The first time I really felt old was 2011.

I was at a Mac Miller concert at the Highline Ballroom in New York City. Mac was all of 18 or 19 at the time; his fans, even younger. I enjoyed his show, but admittedly got sidetracked by barely-legal teens who were making out, drinking shitty beer and getting overly-excited about… what, exactly? I don’t even know. I guess Mac’s music and not having their parents around. It didn’t really do much for me though. Then again, this wasn’t really a show for me. This was a show for kids.

I was only 29, but I’d already been working in music for 10 years. I started with a small recording studio, went on to work as a producer, then became a journalist/editor and briefly threw concerts. I wasn’t terribly successful at anything and I was only getting older.

Maybe Lenny Bruce had it right all along — there’s nothing sadder
than an aging hipster.

A few years before Mac’s concert, I got involved with managing an artist who was significantly younger than me. I’d often talk to him about older music — artists and songs and genres that he wasn’t alive to experience. I hoped by doing this, he’d incorporate it into his own music, and yet I often felt like he didn’t really get it. He’d Google things, learn a little on YouTube, then go on with his life. Like all content that exists on the internet, one minute he’d marvel, the next minute he’d forget. It was sad.

I never approached music like that. I grew up memorizing every lyric to the albums I purchased, stayed up late to tape underground radio shows, obsessed over liner notes and mentally created a genealogy of how every artist/song I was listening to was related. Real music nerd shit. I’m not saying this in a bad way, in a “When I was your age, I used to walk 50 miles to school in the snow” way. I’m just saying managing him made me feel old.

His attitude about music, which I don’t blame him for in any way, wasn’t the only thing. When he’d do shows, almost everyone booking him had either just gotten out of college, or at the very least acted like they did. His audience was young too. College kids. Millennials. I might have been all of 28 at the time, but everyone else was really young. It was hard to relate.

It’s only gotten harder since then. In my early 30s, I notice a lot of people my age really aren’t into music that much. Many are stuck on things they listened to years ago. The 90s are back. I guess it’s easier to live in the past when the present is so hard to keep up with. And television is big, too. Probably because you don’t have to do anything — you just sit there and watch.

I don’t blame them. When you’re older, you’ve got more important shit going on. You’re thinking about your career, 401k, real estate, art, books, restaurants, places you want to travel. Music may still get you going, but you don’t really give a shit about the surprise Drake mixtape dropping at midnight on a Wednesday.

I mean, you care, because people won’t shut up about the thing, but do you really care? If you’re like me, you’ve been listening to hip-hop practically since you came out of the womb, and while a good beat and a clever rhyme is always going to be vaguely-interesting, you don’t quite have that same fear of missing out. I’ve heard a billion rap songs. You think I won’t survive if I don’t hear a new one five seconds after it came out? You can always catch up later, and you can always just listen to the same things you’ve been listening to.

Because the best music ever made is whatever you were listening
to at age 13, anyway.

And you connect with music differently when you’re older, too. Watch a kid as they listen children’s songs, with their happy, simple melodies. “The Wheels on the Bus,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Children naturally react to this music, because it doesn’t demand much. Their ears are untrained. The simplest things sound amazing.

But time passes and kids demand more. It’s instinctual, not intellectual. The ears become more sophisticated, the kiddie songs less interesting, and all of a sudden there’s a need for some more in depth, complex form of aural stimulation. So imagine that process when you’re not a kid anymore. You’ve been listening to music for 30, 40, 50 years! Emotionally, you’re a different person and music, at its primary level, is very visceral — it’s something you hear, but also something you feel. The music you feel at age 6 isn’t the music you feel at age 16. Ten years later you’ll feel something different than that, and on it goes.

But even if you’re still interested in pop music as an adult, with more going on in your life, it’s almost impossible to keep up. Culture moves fast these days, and unless you live on the internet, consuming content minute to minute, by the time it’s reached you — after work, bills, social engagements, family obligations — it’s already past its expiration date anyway. You’re just an old person, listening to old shit that was already “over” when it got popular six months ago.

For people who actually work in music, I guess maybe it was different years ago, when the business was healthier. I’m not sure it was ever particularly stable, but back then people could reasonably expect to have careers in music, and didn’t concern themselves as much with what the next act of their life was going to be.

Now, a career in music — or even media, for that matter — feels like a pure passion play, something well-off kids in their 20's get involved with just for kicks, before they go on to start tech companies or become marketers or whatever the fuck it is grownups do these days. Being in music isn’t born in kids the same way it was in previous generations. They don’t have to do it. It’s a choice, until it isn’t anymore.

Just yesterday, someone who works behind-the-scenes in music, who is all of 30 years old, confided in me — “I’m just trying to find out what I’m really supposed to do with my life.” I couldn’t help but think they were already doing what they were supposed to do, and yet for whatever reason, they felt music wasn’t it.

I understood where they were coming from, because I know what I feel and what I see. It’s young people. Kids. Good vibes. Positive intentions. A beautiful, pure energy, from people who really love this shit. It’s an upside to being involved with music that is very underrated, and probably among the top reasons to continue doing it.

You always want to be that wide-eyed kid you once were, excited and touched by that poignant lyric over that syrupy guitar strum. You never want to forget that innate feeling. That feeling that is hard to explain. Like hearing a nursery rhyme or a power chord or an 808 drum that touches some part of you, deep in your soul, and reminds you of what it feels like to truly be alive.

Then again, you don’t really want to be that old guy in the club, do you?

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Top image: Mac Miller performs at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 8, 2014
(Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage)

Follow Paul Cantor on Twitter @PaulCantor
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