Although the classical 20th-century music snob still endures vestigially, the species peaked with Gen X before breathing its dying gasps through Elder Millennials and ‘00s hipsterdom, at which point poptimism and the internet’s democratizing forces finally crushed the phenomenon for good (Pitchfork not only helped euthanize it but provided the movement’s palliative care during its twilight years). The archetypal snobs were deeply flawed characters like the
In music-snobdom at least, one thing that has been lost is the sense of community. Previously two music lovers - ahem, snobs - could unite around their shared sense of good taste; now, with everything churned and resurfaced by the algorithm, a listener cannot be certain that the music they like is even worth talking about to anyone else, and loneliness is the reward of admiration and enjoyment of a piece of music. Of course, a snob might not be able to find another person who also was a snob in the same way, but at least the awareness of a canon of taste meant that the snob had the potential for finding community with other snobs. This has been lost.
I would date the decline of the snob a little earlier than you do, perhaps starting in the 1960s with the divide between classical music snobs and devotees of Jazz. Theodore Gracyk's "Rhythm and Noise" has an excellent chapter on this division, in which he discusses Theodore Adorno's displeasure at Jazz lovers and especially (gasp!) those who enjoy rock. As the century progressed, with punk, new wave, and goth subcultures fabricating alterna-canons of snobbery, the hold which classical music had on the culture at large was wiped away, priming the internet era for the temporal and spatial obfuscation that you describe.
FWIW, I've been listening to the Terry Riley album mentioned in your title since I was about fifteen years old. I'm an older millennial, and was at one time one of the last of the music snobs.
The ideal "music snob" today is less Comic Book Guy (and/or Rob Gordon) and more your friend's cool older brother; home from college, and stoked that you're interested in what they're listening to.
Algorithms might be fascinating-I think so, anyway- but there's no magic in my showing you the playlist on my phone screen.
I enjoyed reading this post! I actually found my way here through Mark Dykeman, who commented above.
As an Elder Millennial (or Gen Yer, which is what I remember being called growing up), I definitely participated in that dying breath of music snobbery. I remember having unspoken competitions with people in my dorm about who could be the most in-the-know about underground indie bands. What music you listened to certainly was part of your personality in a way that was more powerful than it is today.
Your commentary on the memory component rings true. A few weeks ago I realized that I know way less about individual artists now, thanks to music streaming services. If I hear and like a song by an artist that is unknown (to me), I’ll just click “Add to playlist” and it will join a long list of songs that have the same “vibe” and that I can later put on in the background while doing...whatever I happen to be doing at the time. A few times I’ve noticed that I’ll recognize the song but not remember the artist or title. We’ve come a long way from diligently seeking out rare recordings to download and add to curated mix tapes.
Great post, very thought provoking. I wonder if the younger generations really do have a lack of understanding of history.