I can remember sitting in the basement, as a teenager, surrounded by thousands of records (that’s vinyl LPs, none of these new-fangled CDs the kids are all talking about), listening to my Dad give me a speech he had practiced to perfection with my older brother.
“How many records do you need?” “Have you ever calculated how much money you’ve spent on these? That’s money you could have in the bank right now.” “When are you ever going to even have time to listen to all of these?” I don’t remember the speech verbatim, but those were some of the highlights.
This is not a conversation that was unique to my home. I suspect that parents all across the country were having some form of this conversation with their children.
But one thing my Dad said to me in those frequent conversations really stuck with me. I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be memorable. And it certainly wasn’t the main thrust of the discussion. However, it is relevant to me today in a way I don’t think anyone could have guessed then.
He made the point to me that music and owning records just wasn’t that prominently a part of culture when he was growing up. Kids weren’t judging or being judged by their music tastes, the size of their record collection or their ability to sing along with the latest hit. Music didn’t define people then the way they do now.
The numbers bear this out. In 1960, there were 600 million records sold. In 2007, there were 1.3 billion units sold (and remember that sales have been on the decline since the masses began downloading music, as an alternative).
Further evidence can be seen by turning on the television and observing how much coverage musicians get these days. They even have several of their own stations. Following musicians and music is just far more important to pop culture now than it was 40, 30 or even 20 years ago. Music-making programs are standard on Macs and common place on the computers of most music fans. Making music is at our fingertips like never before.
Music has always been very important to me… to who I am. But, I suspect there was an aspect of my insatiable need for a new record rooted in some form of rebellion against my parents – if not general good teenage behavior.
Fast forward to 2008, and now I am the parent with a four-year-old daughter. At this point, there’s been plenty of coverage of what Gen X is doing with their kids. Essentially, as the premise goes, the children of Gen X parents are seen by their parents as a way to show everyone how cool they are.
Gen X parents get their kids into their music (the very music they used to piss off their parents before them), dress them the way they dress and generally play out their displays of individuality on the playground – their kids’ playground, that is.
As it relates specifically to music, I’m not sure that my daughter is ever going to get the “you own too much music” speech from me. In fact, I have to plead somewhat guilty, at least, to indoctrinating my child with alternative music from the 70’s through to now. I’m not sure it’s forced. She definitely appears to love it and has a great time singing and dancing. And my main motivation is to share with her a passion of mine.
But my generation never listened to the music of our parents. Not really. To my Dad’s point, it just wasn’t important enough to them that they’d make an effort to share it with us – Gen X. Sure, some parents did, but they were fewer in number then than they are now.
So, my question is, when my daughter is 14, how is she going to rebel? Somehow, the exclamation “Turn it off, Dad! I don’t ever want to hear another note of music in my life! I hate music… ALL music! And I hate you!” just seems a bit too ridiculous (especially the part about hating me… I mean, who could?). If the Gen Xers like me keep up with music the way we seem to be, and thus we end up listening to the same music as our kids, what music will they call their own.
If it’s possible that we have any taste at all, then all we’ll be leaving are the future Britany Spears of the world – mindless hip-hop pop. And, while that would certainly be enough to aggravate me the way she would intend, I don’t see it as enough of a departure to fit the bill.
See, the other problem is that so many styles of music are blending these days – country into alternative rock, hip hop into pop rock, acoustic rock into soul and blues, etc – that it’s going to be harder for her to find a distinct style that doesn’t, in some way, tie back to music she grew up with through me.
Historically, even when music hadn’t engulfed society-as-a-whole and wasn’t as prevalent in the mainstream, it always played a large role to specific movements. There are many timeless songs about “sticking it to the man” or just “sticking it to our parents.” If “the man” and “the parents” are listening to the same music as the kids, what are they going to do to show their individuality? What are they going to do to rebel?
Maybe they’ll start spending all their time at the opera and playing their opera too loud too late into the night. That’ll certainly work on Gen X (although it would make my daughter’s grandpa quite happy, were it the case).
*Updated: Okay, so I changed the headline. I should just hire friend Rick to do all my headlines…