Sunday, 17 June 2007

Our Music, Their Music

Our kids are weird: they like our music.

Now we think this is great. Our generation produced some fantastic music, after all, even if you consider anomalies like The Partridge Family and the Monkees. But whenever I come into my kids' rooms and hear the Beatles or the Stones blasting away or find the youngest humming a Simon and Garfunkel melody, I can't help but feel that things are very different from the way they were when I was a teenager. At their age, I would have sooner gone to school in a tutu and hiking boots than voluntarily listen to the music of my parents' youth. And yet, both of my kids are crazy about the Stones and the Beatles. The youngest admires Paul Simon's lyrics and Art Garfunkel's fine, clear tenor. Both of them love reggae, acid rock, folk rock and Motown. In fact, I would say that they like over 85% of the music we liked in our teens and twenties. And I'll tell you something even something weirder: WE like THEIRS.

When I was growing up, my parents liked country music and songs from musicals such as 'Oklahoma!' and 'The Music Man.' They watched Lawrence Welk religiously and when they wanted to get really racy, played old-fashioned jazz like Bix Beiderbecke. My mother knew countless hymns and old ballads, which I loved, and everyone in my family was crazy about Gilbert & Sullivan and classical music. But as we kids grew into our teens, our musical tastes began to part company with those of our parents and suddenly there was 'our' music and 'their' music. They increasingly began to refer to our music as noise, and finally the gap between our musical tastes was ocean-wide. If I put on something for my mother to listen to, she invariably said that it was nothing but a racket, and when she put on what she wanted to listen to I was inclined to run out of the room gagging. Almost everyone my age says the same thing: that their parents never understood their music, that it sounded like nothing more to them than a lot of jarring noise. And that they, in turn, found their parents' music as exciting as bologna on white bread.

We are not alone, either. We have found that we are by no means the only people who share musical tastes with our children. My husband and I and the other parents we know who admit to this are no cooler or trendier than your average parents, but we are definitely closer to our children music-wise than our parents were to us.

Even when I don't want to like their stuff, I like it. They play it and I say, "Hey, what is that?" "Why? Do you like it?" they ask eagerly, and I am forced to hem and haw. In order to be a proper parent, I feel that I ought to say "No, it's a lot of awful noise, turn it off right this minute!" like my parents said to me, but damn it, I like it and there is nothing for it. When the kids played Rammstein for me for the first time, I got nervous. Here I was, listening to the music of scary-looking German skinheads. And God help me, I thought it was great. Weezer, Muse, Decibully, Say Hi to Your Mom, Modest Mouse -- I think they're all great. I even like the Japanese hip hop my kids are so crazy about (Orange Range) and Visual K stuff like Malice Mizer. And as my eldest keeps reminding me, I would never have listened to the Dixie Chicks if it hadn't been for her.

So what is going on? Has rock narrowed the generation gap just a tiny bit? I'd like to think that is what has happened. That our generation was at the vanguard of a music revolution. That music has changed dramatically, and that while rock is evolving and will continue to evolve, it will be played and appreciated for many generations to come. Or maybe that isn't it at all. Maybe it's just that we baby boomers are simply determined to hang onto our youth -- and 'our' music -- like grim death.


Katie Alender said...

Rammstein -- classic! You are definitely bridging the generation gap better than I am. My youngest sibling is 11 years younger, and we struggle to find common ground. It is fun to find those connections, though -- she loves The Eels, as I do -- we even share favorite songs. She also loves Elvis, which is strangely gratifying to me.

My tastes in music are slightly outside the mainstream. It's impressive that in the digital, on-demand age, your daughters are really thinking about what they like vs. what everyone happens to be listening to!

Carole said...

This was a great post. I grew up without electricity, hence without a radio, so didn't listen to music until I got married. So, and this is weird, I've heard--but I can take music or leave it and prefer to leave it. If someone else turns it on I can listen, but if I am by myself, I never turn music on. I do like all sorts of music but this is a mild like.

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- I love the Eels, too, having first heard their song 'My Beloved Monster and Me' on Shrek. They have another number on Shrek Two, and I can't remember the title, but I like that one too. But I like all the songs on Shrek.

As for Rammstein, I actually made my kids furnish me with proof that they were NOT Neo Nazis; if they were, I wouldn't play their music no matter how much I liked it. They are not, it turns out, but I'm not sure about some of their fans...

My husband is eleven years younger than his youngest older brother, thus he grew up with musical tastes more appropriate for someone much older than he is. I think that your sister will be subtly influenced by your musical tastes whether she likes it or not.

Carole -- I am greatly intrigued to find someone who grew up without electricity and would love to hear all about it. My mother also grew up in a house without electricity, gas or running water; I believe they put all of those in only after she left home.

I also find it fascinating that you can do without music! I don't always put it on (the rest of the family cannot function without music playing somewhere nearby), but I do tend to do all my work around the house and in the garden singing; I can't help myself.

Kim Ayres said...

It's a about 50/50 in our house. My son likes about half our stuff and we like about half of his. My daughter will sing along to anything from Rammstein to the Tweenies

Eryl Shields said...

My son and I have almost identical musical taste but my husband is out on his own. He rarely likes what we like and we usually gag at his choices. Actually this is only true for recent music. When it comes to a lot of the older stuff we all agree. For example we all love Paul Simon, The Beatles, Van Morrison and early Captain Beefheart.

I think rock has narrowed the gap and also that there probably hasn't been anything entirely new for forty years. Just refinement and new angles on the same thing.

Actually this has really got me thinking. Great post.

Brian said...

Born in 1929, I did not have all that much to do with wireless before the war years -- and even then that listening consisted mainly of news and radio serials, rather than music,

I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, because The Shadow told me , and I flew China Clipper and listened when African Drums Are Talking .

I did get an early literary introduction with the radio serialisation of some English Classics . I remember all too well John Halifax , Gentleman .

But music ? Great tenors , some classical , and some Dixieland . At the age of fourteen I was entranced by a rendition of Sourabaya Johnny -- the ultimate torchsong -- in German which I did not understand. Life changing moment .

No records -- no gramophone and nothing like iPods and Cd s

Saturday arvo at the local cinema did ruin my taste for big band swing -- with those Glen Miller bandsmen bobbing up and down to play three notes and wave their saxophones , and vocals by Tex Benecke and some off key female trios .

The university Union room and its radiogram took me back to the mix of Dixie and classical and I now have a big collection of vinyls-- some very off beat stuff among them.

As a words man I loathe rap -- but my grandsons and I seem to be able to put up with each other's tastes in music quite freely -- they use my computer to download stuff and I seem to have an iTunes full of it !

Chacun a son gout , I guess


Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- 50/50 is a pretty good ratio. When I was an adolescent, my parents and I struggled to find common musical ground. Classical music, some folk, and certainly Gilbert & Sullivan were at least music we could all listen to without any of us itching to clap hands over ears and run screaming from the room.

Eryl -- Now I am dying to know what sort of music your husband likes!

We're big Paul Simon fans here too, and I always regretted not going to a S & G concert. A friend of mine who did go to a few said that while Paul Simon was obviously the musical brains of the duo, Art Garfunkel had incredible rapport and a wonderfully charismatic, self effacing manner with the crowd.

Brian -- My father had a huge jazz collection, all on vinyl: 45s, 78s and 33 1/3s, if I am remembering correctly. And he also had a very off-beat collection of swing, folk, and Dixieland. When he was in a good mood, he would sometimes play a select few for us and we loved them. Unfortunately, he tended to be stingy with them and we never heard as much as we wanted to. And then we were teens and he'd lost his window of opportunity, so to speak.

I am not a rap fan either; I hate the sexist, violent lyrics. But I have heard a woman rapper whose music I both liked and admired -- though now, of course, I cannot remember her name...

When I was in Japan and used to listen to the Far East Network, I got addicted to radio shows like The Whistler and The Shadow! So I do understand their appeal.

Eryl Shields said...

Stevie seems to like rather sentimental stuff played and sung without any real passion: David Grey springs to mind. I just find him too mild and bland. Though all three of us really like Ray Lamontagne.

I can't stand rap music either but oddly I enjoyed the film 8 Mile and it really helped me to understand the roots of rap. The problem with most of it is that it has been cynically manipulated for a market. It plays on the insecurities of the disenfranchised black male.

Mary Witzl said...

I've never heard of David Grey!

Although I hate rap's sexism and racism, if I forget the words, sometimes I think it's great. Most of the time, I just can't get past the words to enjoy the whole rap experience. It is all too easy to get past the lyrics with Rammstein, given my inability to understand German...