Coolness Is SO Last Year

Plant and PageI just got back from a morning jog, listening to my iPod as always. “Stairway to Heaven” came on, and the line “A new day will dawn, for those who stand long,” played as I approached my sunlit house, my camellia tree full of pink blossoms, and the snow-covered Olympic Mountains in the background. I fell in love with the song all over again.

For most of my life, in some way or another, I’ve let society influence my enjoyment of music. Since middle-school, I’ve known that there was cool music and lame music, and I didn’t let myself fully enjoy some kinds of music because I knew they were uncool.

But for the past couple years, most of that tendency has fallen away, thank goodness. Maybe it’s because I make music with kids a lot now, and their less prejudicial experience of music has rubbed off on me; or maybe I’ve just finally become comfortable in my own skin. Whatever the reason, I hear a song like “Stairway”—a song that most people consider horribly over-played—and if I like it, I abandon myself to it.

Sure, there are some songs that I am sick of, or just don’t like, and that’s fine. But there are tons that I really should be sick of, or aren’t considered edgy or indie by a lot of my peers (U2 comes to mind), yet they still send me soaring when I hear them. Why cut yourself off from all that joy?

So how can I pass this on to my students? So many of them, especially my teens, have such strong opinions about Cool. Any ideas?

Comments 15

  1. Well, that’s a bit hard I think…
    I’m (almost) 24, and I terribly love Stairway, but that’s because it has been my first hard rock song (thanks daddy!); I literally grew up with it!
    If you hadn’t an experience like that, it may be hard, especially thinking how almost impossible is finding a young band any similar to Led Zep, which teen people may listen to!

  2. My dad is a huge Elvis fan and passed it onto me as a kid – so when I was teenager in the late ’70s and early ’80, while I loved Punk and New Wave, I was still into Elvis when he was regarded as totally uncool – at least here in England. Now Elvis is cool, Johnny Cash is cool, Aretha Franklin is cool, even Abba are cool – it all seems to come around. And if you want them to appreciate U2, just play them Johnny Cash’s version of One

  3. “Why cut yourself off from all that joy?”

    The answer to that is, Don’t. I’ve been collecting records (yes vinyl) for a whole lot of years, in fact I still own the first record I ever bought. Cat Stevens Tea For The Tillerman. Now my collection includes everything from Louis Armstrong, to Tommy Dorsey, to B.B. King to Led Zep. My point is, music, like all art forms is totally subjective. One gets out of it whatever he/she wants to get out of it. My grandson used to hate it when I started playing some old country song on my accoustic until he realized that there was lead to be played in those too. Now we play Folsom Prison Blues together.
    If you want your students to like U2 just wait a few years. I used to HATE bands like ACDC or Metallica, that sort of thing, now I actually enjoy it!
    As for being cool, Huey Lewis used to say “It’s Hip To Be Square” and my three grandkids think I’m the coolest grandpa there is, and they wouldn’t lie about that.

  4. having three sons and the eldest now 30, I always made a point of playing music around the house and in the car when they were little, and had a vinyl collection of mixed magic, Safka, Kottke, Diamond, Floyd, Hendrix, Dillon, Guthrie, and early bluesy FleetwoodMac, most of the Beatles & Stones, Oldfield and stacks of Aussie stuff, Farnham, LRB, and lots of Tone Poem classics and World Music, Some soul, Folk and Jazz…etc…a veritable dogs breakfast… and through it all my eldest son, who has been into heavy metal and every rock genre going that has a high cadence for fast surfing vids, still tells me his favourite album of all time was out before he was born… Dark Side of the Mooon… the good stuff will win through, just let em listen in their own time and way…

  5. Thank you for writing this.

    Just this morning I was thinking about how embarrassed I would be if one of my acquaintances heard my music, because I know he would think it was lame. I know better than to feel that way, and seldom I do, but—for whatever reason—I did feel that way.

    I managed to (perhaps half-heartedly) tell myself that it doesn’t matter if that one person didn’t like it. My music is for me and the people who do like it. Thank you for this confirmation of that.

  6. The strategy I have used on my three teenagers, and that seem to work with my 17 year old, was the following:

    1) Don’t push.
    2) Show musical connections. For example, my oldest likes The Apples in Stereo. When I first heard them, I said, ‘wow, that sounds like psychedelic era Beatles and pointed her at Sgt. Pepper and Magical Myster Tour (among other 60’s era psychedelic music). Now she’s a Beatles fan. When I first heard the Decemberists, I said ‘wow, that sounds like 80s era Robyn Hitchock’. She checked him out. She listens to Elvis Presley, The Stones, … and the list goes on.
    3. Don’t push.

    If the kids are open to music, they’ll find their way to cool and ‘uncool’ music. They might even show you a few things too. My daughter has turned me on to music I probably wouldn’t have checked out on my own.

    Best of luck to you!

  7. The point is, if you listen to a song and after a point, it doesn’t have any effect on you anymore, then it is by that simple inner-defined lack of effect that a song is over-played – to you. However, songs such as Stairway are considered timeless for a reason. The majority of those who claim it is played out actually are still effected by the song even if by some slight way. Yet sadly, they are only going by the society’s trend to consider a song “overplayed” if it is so old and is so popular even still after all these years. Don’t fall into that misguidence. Music is not good based on what society thinks. Music is more subjective than that. I commend the point you hold in this entry. Thanks for posting! 🙂

  8. Thanks. All I’ve got for the moment to work on is regularly adding more content and spreading the word (never easy). haha!

    I’ve got a new article about to publish in just a few minutes that I’m hoping speaks to guitar students on the most genuine level possible. I’m just experimenting with very particular topics and approaches to them.

    This site (and specifically this entry) is a really good read considering the points you make. I’m glad I found it, its worth following. 🙂

  9. I think exposing kids to a lot of different music and showing them why it’s classic or even why you like it can help influence them. But it’s never a good idea to pound your likes or dislikes into kids, that never works, instead simply play what you like and help them to enjoy the music as much as you do.

    Teaching them an instrument can also help them get involved with certain kinds of music, at least they can appreciate what it takes to play it.

  10. Hey,

    About the question on teenage students . . . In my experience, they never get over cool, but here’s a method I’ve found to work really well:

    –Questions . . . Ask them questions about their dreams with guitar, what their life looks like after they’re already guitar masters, things like that. Then, tell them stories of rockers not considered “cool” who you love who followed their dreams. Maybe they’ll see them in another light, and give more music a chance, and even be inspired.

    I also have a bunch of other techniques I use for teaching at my blog –


    Visionary Jammers School of Music

  11. If you’re serious about this, and willing to apply yourself to developing techniques for helping kids broaden their tastes, then here are some suggestions:

    Provide a good example. Encourage them to tell you what they like and if you like it too tell them so and why. Then reciprocate with something that’s different than what they’ve heard before. That’ll send the message *from someone they respect* that the “cool” thing to do is to like things regardless of what other people think.

    Make broadening their appreciation an assignment in their lessons. It’s one of the simplest tasks you can give them– I want you to listen to five things you’ve never listened to before and be ready to tell me what you thought.

    Then devote 2 minutes or so of your weekly lesson to discussing what they heard– and apply it to their musicianship. That’s the point, right? Developing their ears and giving them other sounds and melodies to compare to what they’re playing and improvising?

    Find other examples of people who have broad listening taste, and make it clear that “this is what the pros do.” Be on the lookout for interviews with touring musicians where they mention what they’re listening to on the bus, or what they listened to while making a particular record, or their influences. It’s really rare that successful musicians have narrow listening taste.

    Find covers of songs by other musicians– often a cover can strip away the distractions around a hit to reveal the songwriting beneath. And the people who are performing the covers might be “cool” where the original artist is decidedly not.

    Examine where the music comes from. Many times the person singing the song didn’t write the song. Britney Spears didn’t write “Toxic”– and it’s a brilliant pop song.

    And the judicial, careful, delicate application of mild derision can help too. When a student sneers at a certain piece or song, a casual scoff and “get over it” might be enough– at least enough to get them working on the song. When they’ve learned it, it might turn out to be one of their favorites. I did that with a ‘cello student who couldn’t understand why any piece would be longer than two pages long. Eventually, he figured it out. All I had to do was make him focus on his musicianship and the appreciation naturally followed.

    I like your blog. Keep up the good work.

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