Bridging the Musical Divide: When I want The Beastie Boys and the kids want Justin Bieber
My children have started battling it out with me over the radio. I’m not sure when this started. It seems that not too long ago, they would happily oblige whatever song I put on while quietly staring out the car window. As Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or the Eagles blared, they were soft spoken and pensive, allowing the music to create a soundtrack to their thoughts. Then my twins turned 10 and the radio compliance stopped.
I think the problem was that they started paying attention. My minivan console displays the artist and track of the next song it’s going to play…and in the past, I could dart away from the oncoming song if I didn’t want to hear it before it even started.
The other day, the console announced that a Justin Bieber song was coming up. As quickly and seamlessly as possible, I changed to a different radio station... where the DJ happened to be playing a Beastie Boys song.
Ah yes, the Beastie Boys. They were the chorus of disaffected youth. Fight For Your Right (To Party) was blaring and I turned it up. The song had just started too, and no sooner had the band protested having to go to school in the morning when one of the twins piped up from the last row.
“GO back!” he wailed. “A Justin Bieber song was about to come on.”
“Justin Bieber? Justin Bieber? You prefer Justin Bieber to this classic song by the Beastie Boys? Not possible.”
“JUSTIN BIEBER! JUSTIN BIEBER!” They chanted in unison.
So I turned the radio station away…away from the song about parental controls, about conforming to standards about clothing and hair, about not wanting to go to school, about parental hypocrisy. And I returned to the Justin Bieber song about…
Well to be honest, I’m not really sure. In a breathy voice, Justin crooned about not being ‘all bad’. I think there was a beat. It sounded very over-produced…nothing that could hold muster to Fight For Your Right, which, years later, still sounds very raw and authentic.
The Bieber song ended and another pop song came up. New Rules by Dua Lipa.
“Oooh, I love this song,” one of the twins said.
“What is this song about?” I asked.
“Well, it’s about having new rules…obviously,” he responded.
“And what does that mean in the context of the song?” I pressed.
Silence. One twin looked at the other twin, then out the window – as Dua Lipa sang on against a backdrop of synthesized beats.
That song ended and I exercised my parental might to change the radio station. Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Who Am I was playing. I think I still remember where I was, back in 1993, when I first heard this song – probably playing cards in the basement of someone’s parents’ house. My own parents weren’t fans of rap music and I can still remember raising their dander whenever I blasted Snoop, or Dr. Dre, J.J. Fad or Salt-N-Pepa from the LP player in my bedroom.
Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle was teeming with expletives and misogyny but was also an honest portrayal of the rapper’s life at the time. In the Venn diagram of musical tastes, my parents and I shared an appreciation for Dire Straits, Blondie, Tom Petty, and many other classic rock artists, but my affinity for rap and hip-hop is where I deviated. Rap and hip-hop belonged to the younger generation – my generation – and I loved that it was honest and visceral. Blaring this music had always felt like participating in a small act of rebellion. I never could have imagined that I would have to sell my kids on it.
“Can you go back to the other radio station now?” one of the twins asked when the Snoop Dogg song ended. “They’re probably playing Taylor Swift and I want to hear Taylor Swift.”
The pop station my children treasure has a tag line of “All The Hits” but it probably could have been labeled: “All Taylor Swift All The Time (Plus Some Other Singers).”
Sure enough, when I obliged and turned back, Taylor’s Blank Spaces was playing. My twins squealed with glee and sang along…even though they got most of the words wrong. I’m amazed they’ve never asked me to define what exactly a Starbucks lover IS since they sing about Starbucks lovers every time.
The truth is, they don’t ask because they don’t really care what the songs are about. They just like certain songs and certain artists and they can’t tell me why. I suppose I should be happy that they aren’t craving Little Bunny Fu-fu or asking for The Wheels on the Bus anymore. These are songs that always created an insidious earworm…a repetitive loop so persistent that I would find myself – hours later – muttering, “The wipers on the bus go SWISH SWISH SWISH!” while in a work meeting.
My big mistake was to think that with the transition from children’s music to real radio…there would be an appreciation for the same songs that I like. But incredibly, my kids prefer Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber to Led Zeppelin, Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg. But perhaps the biggest shock of this musical divide was what I noticed when I looked over to change the radio station. My music wasn’t playing on the rock or hip-hop station. No, it was the station that labeled itself Throwback Hip-Hop – really a euphemism for the Oldies station. The type of station that I always associated with The Drifters and the Everly Brothers was now playing Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg. And that is the greatest indignity of all.