One of the first questions I asked my students this year – as I do every year – was an important one:
“Who knows who Bruce Springsteen is?”
The number was unbelievably, inexplicably, zero.
I have my work cut out for me.
The problem with music today is that streaming services have turned music into a curated, almost bespoke experience. If no one is turning on a radio or sharing their latest favorite band with one another, how is music supposed to propagate?
When music exists solely in the ears on the individual, people lose the chance to discover, experience, and fall in love with anything outside of their own tiny bubble.
The fact that the small human beings in my classroom have existed for ten years on this planet without ever knowingly encountering Springsteen is disappointing, but even more disappointing is how many of my students resist my attempts to recommend music to them. I point out to them that I’m continually listening to new music.
I spent time listening Taylor Swift’s new album this summer.
Billie Eilish can be found in many of my own playlists.
I purposefully listen to the Billboard Hot 100 channel on Spotify every week.
While I am perpetually frustrated by the lack of guitars in today’s new music, there are songs and artists that I like a lot.
Similarly, I’m always open to bands and musicians from the past who I had missed for one reason or another. I didn’t encounter Joe Strummer, for example, until about ten years ago, but I immediately dove into his music, only finding out after I’d fallen in love with his work that he was already dead. I was also late to the game with The Violent Femmes, Lyle Lovett, The Ramones, ELO, and Dolly Parton.
In every case, I gave these musicians and bands a fair shake and fell in love with every one of them.
This is why I adore Tim and Fred Williams, twenty-one year old twins who record their reactions to listening to songs for the first time. Perhaps you’ve seen them? Their videos have become exceedingly popular on YouTube.
These young men love music. Whether it’s Radiohead, MC Hammer, Journey, or Springsteen, they are utterly joyous when listening to these classic artists performing some of their best songs.
They may have never heard of Dolly or Springsteen before, but they understand that great music is great music, and the excitement, humor, and unbounded joy they bring to their videos makes me equally joyous every time I watch one.
Tim and Fred Williams do no disregard songs or musicians. They are not cynical or dismissive in any way. They don’t assume that music produced decades ago can’t be good.
They are so damn happy to be listening to music.
They have dozens of videos on their YouTube channel now and are making a living listening to music and recording their reactions. If you haven’t watched them yet, let me recommend two that are especially delightful and will bring joy to your heart and soul:
I’m hoping to find a way to bring the same kind of open mindedness to my students this year.
I just had a thought? Maybe a Zoom call with Tim and Fred?