Monday, December 04, 2006

What will today's kids be crooning?

Joel Monka caught a doo-whop special on PBS last night and the nostalgia of the old people really got to him.

At CUUMBAYA, he writes:Suddenly it occurred to me that this was another thing denied to the Hip-hop generation. That they’ve been denied a positive, uplifting cultural experience in the present is pretty clear- but they’ve also been denied in the future the kind of societal-binding nostalgia their parents have, the camaraderie of shared cultural experience the oldies induce.

I don't worry about that. After all, Baby-Boomer era music is more or less about screwing and using drugs and people seem to feel nostalgic about that.

I liked alternative as a teenager and admittedly, I didn't listen to too terribly much Hip-Hop, but I have very tender feelings toward 2 Live Crew's Banned in the USA.

Goodness, even reading the lyrics again brought back being twelve years old and standing in front of a clock radio in my bedroom really understanding for the first time how music could be art and could capture and explain great depths of feeling.

"Wisen up, 'cause on Election Day,
We'll see who's banned in the U.S.A.!"

still stirs my soul a bit.

"So all you right-wingers, left-wingers, bigots, Communists,
there IS a place for you in this world!
Because this is the land of the FREE, the home of the BRAVE!
And 2 Live is what we are!"

does too, perhaps irrationally so as the idea expressed certainly isn't very unusual, but it really spoke to me when I was a kid.

That said, most people who would make Joel's argument probably are not with me on those particular lyrics, so I will point out that the same folks who listen to rap when they are in one mood I suspect often listen to snuggly R+B when they are in another. Decades from now, Boys II Men will no doubt be gray-haired and crooning if they want to be. Also, Ne-Yo has songs like Sexy Love and So Sick that are acceptably croonable.

I particuarly like "So Sick" because it has the lyrics:

Cuz I'm so sick of love songs
So tired of tears
So done with wishing she was still here
Said I'm so sick of love songs so sad and slow
So why can't I turn off the radio?

I recall feeling EXACTLY this way when I broke up with my first serious boyfriend and a Gap commercial that I couldn't quite turn off kept making me cry. (Shut up, I was fifteen.)

Though there is a balkanization of music preference that goes along with having lots of subcultures, the fact that I mostly listened to Nirvana, Pavement, Radiohead, etc. in high school and can still talk to you about lots of the most popular Rap and R+B songs indicates that the balkanization isn't so extreme that music from another subculture can't mean something to me.

Anyway, I think our generation will be OK...



Joel Monka said...

I'm sure you're right, for you and yours- but I'm not sure my fears are misplaced for a great many. There are large numbers of urban kids, black and white, who are contemptuous of any music that isn't "real", meaning nasty, brutish, and short (apologies to Hobbes). I'm sure they'll grow out of it in the end- a healthy person can't spend an entire life wallowing in anger and filth, can they?- but any new appreciation of other music they form in their maturity cannot give them the same experiences that sharing in real time would, just as reading about Kennedy being assasinated doesn't give you the memories of where you were when you heard of it.

Anonymous said...

Nostalgia is fine, and we all experience it, but it shouldn't be used as a yardstick with which to measure newer generations.

I didn't listen to a whole lot of 80s music until it was almost the 90s. I bought my first, very own cassette when I was 13 years old (1989). Prior to that I did see MTV, but generally at my grandmother's house because we didn't usually have cable, and the tv was often put away in the closet.

Still, I remember some things: Boy George, Boyz II Men, Madonna, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Van Halen, 2 Live Crew, REM, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, and so on.

The worst criticism I can offer for today's Top 40 is its lack of diversity. For the most part, the most popular music of young people can be broken into four categories: angsty white males; bragging black males; triumphant young women who don't need you anymore; and country-pop (which tends to incorporate elements of the first and third categories).

Still, whatever. I don't listen to a lot of pop music because I just can't relate to it. I wasn't raised to fall in love repeatedly, and I'm too old to identify with the hanging-out-at-the-malls-with-the-girls lifestyle (though apparently Mariah Carey is not).

The best thing we can do is encourage a wider variety of music on the airwaves, and set an example of opening our eyes to the wider world and appreciating what is unfamiliar. If youth today are dismissive of what is strange or not in their experience, it's because we adults have taught them this.

My two brothers both love hip hop and are very skilled at rapping. They dedicated countless hours to writing lyrics, and performed in public. One of my brothers, by the age of 15, was playing in a city youth symphony, and had taught himself keyboard and several other instruments. Both of them read extensively and incorporated the things they'd learned about history and science into their lyrics. When we were kids we would listen to Schubert, Elvis, The Supremes, Phil Collins, the Marsalis brothers, Tracy Chapman. (Country music was pretty much the only thing not on our radar, although I came to enjoy it later). Still, when people looked at my brothers, they saw "urban black males" and whatever baggage they associated with that. They thought they knew all about them based on what they listened to and how they dressed.

Having parents with open minds was crucial. I am shocked at some of the music that is out today. It seems more profane and aggressive than it used to be. I was looking for a dance hit on iTunes and came across a song where the chorus was literally "I wanna *uck you ...." Wow. Just Wow! But this was R&B, not hip hop anyway.

All of this is to say is that I think the way to help young people is not by rejecting some music, but by embracing more types of music. One of the things my parents did right was show us that it was okay to listen to all kinds of music. Also, they encouraged us to think for ourselves and that naturally lends itself to stretching beyond what is just mainstream and popular.

Anonymous said...

Oh, some advice from Tupac:

I stop and stare at the younger, my heart goes to'em
They tested, it was stressed that they under
In our days, things changed
Everyone's ashamed to the youth cause the truth looks strange
And for me it's reversed, we left them a world that's cursed, and it hurts
cause any day they'll push the button
and yall condemned like Malcolm x and Bobby Hunton, died for nothing
Don't them let me get teary, the world looks dreary
but when you wipe your eyes, see it clearly
there's no need for you to fear me
if you take your time to hear me, maybe you can learn to cheer me
it ain't about black or white, cause we're human
I hope we see the light before its ruined


I refuse to be a role model
I set goals, take control, drink out my own bottles
I make mistakes, I learn from everyone
And when its said and done
I bet this Brotha be a better one
If I'm upset, you don't stress
Never forget, that God hasn't finished with me yet
I feel his hand on my brain
When I write rhymes, I go blind, and let the lord do his thang
But am I less holy
Cause I choose to puff a blunt and drink a beer with my homies
Before we find world peace
We gotta find peace and end the war on the streets

Anonymous said...

((I wasn't raised to fall in love repeatedly)))

That fascinates me. Before this, I would never have said that I WAS raised to fall in love repeatedly, but compared to you I bet I really was.

From the time I was 12 or so on, my parents were very clear that I was likely going to feel some very strong things for somebody, but there were a lot of people in the world and I shouldn't assume that the first guy whom I fell in love with was the one. My mother even put it as bluntly as "The man you should marry is the man you fall in love with when you're ready to get married."

Oh, and if the song you came across was "I wanna fuck you like an animal" by NIN, that was one of my favorite songs in high school, and I turned out OK.


Joel Monka said...

The NIN song you refer to is actually titled "Closer to God", amusingly enough- and I like that one, too. I don't really count songs like that as negative, because being in lust is not denigrating the person you lust for- for all we know, begind closed doors, Mr. Thatcher said the same thing to Maggie Thatcher.

The thing that strikes me is that both of you spoke of what your parents taught you. A great many children are taught mainly by their friends and the street and the media. With good parents, decent children can be raised in any environment.

But all that is kind of beside the point I was trying to make, which was just that the gansta rap fans, in addition to whatever else one may fear the rap is doing to them, are being separated from the rest of society. They will be in the same situation as someone raised in a sequestered commune; the only difference is that they are doing it to themselves voluntarily.

Anonymous said...

No, it wasn't the NIN song, but something more recent. I can't even remember the name of the person. Probably some flash in the pan singer. By the way, Maxwell does a great cover of "Closer" on his MTV Unplugged CD.

Anonymous said...

"the gansta rap fans, in addition to whatever else one may fear the rap is doing to them, are being separated from the rest of society"

I see this in reverse -- gangsta rap is so mainstream that those who disdain it are separating themselves from the rest of their generation. I felt really outside of things when Tupac died and I didn't know who he was because I only listened to pop music. And I find anger and sadness to be more unifying actually than happy pop -- the stronger the emotional impact, the more you think "Yes, what Springsteen is saying about the death of Amadou Diallo is exactly what I feel," then the more memorable it is. Otherwise it's measured solely by how many times radio successfully pounded it into your brain.

Anonymous said...

And kind of off-topically, but you know how some people have their Black Friend who explains things like hip hop culture to them? Well, I hereby declare you my UU friend, to explain the letter I got in today's mail:

"Dear Friend,
In America today we hear much about the role religion and moral values play in electing politicians, running our government and setting the legislative agenda in America. 'Moral values' become a weapon to wield to make a point, to raise money or to question the character of an adversary.
Sadly, until now, there has been little true debate over what constitutes moral values and a moral society. Those who claim victory in elections or in passing new laws under the banner of moral values have gone largely unchallenged.
I hope that like me, you welcome the increased attention being paid to moral issues. A more moral society is something that can potentially improve the lives of all Americans.
But I am not willing to cede the moral high ground to the fundamentalists of the religious right who are using the language of faith and religion to adavance a narrow-minded, mean spirited agenda built on what I consider immoral values of intolerance, exclusion, division, repression and the steady imposition of their own religious beliefs into our government and public life.

That's what makes the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) so important -- and why, no matter what your faith, or if you are an agnostic or atheist, we need your support."

It goes on like that for another 3.5 pages. Do you know if UUA is doing a big secular outreach? I figure they got my name and address from the half-dozen liberal mailing lists I'm on.

Anonymous said...

3.5 pages? That's a very very very long introduction letter!

I haven't heard anything about it, but I also haven't checked my mail in almost two weeks.