When I Was Your Age...
  • Monday, Dec. 23, 2019
This Nov. 2, 2019 file photo shows Billie Eilish at the 2019 LACMA Art and Film Gala in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

In October director Martin Scorsese gave a now infamous interview to Empire magazine in which he asserted that superhero movies from the Marvel Universe were destroying real cinema. That movie multiplexes were becoming amusement parks and that what was real and important about filmmaking as an art form—the human narrative part—was being ruined by comic book fantasy culture. I’m paraphrasing. He dug in deeper on this perspective in an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times in early November, and I added my 2 cents in the Comments section: “This pretty much reminds me of a generations-old opening line, ‘When I was your age...we listened to REAL music, not this crap...we were reading ACTUAL books, not staring at YouTube all day...we went OUTSIDE and played, not locked in our bedrooms playing video games with someone in China’.” (Love quoting myself—hey, I got 243 “recommends” for that comment!)

Kind of happened again recently when one of my FB friends posted his feelings about the music of Billie Eilish, the teenage breakout artist who just won two Grammys and sold out her world tour behind first album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? His impression: “…was expecting a generational talent. Sorry but snoozers to me.” I had to smile. Not because I disagree (and I do), but because it reminded me of something my mom said 55 years ago, and have heard every (roughly) decade since. “How can you listen to that? It’s not even music!” She was referring to Elvis, on Ed Sullivan’s variety show in 1957: 


And what was ‘music’ to my mother? Bing Crosby, of course! And Dean Martin, and Frank—you get the idea. “When I was your age…” 


Billie Eilish just turned 18! She was born three months after 9/11. She says that at the age of 12 she was sitting on her bed surfing YouTube and stumbled on a song she’d never heard before, by an artist she’d never heard of before—“Runaway” by Aurora—and that was the moment she knew she had to make music.


Aurora? Okay, a young singer-songwriter from Stavanger, Norway who says her influences included Enya, Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Björk.  

So now I’m wondering, in 30 years what will the children of Billie’s fans be listening to? Will they be saying to their kids, “What the hell is that? When I was your age…” And their music is some AI creation of a thing without a biological form? And thus, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole I’ll never get the hell out of. But I think it’s like this: Young people are always going to find a voice of their own, to express their feelings, fears, needs. And that voice may not always be recognizable to others, or even understood by others. Which might even be part of the point. (I’m just now remembering the ones who hated Dylan, despised disco, thought Madonna was passing fad, rap was crap, cringed at grunge… Hey, don’t get me wrong—I had my shit list too!) For some reason, a lyric by Bob Dylan just came to mind, from his sweet song, “Forever Young.”

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

And I do wish you that as we close out this year and look to the new. What’s that expression? Oh yea, Foresight is 2020. Okay, I got you something you can open right now: it’s a song that’s very much of this moment but simultaneously takes me way back to a soulful ‘When I was your age’ place and time. It’s by the incomparable Brittany Howard. “Stay High.” Indeed.


About the author

Lyle Greenfield's picture

Lyle Greenfield is the founder of BANG Music and past president of the Association of Music Producers (AMP).  Greenfield has been a driving force behind the AMP Awards for Music and Sound, which debuted in New York City in 2013.

Contact Lyle via email

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