Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm about to turn 60, and if my parents were alive today I'd tell them that I finally get them -- or at least one aspect of their lives. It wasn't my father's fondness for white loafers without socks or my mother's penchant for forgetting to remove the Hydrox box from the oven before turning it on (double baked cookies were a staple in our family).

I'm referring to their music and the gulf that existed between what I and they listened to and prized.

This all came about because suddenly I've become the same musical fogie in my daughter's eyes that my parents were in mine. It wasn't always this way. When Lizzie was four, my wife and I would pack her in the car on the way to a cross-country race with the Ramones blasting on the stereo to fire up our legs. For years, we'd hear her singing, "I Wanna Be 'Sezzaded' in the back seat, and when I played our special John Fogerty song we'd dance together in mutual delight.

But then somehow she turned 15. "You don't know Marina and the Diamonds?"

Um, no.

"You don't like Lana Del Rey?"

Suddenly, it's 1970, and I've got Tommy blasting on my $50 stereo, and my parents are screaming "Turn that down! How can you listen to that stuff?"

"It's a rock opera by the Who, Ma, how can you not like this?"

Now, let me just say what you're probably thinking: you can't equate Lana Del Rey with the Who or Ed Sheeran with The Beatles or One Direction (Lizzie hates them, but I'll use them as an example anyway) with the Stones. Fact is, you can't. The music of that generation was special. When I think of 1969 alone, it's just overwhelming to think of who was at or near their primes: the Beatles, Stones, Who, the Band, Joplin, Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, the Motown acts, the Dead, Airplane, S&G, CSN, CCR, the Cowsills (just testing to see if you're still reading this). My God.

But the thing is this: no matter how good it was, to a 15-year-old it is still was our music, not hers and she just has no interest. Was I any different? Nope. Sinatra, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, they sucked! Nat King Cole? You've got to be kidding! The Mills Brothers? Don't make me laugh!

Oh, was I insufferable. At least Lizzie is nice about it, but consider this: the Beatles made their debut on Ed Sullivan over 50 years ago. When I was 15, the equivalent breakthrough would have been Paul Whiteman on the radio in 1920.

And I have to admit, my parents could occasionally show some tolerance, probably more than I show. They took us to see "Help" and "Hard Days Night." They sat through Woodstock, the movie (although my father kept referring to Ten Years After as "Ten Long Years). And in 1973, my Dad grew sideburns and liked to do the white-man's lip bite while dancing to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon." That's about as far as he got though.

Me, I've learned to love Sinatra and big band music (spent tonight playing "Choo Choo Choo Boogie on my ukulele -- hell I play the ukulele). One of the highlights of my journalism career was harmonizing "Paper Doll" with my friend Lenny Del Genio, the guy who shot Moe Green in "The Godfather." If only I had it in me to ask my parents to sit down with me in front of our record player and put on their favorite records. Who knows, they might have interrupted their golf games to play some of them for me.

Their record pile did inadvertently change my life though. Among their records were two "I Can Hear it Now" lps by Edward R. Murrow. Each track was a major news story of the thirties to the the Fifties. I was fascinated by the track about the Hiss-Chambers case. "One of these two men was the most convincing, calculating and cool liar in the history of Washington hearings." Thanks, Mom and Dad. Fifty years and 100,000 FBI files later, I've figured out the answer. The book should be done in a couple of years.

And Lizzie, I'm thrilled that she loves her music, and occasionally, even have a cross-generational breakthrough. A few weeks ago, she told me how she loves really old music, and had I ever heard of the Talking Heads. Then she pulled out her ipad and cued up Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over." You know this song, she asked me incredulously?

Now, I don't want to exaggerate our progress. That same night, she scrolled through her ipad and said to my wife, "This band's after your time, so you probably don't know them." It was Nirvana.

She thinks Elvis Presley was weird, and when I suggest she listen to "The Weight" or "Satisfaction" she just rolls her eyes. You can't win them all, or at least not yet. I still have hope though. In the meantime, O'l Blue Eyes is cued up while I think of my folks.

I will never, ever wear the white shoes though.


William Repsher said...

I'd put forth that most of what your daughter listens to would be like you busting on your parents because they think The Archies are bullshit. There are no Beatles, or Dylan, or Stones in newer pop lanscapes. In my mind, there's plenty of good music and bands -- I always have new stuff to listen to -- but there are no great bands or recording artists anymore. And I want that to not be the case!

I can still recall looking down on my Mom because I was into The Alan Parsons Project, with their heavy concept albums about Poe, pyramids, I Robot, man. Meanwhile, she was listening to big band on jazz on her Saturday morning radio shows ... that was light years beyond whatever I had going on at the time in taste.

You listen to music long enough, across all sorts of genre, way beyond the tired, lame age barriers of decades-based pop music, and you get an ear for music that resonates. That's what I'd communicate to your kid, or you for that matter, or anyone who loves music. There's a lot more out there than the stuff we're force-fed culturally, and some of it is pretty good. "Old" or "new" has very little to do with it. Aside from childhood and teenage nostalgia influencing my tastes in pop, I'm pretty open to all types of music, and understand I'll be mis-labeled accordingly if I find fault with it!

Joelhb53 said...

Sal, my parents had those Hear It Now records as well. What I remember most is Hitler ranting and raving and LaGuardia reading Dick Tracey on WNYC.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Wow., Great post. I have a 15 year old daughter who knows tons of my music. But since until recently she was a fairie, loud rock or punk has been largely absent. I've never played her Led Zepellin, although she's heard all the music Jimmy Plagiarized. The only songs she knows by the Who are "Boris The Spider" and the song that mentions Christmas on Tommy. She knows the early Beatles, "Lucy In The Sky", and she's really familiar with "Pure McCartney". She doesn't differentiate between Paul and The Beatles.
The first song she actually asked me for was "I Can't Keep From Cryin' Sometimes" by Davy Graham. She tended toward British folk, and on her own loves The Moulettes. At least last week. Now she is fascinated by something I'd never know about.
It's actually a program meant for being able to add background vocals without hiring a singer. You type in the words and a melody and voila! vocals of the most artificial variety. A vocalist was originally hired for the samples, and a japanese woman standing in for a little girl has become a sort of superstar, or at least the animated girl using her voice has. There are tons of fan-made songs using vocaloid and what appears to be all midi "instruments" to go with videos. The cartoon character plays concerts as a hologram.
My daughter is obsessed with Oliver, who originally was a 13 year old English boy. He is the first child Vocaloid voiced by one. He is for assembling faux Vienna Boys Choirs. If you run a search you'll find a ton of Manga drawings of him. My daughter went to Comic-Con and a Halloween party dressed as Oliver (None of her school friends had heard of Oliver until that moment). All this music is on YouTube, which is where the teens are. There are music videos of varying quality and often with download links for mp3's. I know because I taught her how to get them. Her phone is full of it by now.
The songs are obvious, and horrible teenage angst written by men my age, and rendered in the falsest least authentic manner possible.
I don't put it down. She has found the one music I don't play and she can call her own.
Arguably I can say that because I broadcast a crazy playlist of everything whose only connection is authenticity, she has found something uniquely contrived and mechanical for contrast.
I remember that was some of Kraftwerk's attraction.
I've done my job. She is familiar with The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Steeleye Span, and most things in between. But no classical, Opera, or metal.

My parents had Louis Armstrong's "Plays W. C. Handy", with his all-stars and recorded in 1951. That and "Benny Goodman At Carnegie Hall" were the records my parents played that I still have and enjoy. I never have been able to get into Frank. He's a bore. I like Dean and Sammy better.

Shriner said...

Sadly, my daughters (15 and 18 -- I'm hitting 50 this year) have gravitated to more hip-hop than I can stand.

While they certainly have had a bunch of 60's pop hits (Beatles, Monkees, Beach Boys) burned into their subconscious, the gulf is there now.

I don't listen to "today's top hits" 24x7 -- and they do. Occasionally something breaks through that we both can relate to, but it's not as often as we used to.

What my wife has commented on recently is that each of us now really only listens to the music we like individually with our iPhones and headphones unless we are all in the car together. I blame my wife because she keeps telling everybody (including me) to "turn that shit down"...

That's the sad part. Almost no cross-generational discovery any more. It's become way too simple to latch on to stuff only you like, but not realize that others might (or do) like it as well.

Anonymous said...

there's still cross-pollination via the movie soundtrack. true story, my daughter (15 at the time?) was watching "Across the Universe" with her mom and said near the end, "old music is better, isn't it?"

steves said...

Great post, Jeff! Funny how we all seem to have 15-year-old daughters, too.

I raised my daughter on generous portions of the Beatles and 60's pop, which she still enjoys (though it's getting harder to get her to admit it). In fact, one of my prized memories was her teaching herself to play "When a Man Loves a Woman" on the keyboard by watching a how-to Youtube video when she was 11. A proud moment for both of us. These days, she's leaning more toward the pop of her own time--Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Adele, Rihanna, et al. Much of it I like; some of it I don't. But then, as the point of your piece seems to doesn't matter how we feel about it. Still, it's at least something we can still talk about. (She's even gotten good at anticipating my request to change the station on the car radio).

Sorry to say, my parents' taste in music had absolutely no impact on my own (aside from making me live in dread of the day when I'm in the mood to hear some Roger Whitaker or Mantovani).

rick said...

Two things: 1. At what temperature and for how long should I bake the cookies? 2. My kids are older and are adults now; be grateful yours isn't into rap.