Double vision: When then was now

I recently attended a blogging conference in Berkeley. From the perspective of interesting conversation, it was probably the best weekend of my life. Lots of super smart people.

As I get older (I’m 68), I notice that most other people in the blogging/twitter world are one or even two generations younger than me. Most of the ones I follow are also smarter than me. At times, I wonder whether I have anything of value to offer.

Consider these claims:

1. With age comes wisdom.
2. As people age, they lose a few IQ points each decade.

Which view do I hold? Both. I believe I’m getting dumber but wiser. When I read some of the better posts I wrote 15 years ago, I cringe at the thought that they were written by someone smarter than the current me. How did I write that? But when I read some of my lamer posts from the early days, I cringe at their lack of wisdom. What was I thinking?

Just as the past is another country, our past selves are another person.

In this post, I’ll try to explain one of the few areas where old people do have an advantage. It’s something I never really realized until I got to be older. Old people have a sort of double vision about the past—an ability to see the past from the perspective of today, and also from the perspective of the people who lived through those times. When then was now.

Of course this only applies to periods that we ourselves have lived through. I have no feel at all for the 1890s. I know that it was a disgrace for respectable women to show their legs in public, or to go out on the town without an escort, but I don’t actually have much of a feel for why. I understand that men in the early 1800s felt they had to respond to insults with a duel, but don’t understand why. I understand that thoughtful people like Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but don’t understand why.

To be clear, I could write an essay explaining all these social practices and many more. I am capable of putting the words down on paper. When I say I don’t understand something like women’s fashions, I’m saying that I don’t intuitively find it shameful if a woman shows her ankle in public. Today, I think it’s obvious that slavery is evil, and wonder how brilliant people would have missed that fact.

More and more often, I see younger commentators pointing out some quaint or bizarre or offensive aspect of life from back when I was young. “Can you believe that back in the 1960s it was considered OK to . . . ” I find these observations to be a bit jarring. Not because they are wrong, rather because they force me to examine my past with a sort of double vision—how it seemed at the time, and how it seems today. Unlike the 1890s, I do understand why people of the 1960s (and 1970s) behaved in the way that they did. I was there. But I also understand why some of that behavior now seems quaint or bizarre or offensive. To quote a 60s pop star, I see “both sides now”.

It wasn’t until I got old that I realized that history doesn’t seem weird to the people that live through it. It seems normal. You often hear people say, “You can’t even believe the horrible conditions that people had to live through in such and such a country or time period.” But in most cases, the conditions didn’t seem horrible at all, just normal life. (The exception being temporary conditions that were horrible even by the standards of the day—say Europe during WWII.)

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the world of the 1960s was filthy. There was dog poop everywhere, as no one picked up after their pets. People spat on the sidewalk. People smoked almost everywhere. Lead concentrations were high. Pollution was bad. Etc., etc. But the world I lived in during the 1960s didn’t seem filthy at all, it seemed perfectly normal.

On the other hand, when as a child I read that in the 1890s there was horse manure all over the streets of NYC, or that there were spittoons in office buildings, or that most people had crude outhouses, that seemed disgusting. At the time, I assumed that people of the 1890s understood they lived in a dirty world. Now I know that it must has seemed perfectly fine, or at least normal.

Some of the most fascinating (but hard to explain) differences are in the moral realm. I recall when it was OK to tell ethnic jokes, or gay jokes. Maybe not completely OK, but much less offensive than today. Indeed, there are subtle distinctions that are hard to explain to a contemporary audience. Drunk driving wasn’t exactly OK, but it was much less frowned on than today, unless you were falling down drunk. A 20-year old guy dating a 15-year old girl wasn’t exactly OK, but it was less frowned on than today (and not generally called “pedophilia”, a term then reserved for situations with even younger victims.) Ditto for professors dating students. It wasn’t completely OK for pregnant women to drink or smoke, but much less frowned on than today.

If I tried to explain how people felt at the time, I’d probably give the wrong impression, as if trying to justify the unjustifiable. I know that because I have “double vision”, I also see how we see these things today. I’m not just a creature of the past, I’m both a creature of the past and a creature of the present. This is perhaps the only consolation of old age (which generally sucks.)

Nonetheless, I’ll offer a few observations. We know that people are living longer and healthier lives. We know that in the old days everything used to occur at younger ages. Children used to work in factories. People used to marry and have kids at a young age. When I was young, life expectancy for men was 67. In that sort of world, things like safety and the protection of children seemed a bit less urgent. And as you go further and further back into history, the world was more and more brutal by today’s standards. That caused people to be less caring by today’s standards, less “woke”. In addition, the rules of the 1960s were often made by old people who were born into a world where life expectancy was below 50.

I recently traveled to the southwest on vacation, and came across a crude log cabin in Utah that was occupied back in 1905 by a pioneer family of six—all in one room. Obviously no indoor plumbing or electricity or furnace, and just a dirt floor. Recall that this is 40 years after slavery was abolished—so I imagine these people understood that slavery was evil. But I bet they didn’t think it was as evil as we think slavery was, because their living standards were so low that the conditions of slaves would have seemed less appalling to them than it does to us today.

The Holocaust is another good example. Back in the 1960s, the vast majority of films about the WWII-era were about American troops fighting the Germans (or Japanese.) As each decade went by, the proportion shifted, until films about the Holocaust became more common than those about battles between opposing armies.

It’s as if society had a delayed reaction to the whole situation. Almost everyone suffered during the war. Perhaps that made people less aware of the suffering of others. It took the perspective of time for most people to understand that the Holocaust was a extraordinary event, not just a run-of-the-mill war crime. Even though 1965 was just 20 years after WWII, I feel the Holocaust looms larger in our minds today than it did back then.

[But it cuts both ways. Voters of the 1960s had more immunity to raging demagogic nationalists who continually spouted the big lie, losers who complained of being stabbed in the back. They remembered.]

Double vision also helps me to understand the reactionary impulse in the old. My father was a Roosevelt liberal, and remained basically liberal his entire life (he died in 1990.) But late in his life he’d occasionally say things that sounded a bit reactionary, in response to society getting softer and more “woke”. You’ve probably heard similar things from parents or grandparents. You might have some condescending thoughts when you hear old people talk this way. But never forget than the next generation will eventually look at you this way. Perhaps your grandchildren will say, “Can you believe that grandpa used to eat farm animals cruelly confined to tiny cages. What was he thinking?” Or maybe it will be some other social change that we cannot even anticipate today. (For me, gay marriage was the one that came out of the blue.)

I have no interest in pontificating about how much we should or should not condemn the retrograde attitudes of people of the past. Rather I’m trying to understand how they felt. I’ll never understand how it felt to live in the 1890s, but by the process of analogy I can see that it probably felt much more normal and acceptable than it seems to us today. When I see young people today who cannot imagine some of the practices of the 1960s or 1970s, practices which at the time seemed perfectly normal to me, it helps me to be more generous to people who lived even further in the past.

PS. There’s much more that could be said on this general topic–including aesthetics. For instance, I can recall when the guitar based rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s was powerful and exciting. But I can also see it from the perspective of today, when most of it seems kind of bland and boring. Over at Econlog, I have a post on modernism, a style which seems very different today than it did in the mid-1960s

PPS. Because I’m almost 2 generations out of date, I’ve probably missed some good examples. For instance, by 1995 gay jokes were frowned on, but trans jokes were still OK. Now both are frowned on. Society is always changing, and will always continue to change.

PPPS. Things that make me cringe: Being 68 years old and reading a tweet by a 48-year old explaining to 28-year olds how things used to be in the “old days” of the 1990s. I grew up when novels with titles like “1984” and “2001” sounding very futuristic.

PPPPS. This post mostly focused on areas where things used to be worse. But there are lots of examples in the other direction. The news media consumed by the average American during the 1960s was far better than today (even if the peak levels were lower.) Politics was smarter. The world had a lot less annoying bureaucracy than it does today. You could jump on an airplane like getting on a bus. Customer service over the phone was 10 times better. Things were less crowded—far fewer “reservations” were needed for restaurants and other events. You just showed up. In the mid-1970s, music was played on systems with better sound quality (but TVs sucked.)

BTW, The Utah family of 6 lived in this:



39 Responses to “Double vision: When then was now”

  1. Gravatar of Solon of the East Solon of the East
    4. June 2024 at 15:46

    I am the same age as Scott Sumner.

    One big change:

    When I was in grade school there was an expression earnestly used by a teacher, “the solons of government.”

    There was a feeling, at least in large quarters, that the Supreme Court, senior congressional leadership, and presidents such as Eisenhower, were solons.

    This was probably because the US did the right thing, won World War 2 and then we had tremendous economic expansion through the 1950s/60s. Yes, we were led by solons, judging from results.

    Today the opposite holds. There is no one that seems to have anything but contempt for everyone in government, especially if they are from the other party.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. June 2024 at 15:59

    Solon, Back in 2016, I said we were becoming a banana republic, and was scoffed at. Now it’s practically the conventional wisdom. Even Trump now agrees with me.

  3. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    4. June 2024 at 17:04

    We can’t offer that family from Utah log cabin time travel to join our society today as productive members of said society.

    But we can offer people living in poorer countries today easier visas.

    (Some people are squeamish about offering more visas to people from Mexico or Nigeria for whatever reason. But they could at least offer more opportunities to people from ‘safe’ but relatively poorer countries like Britain or Germany or France or Denmark or Japan etc.)

  4. Gravatar of MSS1914 MSS1914
    4. June 2024 at 18:04


    I’m looking for other blogs to follow. Is your blog roll on this website current with your favorites? If not, do you have any favorites to recommend?

    (Great post btw, it reminded me of a passage I read years ago about the ancient Greeks. They prided themselves on enslaving those they defeated in war. It was mark of their civility – the poorer, barbarian tribes on their periphery would simply kill the defeated because they couldn’t spare the resources to keep them around unless they could sell them to the wealthy Greeks. I guess when viewing the world from the ancient Greeks perspective, slavery looks much less evil than we view it.)

  5. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    4. June 2024 at 20:49

    I’m getting dumber but wiser.

    Imagine being as dumb and wise as Trump… only one decade out!

    it was a disgrace for respectable go out on the town without an escort

    In Hollywood, it is a disgrace for a respectable MAN to go out on the town without an escort (badabada bing!)

    I understand that thoughtful people like Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but don’t understand why.

    Utilitarian ethics.

    I have no feel at all for the 1890s

    The digital revolution has completely divorced humanity from its past.

    Imagine a world with no photographs of slavery, or of volcanic eruptions, or tsunamis, or war dead, or any other tragedy. The written word is much more vivid, but the physical events are also much more remote and abstract.

    Early photography was in fact a factor in the abolitionist movement.

    And those Japanese wave paintings? The only knowledge of a tsunami…

    The digital revolution was an epochal break from a reflective yet distant human experience.

    The written word was an epochal break from an animalistic human experience.

    It’s incredibly profound to think about such things.

    (how about that transition from jokester to serious…)

  6. Gravatar of Arilando Arilando
    5. June 2024 at 02:45

    Ethnic jokes were very common while i was growing, and i still consider them acceptable. The same can be said for “politically incorrect” jokes. I was born in the late 90s. I’m not American however, but Danish. I don’t know if that’s a difference in culture, or whether Scott overestimates how much the culture of leftist elites reflects the general culture.

  7. Gravatar of Tom P Tom P
    5. June 2024 at 04:17

    I really enjoyed this one. Thank you for writing it. I’ll still remember this in 30 years when I am your age.

    I do feel that movies and television make the 20th century more accessible than any time before it. Newsreels and movies from the 1940s feel much more real and alive to me than just reading Huck Finn for instance.

  8. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    5. June 2024 at 05:32

    This post resonated with me as well, and I’m only 52.
    I had a few reactions:

    First, a bit off-topic, but as someone who has regularly visited your in-laws in China, I was wondering if you ever feel like you have ‘triple vision’ through periodic ensconcement in a different culture? Maybe you don’t because you’re not Chinese yourself and perhaps can’t fully understand what your in-laws say when speaking in Chinese. Or maybe they’re fully westernised. But I find when talking to my extended family in India that they have absolutely no qualms about making generalisations about people based on their ethnicity or religion. Not all of it is pejorative; it can be complimentary, but they’re not the sort of comments middle-class people would make in Australia. Middle-class Indians are also very up front in talking (and asking!) about personal financial matters. In travelling from here to there, I need and tend to orientate my mind in a different way.

    Second, while I can largely comply with contemporary standards of speech and writing, I struggle to find anything funny in what pop culture produces these days. It feels like this is an area that has changed very quickly. Not so long ago, I used to enjoy watching a TV sitcom called ‘Modern Family’. It had its run from 2009-2020 and was basically about the interactions between an extended family incorporating people with different attributes (an old guy with his young hot Columbian second wife and her son, a gay couple with an adopted Vietnamese daughter, and a white family with members with markedly different personalities). I doubt it could be made today, because laughing at people with any sort of attribute seems off-limits. Some older shows like Friends have managed to win a new base of fans, as the humour stems largely from the (uniformly white) characters’ personalities. Having said that, Friends is arguably more of a soap opera or nostalgia trip for Millennials than it is comedy. Seinfeld is mostly not cancelled, but it has dated for younger audiences. Nothing that references contemporary culture or politics is funny anymore.

    Third, at least in pop culture and most social interactions, discussion of sex (as an activity, not an identity) has all but disappeared. Apparently people watch plenty of porn online, but popular films and TV shows barely seem to show or refer to it.

    All of this reminds me that when I was a kid, I watched the TV series, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (1979-81). It showed Buck as this easy-going, cool and funny guy while the 25th century people were straight-laced and serious and all wearing the same lycra. In subsequent years, comparing Buck’s predicament to someone from the 1600s arriving in 1980, I used to think about the show and wonder why 25th century people wouldn’t be the hip and ironic ones and why he wouldn’t look like a serious daggy dufus. Well, it turns out the show was right. Now, everyone seems humourless, wears body-hugging lycra but doesn’t mention sex in public!

  9. Gravatar of Todd Ramsey Todd Ramsey
    5. June 2024 at 05:53

    This post is unusually insightful, even by your high standards. Thank you.

  10. Gravatar of Student Student
    5. June 2024 at 07:28

    Very cool post.

    The one that sticks out to me… I think in 100 years our great grand children are going to say, can you believe people used to murder their own children because they didn’t want to provide for them. They are going to look back on it in horror like we do with slavery. They are going to be like, yeah they murdered about 1 million of their own children a year back then…. What vicious psychopaths.

  11. Gravatar of Student Student
    5. June 2024 at 07:34

    One more thing about that pic of the house… think about those one houses with many children. It means mom and dad were getting busy while the teens were still awake. Gross lol.

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. June 2024 at 09:34

    MSS1914, No, I haven’t updated it. I subscribe to Matt Yglesias and Razib Khan substacks. Zvi is excellent. So is Scott Aaronson. There are many others.

    Steve, Some good observations, but it was utilitarianism that ended slavery.

    Tom, Agree about film, but it’s still not at all like actually living through it. When I watch films from the 1930s, I find things very foreign in a way that I don’t when watching 1960s films.

    Rajat, Very good comments. It’s weird how modern America combines a highly puritanical view of sex and nudity with lots of internet porn. Europe is less puritanical.

  13. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    5. June 2024 at 10:10

    Regarding, the Holocaust, there was a very focused effort after WWII to not bring it up too much, so that the West could work with West Germany against the Communists in Europe. I don’t think it was so much a delayed reaction, as it was a strategic choice. I would definitely agree that it is much more prevalent in our minds today than in the minds of people in the 1950s/1960s.

    Thoughtful post.

  14. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    5. June 2024 at 18:00

    People in the 60’s at least supported free speech and capitalism.

    They ate healthier. They looked sexier. They were more moderate in their political views.

    And yes, a few radicals existed like Ken Kecey, and smelly, rabid, nasty looking feminists.

    But how did your generation of baby booming creeps go from the serenity of 1920’s and 30’s music, which was built around love and hope, to the terrible yelling to the screaming of the 60’s? You have to be the most destructive generation in American history. From destroying music, to living on a credit card, to forcing future generations to pay down your federal debt, to destroying the value of the dollar — your the most selfish generation that has ever existed on the face of the earth.

    Your yelling and screeming was also the catalyst for crappy rap, which now everyone is forced to listen to because it’s played in every damn establishment.

    But at least — at least those groups of selfish ignoramuses still believed in fundamental American principales. And that’s why many of them today have switched parties to support Trump.

    I will take a 1960’s babybooming loser, over the communists. I would prefer the greatest generation, but all we have are the remnants of losers. The greatest generation, unfortunately, not around anymore.

    There was also less crime in the 60s, because the country was 90% homogenous.

    So you destroyed that too.

    Multiculturalism has imported political correctness, minority pressure groups, and, in the process, has destroyed everything. One cannot even show pride in their flag, and in their history, without a radical like Sumner freaking out.

    But Sumner has no problem with the Vietnamese having their flags displayed every 100 meters.

    The contradiction abounds.

    If the communists do it, then it’s okay. But if the capitalists do it, then it’s a symbol of oppression.

  15. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    5. June 2024 at 18:25

    Things are better now than in the 60s?

    I don’t think so.

    You do have something to offer, which is the truth, but I don’t think you have the courage.

    And nobody loses I.Q. points with age. That’s not correct. You lose memory power, and your ability to manipulate objects in working memory declines. But crystalization actually increases. There is no real difference between Noam Chomsky at 25, and Noam Chomsky at 95. Both are brilliant.

    Noam just doesn’t have the energy at 95. His voice muscles are weaker, and therefore he talks slower.

  16. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    6. June 2024 at 04:18

    Oh, my. Come on, trolls, you need to at least pretend! The 1960s had less crime? The country was 90% homogenous? Ricardo, scourge of socialism and lover of capitalism, lauding Noam CHomsky? LOL!

  17. Gravatar of Ben Ben
    6. June 2024 at 05:29

    Great post from one of the very best bloggers, thanks Scott.

    What contemporary practices might seem evil to future generations? You mention factory farming as a possibility. Eating meat at all might someday be seen as evil.

    I think Bryan Caplan had once discussed a similar topic and mentioned eating meat as well as immigration restrictions and abortion. As much as I’d like to imagine that future generations would welcome immigrants more enthusiastically it is hard to imagine it happening. Same with abortion, and in fact the recent trend seems to suggest that the reverse might happen – future generations might wonder why we ever thought abortion was evil at all.

    Btw, that is from Arches NP, right? Near the trailhead to Delicate Arch? I was there with my family a few months ago, for the first time, and I too was fascinated by the thought of a family living in those conditions and in that location. And, if I recall correctly, the story was that this family had moved here from Ohio *seeking a better life*!

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. June 2024 at 09:17

    Ben, I think it’s almost impossible to predict what future generations will object to. In the 1960s, no one would have imagined that bans on gay marriage would later be criticized as immoral. It wasn’t even on our radar screen.

    Everyone, Thanks for the kind remarks. As for the trolls, the most amusing thing about their posts is that they don’t even know my views. If you are going to troll someone for believing X, first make sure they don’t believe “not X”.

  19. Gravatar of steve steve
    6. June 2024 at 09:53

    Maybe as subsets or additions to wiser you acquire experience and better judgment. Many people stop making decisions based upon spur of the moment emotions, though as cognitive functions decline being overly emotional is a sign of early dementia.


  20. Gravatar of LC LC
    7. June 2024 at 05:54

    Great post! Really resonated with me.

  21. Gravatar of Michael M. Michael M.
    7. June 2024 at 06:17

    Great post

  22. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    7. June 2024 at 07:49

    Yes, excellent post ssumner

    And I too lean towards thinking eating meat especially factory farmed will be considered barbaric at some point in the future.

    Abortion possibly too, as worldwide birthrate continue to decline in the future the idea of not wanting babies will seem archaic.

  23. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. June 2024 at 11:37

    Nice post, but as is often the case with these “think pieces,” I feel a bit at sea with respect to some of these observations. (Often understanding comes slowly in my case).

    “I understand that thoughtful people like Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but don’t understand why.”

    “Today, I think it’s obvious that slavery is evil, and wonder how brilliant people would have missed that fact.”

    But Jefferson (famously?) didn’t miss that fact at all, did he? I thought he knew it was evil, but financial motives won out – the second paragraph of the Wikipedia article on “Thomas Jefferson and slavery” says:

    “Privately, one of Jefferson’s reasons for not freeing more slaves was his considerable debt, while his more public justification, expressed in his book Notes on the State of Virginia, was his fear that freeing enslaved people into American society would cause civil unrest between white people and former slaves.”

    Maybe most of us have not been in quite as stark a situation as this, but I think all of us at times have engaged in the same behavior as Jefferson here, finding ways to excuse our bad behavior. I feel like I understand Jefferson perfectly. (Probably it’s the people who do make sacrifices in order to live up to their principles that I don’t understand).

  24. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. June 2024 at 12:31

    “”I recall when it was OK to tell ethnic jokes, or gay jokes.”

    “For instance, by 1995 gay jokes were frowned on, but trans jokes were still OK. Now both are frowned on.”

    “There’s much more that could be said on this general topic–including aesthetics. For instance, I can recall when the guitar based rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s was powerful and exciting. But I can also see it from the perspective of today, when most of it seems kind of bland and boring.”

    On a somewhat lighter note (than my previous comment), I found these comments interesting because my own experience is so different.

    “Ethnic jokes” were everywhere, but I don’t have any memory of hearing comedians or people in real life tell “gay jokes” or (especially) “trans jokes” that would be frowned on now. Was I oblivious at the time, or am I forgetful now?

    I had a brief spell of thinking “the guitar based rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s was powerful and exciting,” but by, oh, 1975 (high school), I was of the mind that “most of it seem[ed] kind of bland and boring.”

    Prog, punk, new wave, folk, jazz, modern classical, please anything but those dinosaurs, or “boring old farts” as they were known in the UK.

    But over time I’ve become more open to and appreciative of the music of that era. I think you could say that most of the music of any era can seem somewhat bland and boring, but I think that’s to some degree a function of there being so much good music out there, that it’s tough for things to really stand out, and command our attention.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. June 2024 at 13:59

    anon, If Jefferson had seen slavery the way I see slavery, he never would have gone down that road in the first place.

    I agree about the music from any era being mostly boring. To be clear, 1965-72 is my favorite era.

  26. Gravatar of mike mike
    8. June 2024 at 19:07

    Scott: it stands to reason that younger people are “smarter” than preceding generations – if they aren’t, something’s wrong.

    Just one example: It has taken 170 years to get from the first recognition of the fundamental principles behind the origin of life to the point we can now readily manipulate genes. The fundamentals of that knowledge, completely unknown to Darwin and still mostly unknown to Einstein and the great figures of 20th century physics, can now be taught in a 30 min video. Beyond that, however, it’s not just the knowledge of inheritance and genes and natural selection that has been worked out: it’s entire systems of knowledge that you and I, and the generations that preceded us, worked out, codified and refined so the younger generation could learn it, even in great detail, in some minute fraction of the time it took their forebearers to learn it. Not only that, because we have been able to generalize from the specific, we can teach that “natural selection” and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” operate on the same principle.

    You spent your life in one mine, working your way through the waste, extracting the small bits of knowledge entombed there, hauling it to the surface for others to see and compare with the produce of other mines. The modern generation has the benefit of ignoring all the waste you laboriously worked through.

    Young people are standing on the shoulders of giants.

  27. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    9. June 2024 at 09:09

    “I agree about the music from any era being mostly boring.”

    One of the reasons Scott Sumner is so good at blogging is that he’s so good at writing – so good at making his meaning clear. (Over the years, the one claim this blog has made that I think is complete garbage is the “I am not a very good writer” claim).

    I suspect I find a much larger percentage of the music, of any particular genre and/or era, of interest than SS. My point was really that there is a lot of interesting music out there! (I am a crappy writer, alas, I am always following the strain of some oddball thought which, when I go back and read what I wrote, may not sense even to me).

    I suspect if Scott Sumner listed his favorite 100 films and I listed mine, there might be 20, 40, 50 films in common? Some large number. (And I’m pretty sure about this, based on Sumner’s film ratings).

    If we did the same thing with albums or CD’s there might be as few as 2 or 3. (I’m not sure). Not zero, since I think I know TVU&N would be on his list.

    I always appreciate it when people post or talk about the music they like. This blog doesn’t do that very much, but there was a recent mention of Black Country, New Road – I’d not heard of them – that has already paid off for me, I think they might be pretty good. (I’ve got their CD’s out from the library).

    And from several years ago directing me to go listen to Dylan live `66 was a winner.

    This happens for me a lot. Tyler Cowen made a couple of posts or playlists recently, the upshot of which was to convince me I really do need to check out Robert Ashley. A relative of a relative was talking about his favorite band (Jason Lytle/Grandaddy) in such a way as to convince me of the need to check them out.

    I feel like with music there’s really no end, there’s always more, there’s no end to the good stuff. (Whereas with film I fear that after you see “everything,” that’s going to be it, so I almost want to “parcel out” those experiences over time, there’s no hurry).

    That Sumner post on underappreciated music of 65-72 must exist in his head already, right? It’s just a matter of typing it in! (I’m joking here).

  28. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    9. June 2024 at 09:33

    mike above says:

    “Young people are standing on the shoulders of giants.”

    I prefer “we didn’t hit a triple, we were born on third base” but either way.

    We have all this knowledge that Jefferson didn’t have. I’m open to concluding that Jefferson made bad choices, but don’t really know that much about them.

    And also I am extremely allergic to the standard left-wing “back-patting” thing – as I think SS is also – maybe it’s become something of a mania in my case. I think our knowledge has improved, but not our moral intuitions.

  29. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. June 2024 at 10:35

    Mike, I stood on Friedman’s shoulders.

    Anon, “If we did the same thing with albums or CD’s there might be as few as 2 or 3.”

    Interesting. So you wouldn’t have albums from the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, etc? That’s fine, but in that case I find it interesting you’d have the Velvet Underground on the list. What other pop music would you include?

    “That Sumner post on underappreciated music of 65-72 must exist in his head already, right? It’s just a matter of typing it in! (I’m joking here).”

    The problem here is that I don’t have good taste in music, so it would just be the obvious choices. From the late 1970s, I think Graham Parker’s a bit underrated.

  30. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    9. June 2024 at 16:25


    I freaking LOVE Grandaddy, haven’t seen them mentioned anywhere in a long time. Absolutely check them out.

    Saw them live many years ago on a side stage at Outside Lands in San Francisco

  31. Gravatar of Student Student
    10. June 2024 at 06:40

    The fact this thread is still going is evidence this was a great piece. Its the way it calls us to examine rationally things we don’t even think to stop and think about… and Scott writes a bit like a comedian, which makes it fun to read.

    On Jefferson though… he knew what he was doing was immoral… but money and sex is a helluva drug. He knew well that it was immoral to deny liberty and the pursuit of happiness to people that were created equally to him, having been imbued with certain inalienable rights by the author of nature itself. He knew it was wrong for him to be having an affair with a young girl while he was married… that’s why be built a small secret bunker to “keep” her in near his bedroom. He didn’t want people knowing, because he knew it was wrong.

  32. Gravatar of Student Student
    10. June 2024 at 06:52

    Just like with abortions had for fear and money… most people that have abortions don’t talk about it. They want to bury it, to lock it away in their own little “secret bunkers” like Jefferson, because they feel intense shame (most, not all, some people are narcissists to the core) over it. Many end up having to go to therapy for decades over this because they are haunted by nightmares about it.

    Just like with Jefferson, who had to have heard the cries of those who’s wages he withheld from the workers that harvested his fields, many hear their children’s blood crying from the ground. Jefferson knew. They know. But we can convince ourselves of almost anything for money and sex.

  33. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    13. June 2024 at 08:56

    “The problem here is that I don’t have good taste in music, so it would just be the obvious choices.”

    If there is such as thing as good taste in music, maybe it just means someone who only listens to jazz or classical (or world?). And if liking Sigur Ros and Radiohead means you have bad taste, I’ll cop to that also. Having bad taste in music would be better than being a dumbass music snob, which was me back when I thought the music of the 60’s was “bland and boring.”

    “Interesting. So you wouldn’t have albums from the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, etc? That’s fine, but in that case I find it interesting you’d have the Velvet Underground on the list. What other pop music would you include?”

    It always seems to me that Beatles albums are all over the place, one track is great and the next track might be a throwaway. Whereas TVU&N is one classic track after another. (Maybe I am just a less snobby dumbass).

    Scaruffi has a fun list:

    I think these are all the rock albums he gives a 9 or 9.5 grade to, except the last two (Gong, Springsteen) are 8.5. Some ungentle (and obscure) choices – of the ones I wasn’t familiar with, I’ve checked out some but have quite a few to go.

  34. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    13. June 2024 at 09:12

    “But I also understand why some of that behavior now seems quaint or bizarre or offensive. To quote a 60s pop star, I see ‘both sides now’.”

    What I liked best about this post is that it’s difficult to tell where it comes down on the “I understand/I don’t understand” thing. The narrator of Both Sides Now doesn’t “see” both sides, she’s “looked at” various things from both sides and concludes that she really “doesn’t know” them “at all.” I approve that message.

    But that’s really just an excuse to link to this video:

    Whatever happened to Jimmy Driftwood, anyway? Also, did he consider the names Jimmy Firefly and Jimmy Hackenbush before choosing “Driftwood?”

  35. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. June 2024 at 13:05

    “If there is such as thing as good taste in music”

    I think it means correctly recognizing contemporary music that will be highly regarded 50 or 100 years from now.

    “one track is great and the next track might be a throwaway”


  36. Gravatar of Walter Walter
    14. June 2024 at 10:13

    Great post. It changed the way I look at things. Thank you.

  37. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    14. June 2024 at 13:42

    “I think it means correctly recognizing contemporary music that will be highly regarded 50 or 100 years from now.”

    Does that mean popular with the public or popular with aesthetes?

    I hate (or love/hate) things like the Sight & Sound Top Films list, and think that the lack of that in music makes reappraisals and rises and falls in “regard” more common and more natural. There’s less “I’m supposed to like this” stuff going on in people’s heads. People can figure out that something is good. Musicians weighing in (e.g. with cover versions) helps a lot, and of course the “Kafka and His Precursors” effect is strong.

  38. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    14. June 2024 at 14:04


    Sometimes I leave the obvious caveat as an exercise for the reader.

    (Smile emoji).

    Dec 65 Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
    Dec 65 Rubber Soul
    June 66 Paperback Writer/Rain
    Aug 66 Revolver

    If Revolver is their most consistent album, the fact that they released those 18 other tracks in the preceding 8 months makes it even more impressive.

  39. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. June 2024 at 21:35

    Anon/portly, “Does that mean popular with the public or popular with aesthetes?”

    As time goes by, there is more and more overlap. Consider Mozart. Isn’t he popular with both aesthetes and the broader public (except those who don’t like classical music at all?) Ditto for Beethoven.

    Both the Beatles and Dylan produced an amazing amount of great music during 1965-66. As you say, many great songs were left off albums. Also true of the Stones 1968-72.

    “Rain” might be my favorite Beatles song, I wish it were on Revolver. Listen to Ringo’s drumming.

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