November 13, 2009

Jody's HBD magnum opus

Commenter Jody sends me his Magnum Opus (or, as he would type it: commenter jody sends me his magnum opus).
steve, been working on this for a long time. not the email itself of course, but the ideas inside. the release of the new call of duty video game encouraged me to send it to you. anything that you read here and like, feel free to use it as your own. no need to credit me. so, let's begin:


the transition from music to video games as the primary form of entertainment for young men is complete, as call of duty sets the all-time sales record of 4.7 MILLION copies sold, in ONE SINGLE DAY. generating a whopping $310 million in revenue already, and likely to pass 1 billion in sales within a year, it is so far beyond even the best selling albums in history as to render them nearly trivial. and this is just sales in the US, canada, and UK. not even counting sales worldwide.

as i observed about 8 years ago, men now get excited about major new games, and no longer about major new albums (there aren't any to get excited about anyway). they wait outside the best buy at midnight, not outside the music store. indeed, the music store itself is largely extinct, and television commercials are run which literally portray men in their 20s and 30s returning from the best buy at 1am, unwrapping the game and immediately playing it like drug addicts. which is completely and totally accurate.

it is without hesitation that i say the best mainstream american music is long behind us, and we'll be listening to the 80s and 90s on repeat. teenagers are less interested in making music than they have been since the 50s rock and roll explosion. playing video games and watching movies have appropriated their free time. why learn to play an instrument? that's hard. pick up a controller instead.

i have done lots of amateur research into not only this topic, but the topic of human performance capabilities in general, including how athletes and scientists work. i have come to conclude that there is a powerful effect in operation here that i call the rule of 27. that is to say, almost all musicians, athletes, and math-based academics perform their best work at or around age 27, and then begin to decline until at about age 40, at which point they no longer produce any important work. there are exceptions, but the rule is highly predictive, like any decent, reliable hypothesis in science. for instance, you can wikipedia the birthdates of every major figure in heavy metal, and what you will find is that almost to a man, they produced their best albums between ages 26 and 29, many hitting the rule of 27 almost exactly. for instance, james hetfield, born in 1963:

1983 age 20 kill 'em all
1984 age 21 ride the lightning
1986 age 23 master of puppets
1988 age 25 and justice for all
1991 age 28 metallica

-30 year old transition point, beginning of natural decline for all professionals in fields with intense demands on mental and physical faculties, and the limit at which most musicians can still write major works-

1996 age 33 load
1997 age 34 reload

-40 year old barrier, the point at which almost no musicians can produce anything worth listening to anymore-

2003 age 40 saint anger
2008 age 45 death magnetic

Okay, but how about Verdi coming out of retirement to debut Otello at 76 and Falstaff at 79? Granted, they aren't Master of Puppets, but some people like them.

Beethoven's Great Leap Forward, the 3rd Symphony, came when he was 33, and he stayed great through his death at 56 (?), although he had a dry spell in his 40s. Presumably, classical composing just takes longer to get really, really good at.
it is likewise in NBA basketball, of which i am a fairly big fan. dirk nowitzki had the best season of his career when he was 27, as do most basketball players. by the time he won the NBA MVP at age 29 he was already out of his peak and scoring less points per game. kobe bryant had the best game of career on january 22 2006, when he scored 81 points by himself on the toronto raptors. he was...exactly 27 years old. he's actually been in decline since the 2007 season. he's still in his prime, but he's already out of his peak. the general peak performance years of many athletes in many sports can be predicted reliably in a similar manner. simply add 27 to the year of birth and you will see that lebron james, for instance, at age 24, will continue to improve for the next 3 years. this does not work in every sport, for instance in boxing, where boxers are at their peak in their 30s, and track, where distance runners are also at their peak in their 30s. but it is predictive for many sports. there are more sports that it predicts for than sports it doesn't predict for. it works for swimming, where michael phelps will continue to get even faster for the next 3 years, as he is the same age as lebron james.

now you may be asking, how does the rule of 27 apply, in general, to the decline of american music, if we have already established that the rise of a mature video game industry is the primary culprit, as video games, and not making music, are what is sucking up all the free time of young men. millions of man-hours per year, in fact, have been diverted from learning and playing instruments into learning and playing video games.

the answer is, the rule of 27 dovetails with the development of reliable birth control medicine. reliable and effective birth control, which became widespread around 1965, greatly reduced the birthrate in the US. after 1965, people started having less and less kids. in addition to many other major effects on society, this naturally reduces the future talent pool for any activity or endeavor, and it is no different with mainstream music. we now use the rule of 27, and the year 1965, to describe trends in american music:

1973: right at the beginning of a major era of rock music, due naturally to the 1973 - 27 = 1946, or first year of the baby boom. many major musicians are in their prime here. indeed, all of the 70s can be viewed as the decade that the baby boomers were in their 20s, beginning an era of the production of a MASSIVE amount of pop music that would continue into the 90s. led zeppelin, pink floyd, eagles, rolling stones, elton john, boston, neil diamond, the who, the bee gees, queen, barbara streisand, aerosmith, eric clapton, fleetwood mac, barry manilow, black sabbath.

1981: the rise of punk and new wave, such as the clash, duran duran, and the cars. this is the 50s generation, 1981 - 27 = 1954. the 50s, long considered by some as the greatest era of american life, produces what is, in my opinion, the peak decade of american music. michael jackson, bruce springsteen, van halen, billy joel, madonna, prince, journey, stevie wonder, john mellencamp, tom petty, and whitney houston are in their prime. the world contributes AC/DC, the police, genesis, judas priest, iron maiden, and ozzy osbourne finds randy rhoads (born 1956 so 1956 + 27 = 1983, so he died 2 years before his peak but still delivered music in his prime, 1980 and 1981). phil collins and peter gabriel emerge from genesis. rush releases their best record, as geddy lee is...exactly 27 years old when moving pictures is written.

1988: the emergence of hair metal and thrash, the development of rap, the first musical output of people born in the 60s or 1988 - 27 = 1961. guns n roses, run DMC, bon jovi, bryan adams, metallica, public enemy, michael bolton, the beastie boys, U2, motley crue, NWA, def leppard. larry mullen, the primary force behind U2 and the band's founder, is born in exactly 1961. 26 years later he releases the joshua tree, U2's most important album. NWA releases the first recognizable gangster rap album, straight outta compton, in 1988.

1992: the lollapalooza era, and D-day for american music. the last time there was a recognizable musical climate or a dominant american music. the effects of widespread adoption of birth control begin here. 1965 + 27 = 1992. after 1992, the talent pool of american musicians in their prime begins to decline as every year after 1965, people were having less and less baby making sex. pearl jam, snoop dogg, nirvana, luther vandross, soundgarden, ice cube, smashing pumpkins, pantera, boys ii men, stone temple pilots, janet jackson, red hot chili peppers. dimebag darrell's parents conceive him in 1965, he goes on to become perhaps the last great american guitar player. at his funeral in 2005, eddie van halen shows up and puts his yellow frankenstein stratocaster in the coffin, to be forever buried with dime. kurt cobain, born in 1967, does not reach his peak, as he kills himself at age 27 instead of writing an album.

1997: the decline begins as the birth control of the late 60s exerts it's first effects. the first musicians born in 1970 hit their peak, 1970 + 27, but it is a lower peak than musicians born in decades before, as there are simply less people in the talent pool now. this is EXACTLY the year that american music began a recognizable decline. MTV flipped deliberately to showing reality television and rap, and the FCC deregulated FM radio, which was quickly turned into a medium for pumping out a corporate playlist. garth brooks, mariah carey, dave matthews band, celine dion, korn, shania twain, kenny g, tupac, matchbox 20, backstreet boys, tool, r kelly, britney spears, jay-z, dixie chicks, n sync, eminem, creed.

fast forward to today. it is 2009. that means that the musicians in their prime today were born in 2009 - 27 = 1982. so, if we want to know who they are, all we have to do is think about who was having baby making sex in 1982. and we find that it is generally rural whites and urban blacks. urban and suburban whites stopped having baby making sex in the 70s, reducing their family size to 2, and leaving the big families to southern whites and black americans in cities. in fact, urban and suburban whites have reduced their family size even further in this decade, down to 1. so there will never, EVER be anything like lollapalooza again, which, reduced to it's most basic description, was simply a meeting of suburban white guys and their guitars. this demographic group, the main creative force in the world, long ago put down their guitars and drum sticks in favor of keyboards, game controllers, and movie cameras.

the predictive value of the rule of 27 is in full effect. most american musicians today are:

1) rural white americans, who have developed the american country music industry into one of the dominant forces in american music. indeed, according to my research with soundscan, something like 60%, maybe even 70% of white american musicians who deliver top 20 debuts on the billboard top 200 are southern whites. even modern rock music today is written primarily by southerners. there hasn't been a major new white american rock band in a LONG time. nickelback, the most recent band to elevate itself to an international act, is canadian. rock music appears to be very, VERY over. it is actually white american WOMEN who seem to be more interested in making music, and primarily pop music at that. lady gaga, taylor swift, and miley cyrus are the most prominent white american musicians releasing new, career defining material right now. this seems natural, as women are less interested in video games, and would maintain interest in music.

2) urban and suburban black americans, who used to participate in all forms of music, but who have now limited themselves almost completely to rap and r&b. unfortunately, their output has become less musical and less listenable due to this shift. there used to be a vibrance and an easy listening, catchy joy to the best material from black american musicians. at their best, black jazz, motown, disco, and 80s pop music were fun. but that time is long gone. most black american musicians today deliver sounds that are abrasive and hard to listen to. darius rucker is the only prominent black american musician who plays rock or country music anymore. in fact, aside from alicia keys (who is genetically almost completely white) and john legend, there are few major black american musicians who even play any instrument.

In baseball, 27 has long been recognized as the peak age, although it may have gone up a year or two due to better conditioning and surgery. Generally, famous baseball players are in decline. In fact, overall, the vast majority of celebrities are in the decline phase of their careers. They don't become celebrities until they are close to their peaks, but their are lots of ways to stay a celebrity without being close to your peak.

Age 27 seems to be roughly the peak year for a number of different careers that emphasize youthful manhood and individual skill.

One of the big advantages the British Invasion rock bands had was that they became stars very young, well before peaks, and thus kept getting better while they were in the spotlight.

Other fields have much different age profiles: for example, there are extremely few 27 year old NFL head coaches who win the Super Bowl. It would be interesting to know, however, how a first rate coach would do as a 27-year-old. Being a football coach is like being an architect: they don't entrust you with anything big until you've been around awhile.

Being a coach is a more intellectually demanding job than being a player -- you have to know more stuff -- so, it would seem natural that the peak age for being a coach is later than for a player, but we don't really know that that's true. One problem is that we have better means for selecting good players than good coaches, because the coach's influence is misted over by questions about the quality of players. It takes a number of seasons to get a sense how good a coach is.

You could look at public high school coaches who are not supposed to recruit to get some objective measure of peak age for football coaching. Still, I recall reading about some amazing coach at a small town in Kansas who has been winning for 40 years, and I got the impression that people were moving to that little town just so their sons could be coached by this guy.

Even with high school coaches, differences in player quality make a huge deal. For example, at my old high school, two years after I graduated, they hired a very young coach in 1978, Kevin Rooney, who was around age 27. Over the years, he became more and more successful, winning his first SoCal championship in 1994, with Chris Sailer kicking seven 50+ field goals. After that, he started getting players like Justin Fargas (now with the Oakland Raiders) and all these other great kickers, and it's been easier for him to stay on top. For example, the 14-year-old quarterback on his school's freshman team is already 6'5" and his parents drive him 40 miles from Claremont everyday to go to the high school where the last two quarterbacks have earned scholarships to USC and Notre Dame. So, it's hard to tell if Rooney's really a better coach now than when he first got the job, or if the rest of the world has just woken up to how good he is.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


wren said...

And all this time I thought Jody was a girl...

Anonymous said...

this makes no sense. is the decline of music a function of birth control or video games? they have nothing to do with each other.

i won't say i'm dumber for having read this, there's food for thought here, but ... fail.

Anonymous said...

jody (via steve),

it's an interesting theory. i have myself speculated that athletes generally hit their peak at 27, though obviously in gymnatics, tennis, and a few other sports, it would be earlier, and in a few others, later. i hadn't considered this in regard to the rise and fall of certain genres of popular entertainment.

i hesitate to bring this up, but if you plan on publishing this somewhere, please take note of the distinction between "fewer" and "less."

use less for non-count nouns, and fewer for count nouns: less time, fewer minutes, less water, fewer bottles of water, less energy, fewer calories of energy, etc.

once you know the distinction, it's distracting to see it violated. yes, i am that kind of person, which is why i'm going to post this comment anonymously.

Truth said...

Jody; I was going to be snarky, but I will refrain, and trust me, it would be quite easy.

I cannot remember if you are not one of the people here who are constantly criticizing someone's senior thesis; calling this particular person stupid and incompetent. With all possible respect, I hope you aren't.

The Incorrigible Troll said...

Jody may have a point about the 27 rule, but he has terrible taste in music. Heavy metal isn't even music, it's just noise.

He says "most black american musicians today deliver sounds that are abrasive and hard to listen to", yet he likes heavy metal, which is even more abrasive, as well as mechanically repetitive. Maybe he damaged his ears with too much volume.

agnostic said...

Then why didn't watching TV kill rock music in its first decades? Watching TV sucked more time out of your day than playing video games does. Yet young people from the adoption of TV found lots of time to make music.

Also, video game arcade revenues peaked in the early '80s (prominently featured in Fast Times at Ridgemont High), and home console sales only recently caught up to that peak. If kids were living in arcades back then, where did they get the time to make music?

The real answer is that in the early-mid 1990s the culture began civilizing itself again, after a decades-long downswing. As a proxy, just take the homicide rate. Increases from 1900 to 1933, declines from then until 1957, increases from then until 1992, then declines up through the present.

When the culture is in a downward stage, it's because young people are running amok. A positive side-effect of that is that a lot of fun stuff gets made. Look at music made from 1900 to the early 1930s -- pretty wild. From the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s, it's much more mature and calm. Of course rock and roll explodes along with the violent crime rate in the late '50s, but then had its last breath with alternative rock's heyday circa 1992 -- right when violent crime starts falling.

(I liked that little gasp of cool music we had from 2003 to 2006, but it was mostly an update of stuff from 1977 through 1984.)

If we had good data, I'm sure you'd see something similar with promiscuity -- high during the Roaring Twenties, low during the '40s and '50s, back up again with the Sexual Revolution, and it has been measurably falling since 1991.

Ditto for drug use (although that has only been falling since the late, not early, 1990s).

So, all of these little pieces reflect a single, general thing -- call it "wildness" -- that characterizes the culture. It clearly goes in cycles with a period of between 25 to 35 years.

At the earliest, the next sustained wave of new wild music will hit in 2017; at the latest, 2027. Expect wildness in all forms to start shooting up then.

Bob said...

Sounds like somebody got a hold of a doctor's note and some quality California medicinal marijuana.

Males who play a lot of video games over age 22 or 23 are generally un or underemployed losers. Not sure why people would care if they play call of duty rather than listening to metallica or watching TV.

I also don't think young people are listening to less music. They are just spending their money on hardware like iPod/iPhone/car speakers instead of on the music itself, which is of course free.

agnostic said...

On a more nitpicky level, Jody is lumping in people to the wrong generations, based on the decade borders (like there's something magical about years ending in 0).

For example, the New Wave and early MTV stars didn't peak until 1983, not 1981. And almost none of them -- aside from Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lennox, and The Cars -- is a cultural Baby Boomer (the birth year Jody gave is 1954).

Madonna, Michael Jackson, Joan Jett, Prince, and Simon Le Bon were born in 1958, Ian McCulloch and Robert Smith and Morrissey in '59, Bono in '60, Boy George and Roland Orzabal and Matt Johnson in '61, Dave Gahan in '62, George Michael in '63. For that matter, the big college radio "stars" of the mid-'80s were born in this cohort too, not in the mid-'50s or earlier.

They belong to a narrow cohort between Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers -- about 1958 to 1964 -- and they are very different from the people who bookend them. (Steve is one too.)

I get suspicious when I catch people fudging the numbers. I don't know anything about hair metal etc., but from the one period I know a little about, I smell something funny.

LBK said...

A case could be made that the rise and decline of pop music is as much due to technology as demographics. Electronic instruments and recording techniques became widespread in the mid-20th century. There ensued a flowering of new musical styles as musicians developed new genres based on the new technology.

But after a few decades, people had done pretty much everything that could be done with an electric guitar or keyboard. Since then, music has been repeating itself. The territory has been mined out.

So we shouldn't expect any new musical revolutions until someone invents some new technology for creating music.

Gringo said...

True, there are fewer white youths today, but more non-white youths than ever. Jody should try listening to some Spanish stations. There is plenty of good new music there.

LBK said...

Agnostic: any idea what causes these cycles of "wildness"? Its an interesting theory, but there has to be some underlying cause.

If your theory is correct, the next wild cycle will begin just as I'm unfortunately entering old age. Bad timing; oh well.

James said...

The Incorrigible Troll wrote:

"Jody may have a point about the 27 rule, but he has terrible taste in music. Heavy metal isn't even music, it's just noise."

But noise which, I see from another website, has attracted a good deal of learned academic discussion lately from a German Herr Doktor Professor and his colleagues:

Arnold said...

It would help matters if Jody, as well as acquiring a knowledge of capital letters, could master the correct use of the possessive apostrophe. Instead of which, he writes:

"the birth control of the late 60s exerts it's [sic] first effects."

Its, its, its! No apostrophe is needed in this context!

Sid said...

Wagner's most productive year was 1854, when he was 41 years old. He produced the music for Die Walkure, read Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation several times, and conceptualized Tristan und Isolde. The works he made by age 27, such as The Flying Dutchman and Rienzi, are good but not peak.

Since Verdi, too, was this way, and Mozart's symphonies only improve with time, I suspect that Classical music is substantially different from modern pop music in terms of peaking. My guess, and it's nothing more than that, is that Classical music requires a longer period of absorption, whereby musicians who would peak in simpler forms of music must spend their youths assimilating the material, and then really utilizing it in their more mature years.

Anonymous said...

Miles here gents,

I favor music that is sung by people with good singing voices. That is a gift. The reason I couldn't really get into 90's bands was that only a few of them (Alice in Chains come to mind) had singers who could actually pass singing auditions of any merit and authentically hold notes outside the middle of the normal human range.

Why do we not have new Pink Floyd's, Led Zeppelin's, Journey's, Beatles', Earth-Wind-&Fire's, Kool-and-the-Gang's, Van Halen's, and Steely Dan's now as opposed to yesteryears when the radio was littered with musical acts that you anxiously anticipated their new releases?


MTV is what made your "look" and "style" every bit as important (hell, who am I kidding.....much MORE important) than the music you put on vinyl.

Remember Hall&Oats? Their videos were silly, but their voices shining. The pop hooks were effortless, the melodies immediately accessible. Anybody -HEARING- their stuff on the radio would start swaying their head to it with no cultural prompting at all.

Thesedays we have these "cultural screeners" we call CRITICS that tell us what we are supposed to like, and if we dont we must have bad taste, and deserve to be removed from the gene pool as that makes us permanently doubleplusuncool.

I completely agree with Jody about there being less aggregate talent making music due to declining numbers of talented young people at the right age (27......just about the sweet spot indeed), and too many men burning way too much intellectual coal-fire navigating videogames to the next screen so they can gain more accessories for "their characters", but I think MTV made your looks and presentation > your music and earnest young men became afraid of that and declined getting into the business of making music in the first place. So we have what we have, which is for the most part bad music that isn't all that listened to anymore.

Anonymous said...

1) Art & sport should be as opposite as possible. No good can come from linking them. The music I dislike most intensely is the "Olympic 1000-metre vocal" show-off singing of Aguilera etc. Why sing a song about vulnerability projected like a cavalry charge fanfare? Even as technical display, it's mostly hackneyed pentatonic runs. There's nothing new or interesting in it. Okay, rant over

2) The late works of Bach and Beethoven destroy your theory beyond hope of repair. The Goldberg Variations and the Six Late String Quartets of Beethoven, both written around the age of 55, are considered the summit of what the human mind can do with organised sound. Because they are. I'm sorry, but saying "Master Of Puppets" is better will just make you look stupid.

3) Americans don't realise it, but much of their pop music is actually made by Swedish people. The stars may be Americans, but the songwriters and producers - like Max Martin and Stargate - are Nordic. What's your take on that?

lowly said...

If you take a closer look at prime age of boxers you're likely to find that the lower the weight class the lower the prime age.

Anonymous said...

Miles, you make an excellent point, proven by the existence of "American Idol" in TV form. Physically appealing contenders of both sexes who have no business making it through the first rounds are carried for weeks by the feverish repeated calls of smitten fans.

If AI were serious about promoting singing voices above all else, the show would be in radio format. The lack of distraction by physical images would focus the listeners' minds where it should be, on the singing voices of the contenders. Judgment would be swift and just.

I have no idea who Jody is, so have no previous axe to grind with him, and I think he has an argument worth making. Cherry picking rebuttals like 'Bach and Beethoven produced their greatest work at 55 so Jody is full of it', and 'I hate metal, so Jody is full of it', are no more 'scientific" than his comments. Bach and Beethoven were outliers, as are all geniuses. I hate metal, too, but that doesn't prove that within the narrow realm of Western pop and rock music, Jody doesn't make a fair observation.

Dennis Mangan said...

The problem with Jody's thesis is that none of the musicians or bands he cites are any good. As Steve points out, classical musicians and composers can get better the older they get. So what's the difference? Classical music requires talent and diligence; rock requires almost nothing but raw youth and the juvenile desire to epater le bourgeois.

Unknown said...

the demographic phenomenon i would like to know more about is the mechanism by which an individual forms affinities for certain music artists and types in their teens and early 20s, stabilizes into that music in their 30s and then by their 40s come to believe that all new music being produced is crap. I think there's something going on with this more profound than mere "fogeyism." I believe their are deeper hormonal and/or neurological reasons for this. "Age" is the simple reason but there's some mechanism here. Or is it all psychological/social? Can someone maintain an open accepting attitude towards music as they age through regular embrace of new artists and music styles? I sort of have, because I think there's lots of decent American music being produced today but I still enjoy the stuff I used to listen to.

But most people I encounter and most of the people posting here seem to take as a matter of fact that there is something "different" and "bad" about music today. I think that's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

"He says "most black american musicians today deliver sounds that are abrasive and hard to listen to", yet he likes heavy metal, which is even more abrasive, as well as mechanically repetitive."

I wouldn't go THAT far. I'd say it's almost as abrasive as hip-hop, not more abrasive.

I stopped following new music closely when I got my first real job in 1999, so I don't know if Jody is right about the fall off in quality. Maybe it's the case of the music industry promoting more crap than usual and of the good bands that exist getting even less play than usual?

Since I stopped following music closely I became aware of at least two good new bands: The White Stripes and The Killers. I'm sure that if I paid more attention, that list would have been longer.

Noumenon said...

Magnum Opus? What does he think he is, 27? :)

Pretty interesting, worth the repost.

Anonymous said...

Kill Em All, Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets ALL CLEARLY superior to Metallica

MQ said...

Brilliance and energy peak early. Wisdom and perspective peak later. (Or may never really peak, although people run out of energy to produce creative works with them). The ability to synthesize and see connection -- make something coherent and compelling out a large amount of seemingly unrelated inputs -- peaks later than the ability to come up with some single totally original contribution on your own. The greater complexity of classical music probably means that more of originality in classical music is about synthetic ability.

Also, you have to separate two issues, age and the simple amount of original stuff you have to contribute. If every musician has ten years of ideas in them, and most start at 20, then most will be done by 30, and it will look like an age effect. But if someone starts at 30, then they will be done by 40. Now, for social reasons most people with really original contributions to make will start young, they'll be driven to express themselves and in contemporary America there aren't many barriers to that.

Anonymous said...

There actually is plenty of good music, but as Steve has pointed out, it's found in microcultures with limited appeal.

The decline of the mass audience means that a greater proportion of musicians are in it for the art, rather than for the Zeppelin/Caligula lifestyle.

Here's a sample of the (SWPL version of) today's rock star: excited about upgrading from a van to a tour bus, making $5K a night on tour, living in a crappy area of Brooklyn, and single-mindedly dedicated to music:

[Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, Chairlift]

coldequation said...

Jody's too focused on rock and pop music. With other forms like classical, jazz, blues, or gospel, the peak may come later. Miles Davis was about 50 when he had his biggest hit. conversely, punk rockers peaked younger because their music was all about youthful rebellion and anger. Suicidal Tendencies and Minor Threat did their best work in their teens, and the Johnny Rotten was 20 when Never Mind the Bollocks came out.

Most scientists, entrepreneurs, and businessmen are just getting started at 27.

Anonymous said...

If this guy thinks music peaked in 1981, every other thing he may say on every other subject may be safely ignored.

Anonymous said...

"Then why didn't watching TV kill rock music in its first decades? Watching TV sucked more time out of your day than playing video games does."

I have no take on the overall thesis, except calling for proper capitalization.

That said, TV watching is a passive activity. Videogames are (frequently) totally engrossing, occupying not only hours when you slack off. Videogames tend to occupy your thoughts far more than TV even when not playing / watching.

This is especially true for the kind of slightly obsessive male who is a candidate for plowing hours and hours into guitar practice.

Side note: Were it not for the small snag of videogames being low-status, antisocial and acting as chick deterrent* (lots of redundancy there, but hey...), they would be recognized as one of the greatest aesthetic achievements of mankind ever.

That we are able to harness the power of silicon to create alternate realities like this:

Is pretty amazing.

*If nothing else, this is testament to the enormous appeal of videogames to males. Many males today prioritize videogames over females. That says a lot.

Anonymous said...

although he had a dry spell in his 40s

He was working on the Missa Solemnis.

[Or maybe I should say: He was studying in preparation to beginning work on the Missa Solemnis - it took him a decade or more to bring the thing to completion.]

amir said...

There is some sort of selection bias taking place here. Let's assume there are just as many musicians theoretically peaking at the age of 35 as there are peaking at the age of 27. Those that peak later would probably quit music and find another career before their peak. If you haven't made it in music by the age of 24-25 you would would probably be tempted to find a real job.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with these kinds of analyses is that they tend to disregard why people made art in the first place. Why bother doing anything? Why not just eat, defecate, fornicate? Music is not a necessity for living. Animals don't need music.

Plato once speculated that the human race is comprised of spirituals, intellectuals and materials. Maybe the materials finally won the battle. After all, before about 1900 or so there was no pop culture. High culture was created and nurtured by the church and nobility. There were no art critics, no "isms", no charts, no people famous for being famous. Folk culture was what was left over, high culture filtered downward for the rude peasant.

Ezra Pound said culture is what's left over after you forget what you tried to learn. Maybe people forget what the purpose of art originally was and still is.

Traditionally, most lyrical poets produced their ONLY work by the age of 20. Visual artists hit their stride around 30. If they didn't make it by then they tended not to do much noteworthy work afterwards. I'm not a musician but I would think learning how to paint in the traditional western manner would be harder to master than learning to play simple chords or connect words and emotion with a pen, assuming inspiration is equally motivating.

Anonymous said...

At the earliest, the next sustained wave of new wild music will hit in 2017; at the latest, 2027. Expect wildness in all forms to start shooting up then.

Yeah, there will be wildness all right. But it will be in Spanish, and it will have nothing to do pop music.

Anonymous said...

27 seems about right as a peak for performance driven pop music and athletics, both of which of course have high raw energy demands.

Stuart Buck said...

Who says good pop music is over? Maybe it's just harder to find it amongst all the cacophony, but it's there in abundance.

Deas Vail makes wonderfully melodic and hook-filled rock music, and the vocalist has one of the most stunning voices I've ever heard. They have a new album, "Birds and Cages." Check this song out:

The family band Eisley (three sisters, brother, cousin) has some great tunes.

Hellas said...

OT, but does this explain why there have been so many bad Nicolas Cage movies, and why we should continue to expect many more bad Nicolas Cage movies in the future?

AllanF said...

Wow, what's up with all the haters? Did someone send out a bat signal or something?

I immediately wonder how the Rule of 27 applies to war/statecraft and western militaries' inability to subdue so much as a single band of ragtag aboriginals anywhere in the world since 1965?

Let's see, women's suffrage in the US was 1920. 1920 + 27 = 1947. Hmm...

Anonymous said...

the answer is, the rule of 27 dovetails with the development of reliable birth control medicine. reliable and effective birth control, which became widespread around 1965, greatly reduced the birthrate in the US. after 1965, people started having less and less kids. in addition to many other major effects on society, this naturally reduces the future talent pool for any activity or endeavor, and it is no different with mainstream music.

I don't know about this "rule of 27" crap, but the nihilism-induced extinction of the civilized world in the last 40 years is the most important development in human affairs since Rome fell circa 450AD-475AD [for exactly the same reasons, BTW].

Long term, all of our problems [in the USA] find their origin in the [nihilism-induced] collapse of Caucasian total fertility rates from 1970 to 1976:

Statistical handbook on the American family
Page 72, Table D1-6, Total Fertility Rate and Intrinsic Rate of Natural Increase: 1960-1994
Page 72,

1970: 2.385
1971: 2.161
1972: 1.907
1973: 1.783
1974: 1.749
1975: 1.686
1976: 1.652

The two year span from 1971 to 1973 was particularly disastrous, and if only we could have maintained 1971's Caucasian TFR of 2.161, then everything now would be fine.

[BTW, the Hispanic numbers were mixed in with the Caucasian numbers until at least 1989 - I'm not entirely certain when the two numbers were complete segregated - and most of the ostensible "Caucasian" statistics from 1977 forward are highly suspect.]

Also, most people don't seem to know this, but there has [of course] been a resulting collapse in not only the relative number of Caucasians in the USA, but also in the ABSOLUTE number of Caucasians in the USA:

2009 Statistical Abstract of the United States
Section 1, Population
Table 8. Resident Population by Race, Hispanic Origin, and Age: 2000 and 2007
PDF FILE: pop.pdf

Not Hispanic, White alone, in thousands

00 to 05 years: 11,175
05 to 09 years: 11,255
10 to 14 years: 11,866
15 to 19 years: 13,006
20 to 24 years: 12,930
25 to 29 years: 12,497
30 to 34 years: 11,425
35 to 39 years: 13,272
40 to 44 years: 14,597
45 to 49 years: 16,109
50 to 54 years: 15,363
55 to 59 years: 13,736
60 to 64 years: 11,294
65 to 69 years: 8,408

Finally, there is some very sketchy data which indicates that GOP Caucasians are holding steady at a TFR of about 2.08, whereas DEM Caucasians are down around a TFR of about 1.47, for a unified Caucasian TFR of about 1.891 [see page 44].

Which, of course, is why the DEMs need to import 40 million Central American aboriginals to vote for them in the 21st Century.

PS: In case anyone is wondering, the statistics for Asian Americans [Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc] are even WORSE than the statistics for Caucasians.

[I.e. nihilism has taken a much heavier toll in the Asian community than even in the Caucasian community.]

Anonymous said...

Okay, but how about Verdi coming out of retirement to debut Otello at 76 and Falstaff at 79?

Carlo Maria Giulini conducted the Bayerischen Rundfunks in this live performance about two months before his 79th birthday, and in this live performance about a month before his 81st birthday.

Northern VA said...

I'm not sure you can blame video games 100% for the demise of popular music. As one poster already noted, TV and video arcades had previously served as similar time sponges. I suspect that what we're seeing is the emergence of the first generation of twentysomethings that spent their entire childhood in the over-scheduled, highly structured environment favored by so called helicopter parents.

Creativity and imagination are fostered when kids are thrown together with a lot of unsupervised free time and forced to figure out for themselves what to do and how to do it. That used to be common in American suburbia, but kids today spend most of their waking hours being ferried from activity to activity while stressing out over GPAs and SAT scores.

I suspect that the explosion of musical innovation from the late 50s through the early 90s coincided with a time in American history when youth benefited from a decent foundational education and for the first time had enough family wealth to allow them some free time to pursue less practical endeavors like learning to play the electric guitar. That childhood experience probably ended some time in the 80s when yuppie parenting styles took over.

Anonymous said...

When Steve's posts have a touch of silliness like this they're really great. Most of the steveosphere is overly pessimistic and curmudgeon-y.

Anonymous said...

"Granted, they aren't Master of Puppets,"

Steve you kill me!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but arguing from who was producing "baby-making music" 27 years before? It's like a parody of explanations.

40 year old barrier, the point at which almost no musicians can produce anything worth listening to anymore

Occam's razor favors a simpler idea, which is that a genre of music restricted by the demands of the young is best made by the young.

Okay, but how about Verdi coming out of retirement to debut Otello at 76 and Falstaff at 79? Granted, they aren't Master of Puppets, but some people like them.

There you are. Or Ashley at 68 composing Dust. Or any number of old jazz, or Indian or Persian classical improvisors.

Anonymous said...

Then why didn't watching TV kill rock music in its first decades? Watching TV sucked more time out of your day than playing video games does. Yet young people from the adoption of TV found lots of time to make music.

Because TV watching requires no skill. There's no payoff.

I was born in 1974 and this all rings completely true. I remember one of the main themes of being a teenager in the early 90s was how few of us there were. In the large metro area I grew up in, it seemed like literally everyone from 12-20 was within one degree of separation from everyone else. There just weren't enough of us to be strangers. And another major theme was nostalgia. My social group listened to 80s music and the boys made electronic music based on 80s music; the other major social group listening to hip hop, which was sampling 70s funk and r&b.

Something that jody missed is that the young people who don't play video games play politics.

Middletown Girl said...

"When the culture is in a downward stage, it's because young people are running amok. A positive side-effect of that is that a lot of fun stuff gets made. Look at music made from 1900 to the early 1930s -- pretty wild."

Then how come not too many fun stuff came out of Russia in the 1990s?
And, shouldn't Detroit have produced more fun stuff in the 80s than in the 60s? 60s was a bad time for Detroit but still heaven compared to what Detroit became later.

josh said...

I dont know about this thesis--at least you're not studying Indonesian blacksmiths,or racism at Princeton,youre trying to do something useful--- but I do have a thought about black music:last nite as it happens I heard the original Sam & Dave's Soul Man. Just hearing it on my cheap radio,it was beautiful.Couldnt help but move to the music.It recalled as a "yute" how I admired black people's creativity;there was some kind of xylophone or glockenspeil or something in the background gave it a happy pop sound to go with the blues guitar. Nice touch.Most blacks would maintain that the current crop is as creative a sthe past,but not to these white ears. Maybe black music IS good,but...I cant imagine a 1/2 assed intelligent white poerson listening to that Kanye crap and admiring the music! Recall seeing him on SNL singing asong about being on stage-singing a song! And wishing grandpa or somebody could see him. Forget it,gramps you didnt miss much!BTW strangely enough,tho theyre pretty mediocre singers,the Blues Brothers arrangemmnet was better than S&D,more assertive guitar,less subtle. Its weird to hear the difference. I think its the same guy,Stve Cropper,who plays on both.

Middletown Girl said...

My theory as to why pop music got sucky, but first, let me explain why Jody is wrong. His methodology is numerology as sociology. Clever but foolish. After all, even with decline in birthrates, there were a lot more young people in America of the 90s than in postwar UK, yet Britain in the 60s produced a tremendous amount of great pop music. Culture is a more a matter of quality than quantity.

Why did music get sucky? First, we need to ask what makes great art? I would say a kind of manic depressiveness. This isn't to say artists are all crazy or psychotic, but many great ones are temperamentally abnormal. They undergo great moodswings. They can feel very very down, very depressed, and fall into gloom and doom. But, bi-polar-esque folks also suddenly swing out of their dark moods and feel great excitement, thrill, joy, optimism, etc. They traverse between the pits of hell and heights of heaven. Creativity isn't a normal or common process. You have to steal fire from the gods and make a pact with the devil. Though we generally associate bipolarism with individuals, it's also true that certain periods in history are more bi-polar generally than other times. It's during these times that the most awesome kinds of art are created. Great art arises from crisis--personal, social, or both. Take modern painting. There used to a long respectable tradition of painting. When the modern painters came along, they were greetd with great hostility and great admiration. These modern artist thrived from both the criticism/condemnation and adulation/admiration. They aroused strong emotions. They felt they were doing something important--revolutionary & dangerous--, something that would change culture. They felt the excitement of the first explorers of the seas or space. And culture-at-large was not indifferent to this new art. There was much lively controversy, some hailing it as the dawn of new art, others condemning it as degenerate or ugly. Also, early modern painters had grown up in Old Society and were breaking into New Society--indeed playing a crucial part in its creation. They felt both personal and social crises. Some of them has strict conservative or religious or stuff bourgeois backgrounds. They were genuine rebels who were at crisis with parents, authority, social system, values, etc. Had Picasso been born today, he would still have artistic talent but would have nothing to prove, no demons to exorcise or excite. He would be stuck in a permissive society bored with 'the new'.

Middletown Girl said...

Same applies to pop music. Rockers in the 50s and 60s were at the center of great controversies. They reveled in their loud happy music and rebelled against a world that didn't understand them. Charting new territory--not just artistically but socially, culturally, politically, spiritually, etc--, they felt important as the mover and shapers of the Zeitgeist. Unlike crooners before him, Elvis wasn't just another pop singer but a Siegfried figure changing the face of American music. He felt a great excitement and excited a lot of people. He was interesting as a man of two worlds--the old one where a loyal son loved his mama and called older men 'sir' and the new one where a young man could act like a Negro, shake his hips, and make women faint all over. 60s rockers took things much farther than Elvis, but they too had spent their formative youth in the pre-rock world. As such, rock was something novel and liberating for them. For later generations, rock was something they grew up since cradle. It was just fun music, not meaningful music about rebellion that belonged to 'my generation'.
Also, as the 60s generation had grown up in the 50s, they were acculturated in a time when high brow vs low brow dichotomy still existed. They loved 'low-brow' popular music, but as they considered themselves 'personal artists' than merely as professional hacks, they sought 'higher' or 'deeper' meaning in their music. But, generations that came later grew up in a shameless low-brow world where one could be happy just to be a consumerist hedonist slob.

B said...

>in fact, aside from alicia keys (who is genetically almost completely white) and john legend, there are few major black american musicians who even play any instrument.

don't forget Lil' Wayne who's practically white, too...oh, wait.

lots of musicians in non-rock/rap genres of music have their strongest output in their 30's/40's-look at Robbie Fulks and BR549. Part of it is the subject matter-rock and rap are based on teenage emotions and subjects, which tend to lose their interest when you, you know, grow up.

In sports, it's natural that high-impact sports are going to take their toll on the athlete in 10-20 years. But when you look at distance running and biking, people do their strongest work in their 30's and 40's as well.

Middletown Girl said...

Another reason for why pop music got sucky. All artforms or genres eventually run out of gas. Its expressive potential becomes exhausted, and it begins to cannibalize and inbreed with itself.

Every culture has its own uniqueness but runs dry after a while... until it is injected with new influences, leading to cultural cross-breeding and new ideas/expressions. Germans adopted Opera from Italy and did great stuff. British youths adopted rock and roll and produced bands like the Beatles, Who, Stones, Kinks. Blacks gained by 'stealing' from whites, and whites gained from 'stealing' from blacks. Jews have always borrowed ideas from other peoples and left their own stamp on it. Jewish culture in the modern era is one of the most interesting in the history of mankind. For centuries, Jews had been culturally Jewish, Jewish, and Jewish, but with secularization, Jews creatively interacted with goy culture.

Though any number of nice rock songs can still be composed and enjoyed, the basic rock form has been pretty much exhausted, so it no longer generates the kind of interest it used to. Same could be said for classical music. There are still wonderful classical-style movie scores, but they are not charting new territory. And, same goes for painting. Two dimensional illustration has probably been exhausted every which way and loose. There are many many talented painters today but they don't matter like painters used to back in the early modern era when paintings attracted the interest of many people and when new stuff was 'shocking' and/or 'liberating' to a lot of people.

One would think that in a globalized world, there would be more interesting forms of cultural cross-breeding, but we are living in a consumer-oriented globalized world--a world of slick designer cultural mass-cloning than organic/fecund cross-breeding. Prior to rise of mass consumption, cultural cross-breeding meant educated, cultured, or eccentric people in France or Britain traveling to and learning/writing about Japan or India, and vice versa. Today, cultural cross-breeding is about pop fashions and trends. Since pop culture has become a matter of the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR, instead of interesting cultural crossbreeding, we just have everyone imitating Hollywood and then Hollywood imitating those imitating Hollywood. Hong Kong cinema imitated Hollywood, and Hollywood imitated Hong Kong cinema. Though this can yield interesting stuff, it's generally not MEANINGFUL. For example, consider Akira Kurosawa who read European authors like Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky in his youth and was excited with the creative potential of cinema from watching the films of Eisenstein, Lang, and Ford and wanted to make important movies about the world he knew. Now, compare him to some bratty young kid in Japan, EU, or America who's hooked to every gadget and sees everything as snippets of consumer information. On youtube, you can instantly go from a movie clip of a classic film to some silly vlog to some history video to some animal prank video. Nothing sacred. Yet, the origins of art were sacred.

agnostic said...

Re: younger vs. older coaches, I put up a brief post on my pay blog showing that British Secretaries at War used to be in their late 20s to early 30s from roughly 1650 to 1725 -- before the shift to open access and competition in economics and politics. I.e., when the society was still incredibly violent and elites had to always be prepared to go to war against other elites.

During that transition, they started getting steadily older. After 1900, the range is roughly 40 to 70, with the mean at about 50.

Sports are played differently now -- they're much more civilized than the sports you saw in Elizabethan times, or even as late as Hogarth's times. I'll bet if they had team sports that far back, the coaches were closer to the hotheaded 27 year-old than the stoic 50 year-old.

Anonymous said...

What about 27 being the peak age for self destructive behaviour? Those who died at 27 include: Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain. Suicide risk peaks when men are in their 20's.

Larry Mullin may be the founder of U2 but he is not their driving force. Most of the songs come from collaborations between Bono and the Edge. Artistically their peak was probably around Achtung Baby when they were all over 30. You forgot AC/DC's and Back In Black, the 2nd best selling album of all time. AC/DC is Malcolm Young's band and Back in Black came out when he was 27. His riffs include the title track Back in Black, one of the best guitar riffs of all time.

Middletown Girl said...

Great art or creativity arises from a combination of CRISIS, a thinking/artistic culture, and some degree of freedom. CRISIS alone will not lead to great art. There's a lot of poverty and crime in places like Bolivia but not much culture comes from there. China during the Cultural Revolution was in total crisis mode, but no great literature or movie was produced as artistic freedom simply didn't exist. (Nevertheless, the Cultural Revolution later became a source and object of much excellent reflection, writing, and films by Chinese who survived it. Though China isn't democratic, artists and thinkers have more freedom than ever before--if not IN China than at least the freedom to travel and write abroad.)

But, some peoples do have an artistic spirit & passion for culture and undergo crises which makes them see the world in new interesting ways. Think of Harry Lime's remark in THE THIRD MAN about Renaissance Italy vs Switzerland. One produced Michelangelo, the other the cuckoo clock. Unlike Bolivians, Italians had profound love of arts and culture. Even as the monarchs and princes battled one another and streets filled with blood, there was much patronage of the arts and talented artists trying to make their mark in history. Much the same can be said of Germany in the 1920s and Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. They went through terrible crisis--war, social tumult, pessimisms and optimism, lost pride and renews hopes, etc--, and were populated with educated people with interest in arts and culture.

And, consider Italian/American filmmaking in the postwar era. Why was it that Italy and Italian-American community produced so many great directors at the time? Scorsese, Coppola, Depalma, Cimino, Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Visconti, Rossellini, Bertolucci, Olmi, Pasolini, etc? Italy was a nation where the old and the new, rich and poor, secular and religious, sacred and the profane, proud ancient heritage and fallen modern state, and so and on clashed like nowhere else. It was the most unstable of all 'advanced' European nations. Yet, Italians have long had a great love of the arts and culture. Also, the fall of Mussolini had introduced new freedom to the artists.
Why did Italian culture become less and less interesting? Over time, Italy became more of a normal nation with a large middle class into stuff like TV and consumerism. Everyone became globalized and hedonized in a brave new permissive world.
In America, Scorsese's generation grew up in interesting enclaves like Little Italy. They felt half-Italian, half-American. They were at war with blacks and Polacks and Jews. They heard stories of the old-timers yet lived in the new era of the 60s. They were always in crisis mode. Over time, Italian-Americans became more assimilated, Brady-Bunched, and Americanized and even waspized. The greatness of wasps was their 'bland' moderation and pragmatism--which may explain why English cooking was less flavorful than Latin cooking and why English classical music couldn't hold a candle to German classical music. But in the sphere of politics and social values, the Anglo(American)ideal proved to be better for stable and gradual social progress. But, if great art requires great passion, being waspized was probably not helpful. Well, what about the great tradition of English letters? True, but literature is more thought-oriented than emotion-oriented, thus suited to the Anglo temperament.

smead jolley said...

As to "wildness," I wonder if my experiences of San Francisco street prostitution have any salience. Between 1986 and 1990 in Polk Gulch, the easiest thing in the world was to pick up a cute 17 or 18 year-old "girl nextdoor" type without tattoos or other obvious mutilations, who would do nearly anything for $60. Then it all just dried up. I can remember my frustration on the night of August 2, 1990, when CNN was showing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Not a girl to be found anywhere. And since that time, the scene is entirely black. Could it be the hippie thing? Born in '69, 18 yrs. old by '87, no longer rebelling by '90?

rob said...

It would make sense for different fields to peak at different times.

In an activity where a raw aptitude is most important like math, physics, or sprinting, people should peak young. In areas where people have to learn a lot, they should peak later (biology literature)

Pop music is more akin to a raw talent field than is classical music. Take punk, once you've got those 3 chords down, there isn't much more to learn. Old punk songmeisters don't have a knowledge advantage to make up for declining talent.

This is not to say that pop musicians are more talented than classical ones. It is more a matter of relative loading.

And no metal fan gets to talk shit about rap. They are both atrocious genres for the slag at the bottom of civilization's crucible. At best they're for angry teenage boys, not adults.

NotDeaf said...

Jody lost all credibility when he put Tool right in between the backstreet boys and r kelly. Tool! One of the best bands to ever exist, with the best male vocalist in existence today. Sorry, Jody, go take your meds!

John Seiler said...

For the greatest classical composers, something happens where, as they get older, their brains and music become more abstract and dense, yet sometimes simpler. Maybe it's wisdom.

Something similar happens to theologians and philosophers. Compare the young and old Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; and St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Or compare Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" to his "Philosophical Investigations."

And in pop music, Bob Dylan began a remarkable new period with "Time Out of Mind," at age 56.

Before that, Sinatra's greatest period commenced in 1954-55 with his Capitol "concept albums," when he was 39. It took that long for his pipes to be marinated and smoked by bourbon and cigarettes.

For writers, some peak early, like Hemingway. But Shakespeare and Dostoevsky just kept getting better, denser.

Scott said...

I call bullshit on the rule of 27 in mental endeavors. In sports it's obvious. You are physically healthiest when you are young. But who gives a shit about sports? For mental endeavors, physical health is less important. Though IQ may (very slowly) drop some as you get older, that's a minor statistical thing, which pales compared to things like motivation and will to power (and all the wisdom gained from experience).

So, a null hypothesis here is probably the correct one here: the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours thing. Usually, people who want to excel in something achieve their 10,000 hours by their mid-twenties. Then, once they do something great and become famous, their hunger dissipates, they have less motivation, and vanity and (relative) hedonism take over. (Btw rock music is a problematic sample space, because lots of the good stuff was heavily drug-fueled, and someone with a fried brain isn't going to be creating anything of note. Classical musicians provide ample evidence that there's no inherent age cutoff to compositional excellence). All the exceptions to the rule of 27 (there are many) suggest that motivation is the independent variable here. Consider successful people who started the field they eventually excelled in at a late age, like Joseph Conrad (who actually learned English in his twenties). Again, there aren't many, because people generally choose their eventual field when they're young, and older people have trouble accumulating the 10,000 hours.

Sure, you can say testosterone levels , which drop as you get older, affect motivation - but that's also a crude statistical phenomenon. Testosterone levels are statistically declining even in your twenties. And again, environment is really important here: for a 45 year-old aggressive trial lawyer, low testosterone is not a problem, whereas for a twenty-year old binge drinker, it can be (alcohol lowers levels). Or else, a fan of a losing sports team will have lower t-levels. (Reason not to watch sports). Something like marriage drops t-levels far more precipitously than age, such that a 27 year old who's married (or in a serious monogamous relationship) may be at a disadvanatge compared to a genetically similar single 37 year old.

So, the take-home here is that environment (in the widest sense of the word) is the key. A genius who finds the right environment will rise, even if he does so at a relatively late age. Social pressure against that (i.e. "ageism" in some fields, especially artistic ones in modern times) is an example of negative environment, which must be ruled out before a physical rule of 27 has any real explanatory power.

Whiskey said...

Well, I have blogged on this, and I agree generally with Jody's point that fewer White kids equals a smaller talent pool.

The decline of Black music from say, 1975 onwards however, is really more a function of the decline of two critical and related institutions: the Black church with extensive musical (choir) training and the fall of the Black middle class nuclear family.

Music takes spare resources (practice time) to get good technically and experiment with sounds/technique/emotional responses. Most of the great R&B guys came out of the choir in Black churches, used to singing or playing instruments and getting that critical early coaching. Single-mother dominated societies kill church and musical participation in favor of somewhat brutal hyper-masculine competition in sports/fighting/gangs.

You can see this in Latin Music too, all those Mexican immigrants have no musical talent as opposed to more Middle Class folks in *some* parts of Latin America.

Another slight area where I differ from Jody is that music and TV/Movies have been profoundly "feminized" and thus repulsive to fairly nerdy guys. This includes Science Fiction and Fantasy, which are now very, very female-oriented (I'll have a piece up on that soon) and thus naturally repellent to men. Thus video games which are very masculine appealing to men.

Agnostic -- Swing music was pretty wild and fast paced in the 30's/40's. Even in the Depression kids would dance to all-Black bands in NYC which were broadcast on radio nationally.

FWIW, Sting/Gordon Sumner was 32 when the Police released "Synchronicity." Mick Jagger was 35 when the Rolling Stones released "Some Girls" in 1978.

Rock is not better/worse than Classical, just different in that there are fewer instruments and vocals are more important, but the same tasks of blending melody and rhythm to create an emotional experience remains. Generally composers and performers give up youthful energy for more experience in evoking emotion, tipping the balance to more mature ages.

Elvis was not unique. He was just Sinatra twenty years later.

Glaivester said...

I would assume that the rule of 27, if it does describe aspects of reality, would apply more to music that is angry, loud, and aggressive, but requires less complexity, like rock, than on music that requires complexity.

Middletown Girl said...

It's possible to argue that videogames had a more detrimental impact on cinema than on pop music. (Besides, even before videogames, pinball used to spectacularly popular in the 50s and 60s, but that had no negative impact on pop music. In fact, it inspired PINBALL WIZARD, a kickass song.)

But, when one looks at a lot of movies today, what the hell are they but videogame movies? Even LOR movies were less about Tolkien's imagination than a mega-movie version of Dungeons and Dragons videogame. It was all action, visual and sound effects, and not much in the way of characters, story, or meaning. Worse, some movies are based on videogames!! Most of them suck, but I must say RESIDENT EVIL series, though hardly great art, is pretty fun with Milla Jovovich kicking serious ass. But, when the story of Joan of Arc--MESSENGER--was made in videogame movie style, it was total crap.

I suppose one could argue that videogames are bad for rock culture in that videogames are pretty nerd-ish, whereas rock music is supposed to be badass. So, a whole generation of kids who grew up as computer geeks and nerds are less likely to turn into mavericks like Jim Morrison or Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Also, the origins of rock music are organic, fecund, raw, and wild--country, blues, folk music, etc. Videogame world is completely artificial and synthetic. It makes kids favor the perfect and ideal VIRTUAL WORLD over the complex and multi-textured natural world. Also, when rock music was appropriated by videogames through stuff like GUITAR HERO, it lost its mythic luster. When any 7 yr old can play at Hendrix and make badass sound with computer software, rock aint cool anymore.

Anonymous said...

The late works of Bach... The Goldberg Variations... around the age of 55

Boy, I just launched into a diatribe about Contrapunctus XIV [and Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit], when I came to discover that there's a conservative blogger with precisely that title to his blog - now how cool is that?

BTW, both Gould and the Canadian Brass have haunting performances of it.

PS: Yowzer - check this out!!!

PPS: I found a nice Vor deinen Thron here.

Black Sea said...

"And, shouldn't Detroit have produced more fun stuff in the 80s than in the 60s?"

Well, there was Devil's Night:

"The crimes became more destructive in Detroit's inner-city neighborhoods, and included hundreds of acts of arson and vandalism every year. The destruction reached a peak in the mid- to late-1980s, with more than 800 fires set in 1984, and 500 to 800 fires in the three days and nights before Halloween in a typical year."

By the way, I believe Middletown Girl's comment opus is now more magnum than Jody's.

Svigor said...

Hellas, I think Cage's lack of talent explains why he's been in so many bad movies. My friends and I used to have a joke, "Nick Cage as Nick Cage in...Nick Cage" (spoken in the rocky voice of the guy who does all the trailer voice-overs).

Well, that, and a long working relationship with Michael Bay.

Con Air is almost so bad it's good (unlike The Rock, which is so bad it's horrible). Cage with the long blond balding 'do waving in the breeze, and the NJ southern accent. Almost as good as Michael Douglas and his NY southern accent and safari kit in The Ghost and the Darkness. "You went into baaattle with an unproven raaafle?" Priceless.

Svigor said...

It's possible to argue that videogames had a more detrimental impact on cinema than on pop music.

I think Hollywood is to blame for Hollywood; it sucks in everything it can in an effort to avoid like Kryptonite anything original. And in the process tends to grind up anything good into unrecognizable paste.

Not that video games don't suck...

On the other hand, I think big budget movies are crippled by the necessarily hyper-collective process, not to mention the economics of the 100 mean IQ audience. It's a miracle that sometimes a man with a vision does get some part of it into a film intact.

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason for young music may be that people don't bother getting into music nearly as often at older ages. Those that don't make it early on find other things to do with their lives. Then there is the 'sophomore slump' factor. Bands with a perfect storm of chemistry, with a musician that has a lot of creative ideas to write, plus the factor of a 'one hit wonder' statistical anomaly might contribute to this. It's hard to be continuously creative in great ways... just look at any TV show or movie series... almost always there is a serious decline in quality as time goes on. Plus once a musician has 'made it', it's hard to have the same motivation as when you're an energetic but poor young adult. Plus many would drink a lot, and that probably doesn't help their brain cells in the long run.
^^just some guesses^^

Anonymous, I find it fascinating the differences in fertility amongst different politically oriented peoples. It's like those less inclined to religion and family began to have less incentive to adhere to them, and went off to do their own thing (not have kids, ignore religion, embrace modern liberalism, find other beliefs (political) to satisfy their spiritual needs). If things keep going this way, it seems like the USA is going to be something like 15% non-Amish whites (mostly Christian), 50% Amish (500 million of them), 5% Asian American, 5% black, and 25% Hispanic!

Anonymous said...

Rock is not better/worse than Classical, just different in that there are fewer instruments and vocals are more important, but the same tasks of blending melody and rhythm to create an emotional experience remains.

Wow, Whiskey, you've actually said something dumber than all other dumb things you say. Gold star.

William said...

"Also, the origins of rock music are organic, fecund, raw, and wild--country, blues, folk music, etc. Videogame world is completely artificial and synthetic."

Huh? You're comparing apples to oranges: the "origins of rock" vs. the "videogame world." It could just as easily be said that "the origins of video games are organic, fecund, raw, and wild--science fiction, fantasy, political thrillers, action movies, etc. The rock world is completely artificial and synthetic."

"It [gaming] makes kids favor the perfect and ideal VIRTUAL WORLD over the complex and multi-textured natural world."

Right. If there's one thing rock music is known for, it's keeping kids grounded. Come on. Imagine was ranked as the third greatest rock song by Rolling Stone some time back. If that doesn't indicate a preference for a perfect and ideal world over the complex and multi-textured natural world, I don't know what does.

"Also, when rock music was appropriated by videogames through stuff like GUITAR HERO, it lost its mythic luster. When any 7 yr old can play at Hendrix and make badass sound with computer software, rock aint cool anymore."

You couldn't be more wrong. Guitar Hero and Rock Band are the greatest things to have happened to rock and roll since the distortion pedal, and I bet that most of the industry, from the performers to the suits, knows it. For good or for ill, those games are transmitting 40 years of rock 'culture' in a common format to a very broad demographic. If by "cool," you mean the province of a small select group, well, that ship had sailed by the time the Beatles played Ed Sullivan.

Mr. Anon said...

"as i observed about 8 years ago, men now get excited about major new games, and no longer about major new albums (there aren't any to get excited about anyway). they wait outside the best buy at midnight, not outside the music store. indeed, the music store itself is largely extinct, and television commercials are run which literally portray men in their 20s and 30s returning from the best buy at 1am, unwrapping the game and immediately playing it like drug addicts. which is completely and totally accurate."

Wrong. Men are not obsessed with video games. Boys are. That many of these boys are in their 20s or 30s is irrelevant. Boys they are, and will remain until they give up childish things.

Grown-up men also capitalize the first word of a sentence, sonny.

Middletown Girl said...

We should make a distinction between 'accidental' and 'intentional' processes in creativity. David Byrne sucks because he became an 'intentional' artist. An intentional artist takes an overly intellectual or conceptual approach to art. He detaches himself from the core of the creative spirit and takes on a kind of aloof sensibility. Byrne has been into World Music where his modus operandi is eclecticism. He takes a bit of this from here, a bit of that from there, and mixes it all up. He's more like a laboratory scientist than an artist. Or, take Yo Yo Ma. He may be a great cellist but he's a fool when it comes to his musical project. He brings together musicians from different cultures and has them play together to celebrate diversity, tolerance, brotherhood of man, and what have you. This too is an intentionalist approach to music. Problem is art can't be WILLED in such manner. It's good to be open-minded and experiemental, but the intentional (aloof)eclecticism of David Byrne and the intentional celebrationism of Yo Yo Ma are dead ends. This isn't to say that one cannot immerse oneself in another culture and make great art. Yo Yo Ma, though of Chinese origin, became a great cellist of Western music. Eric Clapton, though a Briton, mastered blues guitar. It's great to immerse oneself in the object of one's passion even if it's of another culture. Sting obviously loves reggae and made great reggaesque music in albums like Synchronicity. In the process of immersion, intention melts into inspiration, something we don't see with the latter day David Byrne or Yo Yo Ma's musical project. Listening to their stuff is like going to a world buffet where you have a mixed bag of this dish and that dish but little of which comes together organically or 'chemically'. Insteading of producing a new compound, the various elements remain separate as a mixture.

Other than immersion, there is the 'accidentalist' process in art which is genuinely organic. In the accidentalist process, different ideas or strains clash and then mingle and then come together through the creative genius of certain artists. A lightbulb goes on inside the artist's head that he stumbled upon something new. Or, the artist may not even realize he came upon something fresh and new. Suppose some negro blues singer is walking down the road and hears some hillbilly sing a song. The blues guy may not be into hillbilly music in general but suppose the hillbilly tune got stuck in his mind. He keeps humming it all day and then sits down and does his own variation of it and then comes up with something good and unexpected. He has 'accidentally' added another element to his blues music, thus organically remolding it. The process has been 'accidental', organic, intuitive, and inspired than 'intentional' or intellectual.
This is why projects such as mixing classical with jazz music are stupid and fated to be deadends. Such things cannot be willed or mandated. Rather, elements of jazz can 'accidentally' seep into classical music or vice versa.
A classical composer may listen to some Jazz and intuitvely sense that certain Jazzy elements could accentuate or liven up classical music, or a Jazz artist may listen to some classical music and sense that certain aspects of classical music can deepen Jazz. But, you can't just mix the two as an agenda.

It may be that with the rise of globalism and shallow yuppie eclecticism, fewer and fewer white kids have become deeply IMMERSED in any one thing. They are certainly not immersed in their own culture. But, they are not particularly immersed in another culture either. They are like a bunch of David Byrnes or Yo Yo Ma's, trying to be 'liberal', 'tolerant', 'wide-ranging', goo goo, ga ga, very 'NICE', intellectual, and etc. "Stuff that white people like" is not good for art. Yuppies may seek AUTHENTICITY, but it is really just a fashion label than something deep. Compare Dylan who immersed himself in roots of American music with a post modern poseur like Todd Haynes whose movie about Dylan is everything, thus nothing.

Anonymous said...

I think Hollywood is to blame for Hollywood

Oh for Christ's sake [no pun intended] - we all know who's to blame for Hollywood.

Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating the differences in fertility amongst different politically oriented peoples. It's like those less inclined to religion...

Spengler used to write about this stuff in the old days, over at the Asia Times.

For instance, you might like this essay:

Power and the evangelical womb
By Spengler
Nov 9, 2004

Or these:

They made a democracy and called it peace
By Spengler
Mar 8, 2005

Deep in denial (or in de' Mississippi)
By Spengler
Sep 7, 2005

Steve has also written about fertility rates, although [to the best of my knowledge] not from the religious point of view:

The Baby Gap: Explaining Red and Blue
December 20, 2004

and went off to do their own thing

And "their own thing" inevitably turns out to be nihilism.

If things keep going this way, it seems like the USA is going to be something like 15% non-Amish whites (mostly Christian), 50% Amish (500 million of them), 5% Asian American, 5% black, and 25% Hispanic!

The children in this nation [right or Wong] are already more than 30% Hispanic and 15% Black:

Of U.S. Children Under 5, Nearly Half Are Minorities
By D'Vera Cohn and Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 10, 2006; Page A01

Whites will be U.S. minority group by 2042, Census predicts
McClatchy Newspapers
August 14, 2008

..."It's a different kind of student body than we've known during the '50s and '60s and '70s, when a lot of our education policies were shaped," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington research center.

"If we don't invest in educating and training African-American kids, immigrants and Latino kids, we won't have a middle class," said Mark Sawyer, the director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics at the University of California at Los Angeles. "We'll have a very, very poor disposable class that's largely black or brown"...

Anonymous said...


"promiscuity -- high during the Roaring Twenties, low during the '40s and '50s..."

I don't know if this in entirely true. I believe VD rates shot up during World War II, and if you read memoirs of the time, sexual mores seemed pretty relaxed (well, people needed relaxation, didn't they). This fits into one of my intellectual hobbyhorses, the idea that the 1950s, far from being the relatively traditional, stable baseline preceding social revolution, were a social-conservative Potemkin village, just patching it together.

Anonymous said...

Never another Lollapalooza? Tell it to the Coachella festival, and all the other multi-day music festivals happening all over the US and Europe every summer.

There's still exciting new music out there, it's just not on the radio or on TV.