome reinforcement of Watt’s attitude, and they’ve both (the attitude, the exchange) helped me give myself permission to discover things on my own, at my own pace, to let way lead onto way.
Or not just permission. Something more full-throated than that: mission. Finding out about stuff is part and parcel of finding your own voice. Regardless of how I get there or how long it takes, if something “new” resonates, it’s probably echoing (or at least harmonizing) with a sound my own inner voice wants to make in the here-and-now. And I’m allowed — I’m encouraged — to let the new thing reinvent me. Even if it’s old to everybody else.