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Rock-n-Roll is Music of Perpetual Youth
At the end of every semester, I ask my college students to undertake a special project in our study of the History of American Popular Music. It’s my way of seeing if they were really paying attention, or just sleeping with their eyes open.
I ask them to identify five songs that have meaning in their lives, representing turning points or fond memories, and to explain their choices. I also want them to tell me how their songs fit into the American Popular Music family tree. For example, if they choose a rock and roll song, they should explain its musical roots, that R&B and country music had a baby and they named it Elvis Jerry Chuck Richard Fats Phil Don Buddy Bo Diddley Perkins, and how this eventually led to the end of civilization as our parents knew it.
I enjoy the experience and, after the customary amount of grumbling and complaining, so do the students. They get to play program director (a role I assume the rest of the time) and in most cases show off the more obscure selections from their music libraries: “When I was in seventh grade I got into this band called Splattered Gray Matter . . . ” (whereupon we listen to some of the band’s hit, “(Deleted),” for as much as I can stand, about 15 seconds or so) “. . . but when I was in eighth grade I got into The Carpenters” (whereupon we listen to “Close To You” for as much as I can stand, also about 15 seconds or so).
A student in my most recent class, however, threw a curve ball from which I have not yet recovered.
“This is a song I can remember hearing when I was in our car in my old hometown,” she said. “I would be in the back, in my car seat, and when I hear it I remember those times.”
I pressed the button on the CD player, and from it issued ...
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.
Let me tell you what ran through my head:
* She couldn’t have been car-seat size when that song was popular.
* Yes she could have. It charted in 1988.
* It was? 1988? You sure?
* She was sitting in a car seat listening to Guns N’Roses?
* What kind of mother lets a kid in a car seat listen to Guns N’ Roses?
* Oh, wait. A 1988 mother.
* You know, my friend CJ was right. Axl Rose DOES sound like the lovechild of Jerry Lewis and Ethel Merman.
* Still a good song, though.
* Man, I’m old.
* Whatever happened to Raffi?
Total elapsed time: About a second and a half.
But in that second-and-a-half I realized how much time has gone by since I was a full-of-myself music critic for The Indianapolis News, and how much of what I saw and heard is still so vivid in my memory. I may not be able to tell you what I had for breakfast, but I can still talk about those concerts all day long. Or at least for a few hours Wednesdays and Thursdays, when I teach.
I guess Danny and the Juniors were right: No matter how old I get, rock and roll, the music of perpetual youth, IS here to stay, in my non-splattered gray matter.
Give the girl an A.
© 2009 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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