Will Rock and Roll ruin your life?
I suppose this could also be titled, "maybe your grandparents were right". What if Rock and Roll corrupts our youth?
Look, I enjoy Rock and Roll and musics of many genre’s. I enjoy mentally singing along (people around me, prefer if I keep it in my inner voice), and who doesn’t like to have rhythmic seizures to the beat, or what some might call dancing? So I’m not the fun police, and I’m certainly not saying we should do anything to stop the music (especially through force/laws), nor stop enjoying it. I’m just saying shouldn’t we question all our actions honestly?
I went to a Styx concert the other night, and through the green oregano smelling haze in the bathroom, some guy from the urinal next to me was loudly pondering the depth of the lyrics and the impact they had on his life (while the other party goers were snickering at his drug addled rants while doing their business). I was just trying eliminate fluids and giving my ears a few minutes rest from the ringing, not trying to have existential thoughts on 80’s music. But I thought how sad it was that some 50 something stoner got his insights, from songs that may have had 50 unique words in it, even if they were repeated over and over.
It got me thinking about music and the true influences on our cultures: and no, I don’t think it was just because I was hotboxing THC like I was in Justin Bieber’s rented Gulfstream. More likely it was because while I was enjoying the music, I was also a little bored and sad, and looking backwards at my life and what memories different music had on me during different phases of life.
I often mock Hollywood for trying to boil down complex books, with a lot of nuance into 90 minutes, with about 12 minutes of any meaningful dialog (if it’s a good movie). Most of them are just lines.
I read about 900 WPM, while people speak 100-150 MPM. So on sheer efficiency of information, movies are not a great medium for communication. Newspaper or TV reporters trying to boil a bunch of nuance down to 600 words, or less, often imparts the viewer/reader with the depth of understanding that they could get out of a Dick and Jane book. And then songs and lyrics, take it to a level that makes either of those seem like rocket surgery. There is no information to be imparted, just feelings and let those rattle around inside the listeners mind, and become whatever meaning that the listener wants.
I mean who wouldn’t find deep meaning in lines like, "Lady, turns me on when I’m lonely", or "Crystal ball. There’s so many things I need to know". But I’m not just making fun of Styx. I had fun and enjoyed the rockin. And to be fair, Styx never pretended to be the most existential of the bands out there.
But then again, don’t even get me started on 99% of rap which is just crap with the c kicked out of it. I’m an old fogie that’s never going to get the depth of social commentary in, "Nigga nigga nigga", "Me so Horny", "You’s a ho (Ho!), You’s a ho (Ho!). I said that you’s a ho", or the ever insightful, "Fuck the police". Again, I get the vapid anger or emotion that’s being conveyed, just don’t pretend that there’s a depth of understanding on complex social issues. There isn’t.
I still love Oingo-Boingo’s "Only a Lad", "Capitalism", and Woody Allen’s favorite, "I love little girls". (OK, that latter one is just creepy. And I want to ask Danny or Jenna what they think about that song’s lyrics today as adults). But seriously, I thought some groups like Devo, really tried to make some statements, not necessarily just through their lyrics/music, but in hearing their motivations or inspirations.
But it really wasn’t deep. It was a line, or two. Soundbites. Little more than bumper stickers. And those that thought that was deep tended to make really bad choices. Just like deifying musicians is a really dumb thing for society to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad for their success. And we need stupid people, making stupid decisions (like deciding to follow their bliss of playing a guitar and singing vapid lyrics their whole life, and repeating the same damn songs from 40 years ago, when they’re octogenarians in walkers), because it makes us feel good by brining back snapshotted memories and emotions. It is art, and provides a value. But most of the stuff I loved was just fun tripe. I love it, because it brings back a memory of when I first heard it, or some of the dumb things I did while listening to it — not because it was ever deep or meant anything beyond what a shallow stoner kid wanted it to mean.
Every time Styx "Renegade" comes on, I remember taking the Newport Freeway to the similarly named beach (in my last summer before college), while lane splitting (via the emergency lane) going at least 30 MPH faster than the traffic around me. Or every time Devo’s "Gut Feeling" comes on, it reminds me of the time I was puking my guts up in the back yard, during a bad magic mushroom trip (and my friend’s dog Zeke was chowing down on my little gift, and later got a second hand doggy-high, based on his random snapping at air balls). And then there was my Goth/Gloom/Doom rock phase with Sisters of Mercy "Alice", Souxie and the Banshee’s "Killing Jar", or Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi’s dead… undead, undead". Reminding me of the futility of following the herd (both of culture and the counter-culture that I was a part of).
I still love the songs, and the creativity behind them — and they bring back pure emotion of the time. And while I remember the huge insightful epiphany’s of the time, "OMG, this is so counter-culture and making such a huge statement against the mindless conformity of the masses". Now I look back on that, and think, yup, who can’t see the brilliance of "Oh Bela" wailing out, a few dozen times?
I even read through the lyrics of what was considered the deepest music ever, Bob Dylan, "Visions of Johanna", "Watchtower", "Just like a Woman", and so on, and it’s still tripe.
I’m not saying the music is tripe — the words resonate, the emotion is there. We need feelings too. And I feel and enjoy and share with the musician. But feeling isn’t thinking. There’s no insight there beyond what I bring to it. It twangs a string in me, and gets a visceral response. And that’s great, that’s fine… that’s even art. But be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there.
So I’m glad that others get some great insights every time they reflect on Zappa’s Bobby Brown or Clown Posse’s Miracles. But to me, they’re just seeing reflections of themselves in the mirror. And if they think there’s wisdom there, they’re just failing to recognize that reflection as themselves.
Thus, I realize the circle of life is complete. I’ve gone from raging know-it-all youth, rebelling against the man, and loving the kindred spirits emoted in the songs of all those musicians. To just another old fart, thinking, "turn that confounded music down" and "get off my lawn, you damn kids".