Saturday, December 01, 2012

"It's before my time" - the four most infuriating words in the language

None of the three contestants on a trivia quiz on Danny Baker's Saturday morning show just now could tell us which member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was called Graham.

You just knew what they were going to say. "It's before my time."

I hate "it's before my time".  I loathe "it's before my time". It makes my blood boil.

These four words are the wholly inadequate sick note offered up by all those who think that knowledge is something exclusively acquired through direct experience, who have such a distorted sense of the lens of their own life that everything which is outside their immediate field of vision falls sharply away into the gloom of total ignorance (they haven't even got enough of a framework to attempt a guess), who regard learning as something that stopped at the end of their learning years, who must be making an effort to ensure that nothing lodges in the windy vacancy of their mind that they haven't made a definite effort to put there, who, most infuriatingly of all, can never quite hide the fact that they are, if anything, quite proud that they don't know because this somehow makes them young and vital. It doesn't.

When I was young, nobody said "it's before my time". You were expected to know lots of things that were before your time. That's what civilisation is. Yes, even with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.


  1. I'd agree with you if I thought that anybody fitted the criteria of your second paragraph, but personally I've never known it used in any context other than as playful jibe at someone's age.

    Also, it sounds as though you're castigating the quiz show contestants for something they didn't actually say?

  2. I believe Jo Whiley used this phrase when asked her opinion on Led Zeppelin a few years ago.

  3. As Baker himself said to one of them (and I'm probably paraphrasing a little:)

    'Before your time?' 'So was the Bible, but I take it you've heard of that'.

  4. I sympathise. I've hear the same complaint as well.

    At the same time in the stratified world of music, being "of your time" can seem as much of a daunting chore as it is to have a perspective on all that has gone before.

    Contemporary music is still as much a process of generational individuation (& oedipal rejection) as it is ever was.

    (So, who do you think is changing the face of dubstep, David? Is that a question you should be expected to know the answer to?)

    Surely we have moved from an academy or top 40 view of music - to a far more splintered, atomised or even ghettoised experience of music.

    Perhaps, in the shadow of the Word's demise, it is even harder for curious listeners to find a chaperone who can teach and guide them through the history of popular music.

    I know that the Word pushed me to reconsider & revaluate many past idols who - as a surly rebellious teenage - I considered to be utterly irrelevant.

    Still the kids today have Spotify. So maybe they have no valid excuse for not exploring the entire world of recorded music!

    Ans the phrase, "Kicking it old school" does seem to make it OK to know music that is older than a year...

  5. Who won WWII?

    Dunno, it was before my time.

  6. For me, "It's before my time" is a polite way of saying that "These people had a big impact on you but honestly, they mean nothing to me". Horrifying, I know, that other people have a different perception of the past than you.

  7. Agreed up to a point David but I wouldn't say that people in general are like that based on a particular example. Obviously this caller isn't really Interested In Music.

    If anything I suggest that we British are obsessed by trivia and history; Round Britain Quiz, Call My Bluff,University Challenge etc etc and goodness knows how many pub quiz leagues around the country.

    If you really want to be among the genuinely incurious there are continents full of them; peoples to whom the reading of a book for pleasure is quite extraordinary. Nice places to visit and nice people but...well, windy vacancies.

    ''It's before my time'' has just bought to mind a line from Chris Rock's great stand-up show, Bring The Pain in which he explains why he like likes black people but he hates ni**ers.

    'If you ask a ni**ger what city is the capital of France he'll say,

    ''I don't know that shit, I'm keepin' it real.''

    Chris:''yeh, real dumb.''

  8. As the Crystal Palace supporting contestant on the game you heard I'd just like to say that I simply didn't know. I never said it was before my time, that was the Spurs fan.

    I like Neil Young very much and rate "On the Beach" as one of my favourite albums of all time. I simply haven't gone back any further through all his musical avenues and their surnames are as interchangeable to me as Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Ant/Dec.

    I bought the Word, miss it, and have lots of vinyl covering many genres but the longer I live the more history there seems to be and I've only got so many
    hours in the day/week/year. Apologies for disappointing you.

    On the bright side I won the game and Palace beat Brighton 3-0 later that afternoon.


  9. But I guess it's OK to say "sorry, it's after my time" as I suspect most of us would if asked to name the Wu-Tang Clan or something.

    'It's before my time" is really just a snarky youngsters way of saying "I don't know that, you old hippie"

  10. Also comparing not knowing some trivia about rock music with knowing about the outcome of the second world war is rather absurd. Most people know about the important stuff from the past but don't give a toss about some album that you happen to think is rather wonderful.

  11. I know about a lot of things that happened before and after I was born in 1974, but knowing which member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young was Graham is not one of those things. (Well, I know it wasn't Young.)

  12. Ah, but the thing about the young is that they can't be bothered retaining any of this kind of information.

    They just "Google it".

  13. Thank God he didn't ask which member of The Hollies was called Graham.

  14. So could you have, say, named all the Ink Spots had you been asked in the 1970s?