[12 August 2012]
Why are my kids so into Survivor and MC Hammer? Aren’t kids supposed to listen to new, crappy music instead of their parents’ crappy music? Every time I turn around, my 11-year-old has his iPod plugged into the speakers and is blasting either “U Can’t Touch This”, to which he and his seven-year-old brother furiously dance the Running Man to, or else they’re warbling along to “Eye of the Tiger”, their voices climbing more in decibels than pitch as they struggle to execute the high note in the chorus. (And yes, ‘execute’ is the proper word for what they’re doing to that note.)
On a physical level, you better believe I understand the appeal that a song like “Eye of the Tiger” holds for an 11-year-old boy, because just like my folks said about Monterey Pop, I was there, man.
I begged them to take me to see Rocky III, which the song was written for, only somehow it got paired as a double feature with Annie, so I had to endure that pile of girly mush for two long hours before I got to see Mr. T beat the crap out of the Italian Stallion. But oh yes, it was worth it, because “Eye of the Tiger” washed away all the hokey sap about the sun coming out tomorrow. The opening guitar riff alone contains enough testosterone to increase the jock size of most preadolescents by up to three sizes. And while the lyrics don’t make a lot of sense (if he’s the “last sole survivor”, then who’s he stalking in the night?), the chorus is a masterpiece of corny machismo, the kind that makes you want to grow a mustache, punch a horse, and drive off in a custom-painted Trans Am.
The MC Hammer song I don’t get, maybe because I didn’t get it when it came out, either. It’s sort of tough I guess, if you can ignore the audible swishing of his giant silk pants and lines like “the singers are sweating so pass them a wipe.” It sure doesn’t make me want to punch any herbivorous quadrupeds, I’ll tell you that. What it does make me want to do is force my kids to listen to Rick James’ “Superfreak” a million times, because the stubborn brats refuse to admit it’s the better song. They’re just like, “Why is it good to be a superfreak? Why can’t she meet his mom? What does kinky mean?”
I’m not complaining. There’s sure a lot worse things they could be into. I mean, at least they haven’t gone Juggalo or anything… yet. But it strikes me as odd that I see so many young people looking back towards the music their parents listened to instead of rallying around any number of current musical options.
It’s not just my kids—visit a high school sometime and check out the T-shirts. While you’ll see a lot of Avenged Sevenfold, As I lay Dying, and other standard Hot Topic fare, the kids at your local school are just as likely to sport Journey or Rolling Stones shirts, printed in that distressed way that makes it look like they got them at an arena concert circa 1981, more than a decade before they were even born.
Again, I’m not saying it’s bad… just odd. I always thought of adolescence as a time to reject my parents’ tastes. I still feel a little guilty about polluting my poor mom’s music collection, taping Corrosion of Conformity over her best Bob Dylan cassette. Nowadays I’ll take Dylan over Corrosion of Conformity just about any day of the week, but hell, I’m old now, I got an excuse. Back then I felt like I was performing some sacred and unquestionable rite: destroying the old to make way for the new. Move over Fleetwood Mac—the kids all dig the Meatmen, now.
Maybe I was an extreme case in my troubled teen years, though. Thinking back to my childhood, I concede that I listened to a lot of my parents’ music. But I swear it was different. For one, we had this thing called “radio”, which pretty much dictated our tastes, moods and desires on a daily basis. It was a lot easier being told what you liked rather than actually having to search for it like you do now. If someone came out with a terrible song with a chorus like, “Xanadu, Xanadu, now we are ooooh, in Xanadu”, you didn’t question it. You just cinched up your Mork & Mindy rainbow suspenders and sang along. (And if some well-meaning uncle gave you a stack of scratchy 45s including Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe through the Tulips”, a song that made your stepdad look like he was having a stroke, what could a boy do but blast it as loud as his Fisher-Price record player could go?)
Or, like I did sometimes, you could switch to the Oldies station and bop along to Eddie Cochrane or be lulled to sleep by some sweet, creepy crooner like “Earth Angel”, But even as much as I loved ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll (still do, for that matter), I always understood that I was peering through a window at a style I could never actually own. Sure, I could get a jacket like the Fonz, but what then? Go to a sock hop? What the hell is a sock hop?
What’s funny is that ‘50s music was even sort of hip then, as the popularity of Grease and Happy Days attests to—part of that wave of nostalgia for a more innocent time when gas cost a nickel a gallon and cigarettes were still good for you. I didn’t get any of that then, but I still considered Oldies as more of a timeshare than a home. So I wonder why a lot of young people seem to see it differently than I did.
I think, for one thing, kids aren’t listening to as much radio anymore, and who can blame them? Radio sucks now. What was once a fairly diverse and localized media has been Clear-channeled and commoditized into a bland paste of schlock and Aerosmith. You used to be able to drive across the U. and hear a hundred different musical styles, different DJ accents, different local bands. Now every town seems to have the same four stations playing the same forty songs. Most markets don’t even have ‘50s music anymore, that old standby you could always count on for at least a Buddy Holly tune to tap out on the steering wheel. But Oldies radio is now almost all either “Classic Rock” or ‘80s music, a frightening phenomenon that gives me visions of a Gen X old folks home, where I suppose we’ll all sit around in Izod shirts trying to remember who did “Keep Feeling Fascination”.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if radio reflected the fact that there is now enough recorded music on Earth that we could listen to it for the rest of our lives and never hear the same song twice? Not that we wouldn’t want to hear some songs twice. If every song you heard was new, I guess that would get disorienting after a while.
But it’s almost the opposite at this point. Aside from album reviews on NPR and a dozen or so indistinguishable pop songs, the last new song I remember hearing on the radio was six years ago, and it was one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard—“Crazy Bitch” by Buckcherry. Out of all the millions of songs they could play, this is what makes rotation? I’d already lost faith in radio at that point, but that was the moment I gave up even twiddling the dials around. I’ll even listen to classical music before I subject myself to Buckcherry.
Unless my kids are in the car. Then you already know what we’ll be listening to—Rick James. I’m pretty sure my parents still hate him…