Rock of ages…

One of the fun things about having a teenager is sharing music. He introduces me to Sublime and Gnarls Barkley, I introduce him to Eric Burden and the Animals and Jefferson Airplane*. It’s a two way street; albeit with a lot more traffic coming my way since I seem to have raised a major-league (or aspiring to be major-league) rock music geek. It’s rare that I can actually introduce him to a band he hasn’t heard before, whereas he has managed to get me to listen to people I didn’t listen to when I was young, such as Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa, in addition to more contemporary acts. (And he has a fondness for oddities: Tori Amos’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” e.g., which is simply wonderful. His fondness for heavy thrash metal I find less explicable and less lovely, but then I suppose there have to be some generational differences.)

We have free-ranging discussions about technique, meaning, musicality. Yesterday’s discussion centered on why “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen worked, while “Mr. Roboto” by Styx (or anything else by Styx, for that matter) didn’t. (Namely, Queen obviously was not taking themselves seriously. Whereas Syx took themselves far more seriously than any of their music deserved.)

What I’ve always found interesting, both with him and his two younger brothers, is how to explain songs that depend upon experience for their meaning. Mostly, I just say “You’ll understand it when you’re older,” which is seen by my children as being either lazy or evasive, depending. This is not about sexual content, either, but about, say, complicated relationships (“Drops of Jupiter” by Train) or coming to terms with the fact that life is uncertain and Truth-with-with-a-capitol-T is unknowable (“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls). (I tried to explain that last one to my ten-year-old, and after he said “I still don’t get it” several times, settled on “You’ll get it when you’re older.” He was annoyed.)

And then there is one of my very favorite songs: “My Back Pages,” as written by Bob Dylan and performed by The Byrds.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” my eldest said.

“Oh, yes it does,” I chuckled. “It’s about not being as smart as you think you are.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll understand it when you’re, oh, forty.”


It’s true, though. I listen to “My Back Pages” and either smile wryly or grimace faintly, recognizing myself in its verses:

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

What, you think I’m a ranting, moralizing crusader now? You should have known me when I was twenty. I’m positively mellow by comparison.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

Indeed I am.

*That would be Jefferson Airplane, as opposed to Jefferson Starship, which he had heard and pretty much dismissed as being lightweights.

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2 Responses to Rock of ages…

  1. Geri says:

    I find my perspective slowly changing likewise on Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man…” not entirely 😉

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