I’ll lead into the subject of this post with a quick story. I was driving Maisy home from school a couple of weeks ago when she asked if she could play dj and cued up the song, Super Rich Kids, off of Frank Ocean’s recently released album, Orange (I’ll wait for the snickering to stop). She did this—of course—by selecting the song on her phone (she either had it on there or played it from her streaming service) and channeled it via Bluetooth through the car’s audio system, easy peasy. If you don’t know this song and have a music streaming service, go ahead and play its opening right now and you’ll have the same experience I had just then. Exactly: he’s lifted—“sampled”—those brilliant, pounding chords from the intro to Bennie and the Jets. After the song finishes I point this out to Maisy, tee up Bennie using my phone and we share a moment of amusement over the matter.
I’ll get back to the story in a moment, but the point of this post is something I find elusive these days where the lives of our kids are concerned: what exactly do they consider precious? If you’re a parent in the present, I suspect you’ve likely thought about this yourself. I can guess when you’ve thought about this—each holiday season as thoughts turn to what gifts to get your kids this time around. These kids lack for nothing! Thoughts only confirmed when they then produce a list of such esoteric things (magenta laced Uggs??) you’re stricken for all of the 15 seconds it takes to find them (and six derivations) at Amazon.
I can’t help but reflect on what it would have taken for the very same car scene to have played out between my Dad and I back when I was Maisy’s age. That would place us in 1979 when I was 15. Dad’s driving me home and the ONE worthwhile radio station in town (WAAL) plays a new song I’m digging and I enthusiastically turn it up. Dad notices a similarity to its intro with an older song and…then what? My Dad tells me about the similarity, and I…take him at his word? Or, my Dad happens to have the song on cassette, the cassette happens to be in the glove box, so in a fit of good fortune he reaches into the glove box, finds the cassette, pops it into the player, we wait for it to rewind to the right song, and then listen to it?
Of course everything about that scenario is absurd (not the least of which is the likelihood of Blue Oyster Cult being inclined to sample a Sammy Davis, Jr. riff). My point here is that music used to be precious to us since it was still then something of a scarce commodity. Sure, we all had our collections, and there was certainly an abundance of music out there by then. But the economic constraints of our teenage era meant there was a beginning and end to your collection. Everything else, you were dependent on your buddy’s collection, or the radio playing that song. Remember what it was like when a song you were dying to hear came on the radio? Those were big moments in our little worlds, you pretty much stopped everything to lean into—what the hell, let’s go the distance here: your Coke can radio—the sound and sing along.
Think about the difference in the relationship this created between us and our music and our favorite artists, and that which exists between our kids presently and theirs. Our artists existed in some unknown but fantastically imagined remote universe wherein they alchemically conjured up these magical songs, God knew how, that eventually made their way to our radios, maybe even into our collections if we had a particularly good month of tips from the ol’ paper route. And then, if the gods REALLY shined on us, once every five years these artists would show up in person to play the Veterans Memorial Arena in our hometown. Sure, we played it cool and flashed our bics when our bands hit the stage, but let’s be honest: inside we were the same wave of shrieking girls the Beatles ran into night after night in their day.
Now? You see it all, you know. Now our kids get daily (hell–hourly) updates via tweets and instagrams of their artists in studio as they develop new music (I read recently where one artist encouraged his fans to submit lines of lyrics and crafted a song out of them). They can play that music of course anytime, anywhere (including, Dick Tracy, through their watches). Given the decline of the value of store bought music, they can count on their artists showing up in town again and again, live performances being where the bucks are these days.
Clothes, movies, books—you name the medium, it’s the same thing again and again. It’s all just…right there for our kids anymore.
So what sets their hearts on fire, I have to ask? What’s the fleeting thing, the rarity, the Hailey’s Comet in their lives that they have to wait for, have to earn, have to be at the right place at the right time to experience? What exactly is precious to you when Facebook indicates you have…578 friends?
I wouldn’t give up the era in which I grew up, the way it shaped my dreams and my passions, the way it leant an air of mystery and fate to every day living, for anything about the current environment, so saturated as it is in everything. Wanting and waiting are good for the soul.
I remember stealing away one day from high school with a girl friend at the time (one for whom of course the gap between those words couldn’t disappear fast enough) to grab a few slices at Mario’s. As we finished and made our way to the door to get back in time for the next class, the room suddenly filled with those wonderfully funky opening chords from Styx’s latest hit, “Too Much Time On My Hands.” Oh, yes we did sit right back down and ran the risk of detention in order to enjoy the hell out singing, “I HAVE DOZENS OF FRIENDS AND THE FUN NEVER ENDS….”