Know Any Music Bigots?
A few thoughts about an alien culture you know quite well… your kids and their music!
Free of Prejudice… but…
Today’s young people are remarkably free of prejudice, with one ominous exception: All kids—regardless of race, color, creed, religious preference, or sexual orientation—are rabid music bigots. Rap, Hip-hop, Grunge, Thrash Metal, Pop, C&W, Rock, or Punk, they’re all tooting for the home team and booing for the infidels beyond the true music community.
Do you doubt? Mention Country music to an R&B fan. You’ll deserve the torrent of verbal abuse you’re sure to suffer for such foolhardiness. Metalheads gag at Rap; Hip-Hop lovers tremble at the first notes of a Rock ballad; Country Rock’ers sneer at Salsa. The intolerance is universal and borders on self-righteousness.
Music bigotry, a fascinating cultural trait
As a former public schoolteacher who loves working with teenagers, I always found their musical zealotry a fascinating cultural trait. Kids, who never raised an eyebrow when I described the nuclear holocaust their generation narrowly avoided, become incensed when I put The Nashville Network on the classroom television. Other kids—the Garth Brooks crowd—grew sullen when I switched to BET or MTV.
The generational divide
However, a few years into my teaching career at a Middle School in Georgia, I found a way to unite them in a musical cause. While my students were writing essays or taking tests, I played my music: Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi. At first, they didn’t believe their ears. “Nobody listens to this kind of music!” their eyes told me. One young man put his forehead on the desk and moaned softly.
I decided some instruction was in order. “This was the popular music of the day,” I said as James Galway piped selections from The Magic Flute. Their eyes told me they didn’t believe it. So, I jumped forward two centuries and switched to ragtime. Scott Joplin’s ”Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer,” then other old favorites like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Tiger Rag.”
“This was so radical that sermons were preached against it,” I told them, switching to Dixieland. “Bill Bailey,” “Darktown Strutters Ball,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and the over-played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Somebody recognized “Sweet Georgia Brown” as the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme. But they still looked dazed, confused. Could this have been the heavy metal or gansta rap of the past? No way!
I hopped decades again. Big bands. Swing. Jitterbug. “This was wildly popular among young people, but their parents hated it.” My students sat up as Harry James’ orchestra wailed “Two O’clock Jump,” which I told them was recorded March 6, 1939. Their original assignment forgotten, my 13-year-old audience tapped their toes in time with Jimmy Dorsey’s “Parade of the Milk Bottle Caps.” Soon, Cab Calloway had them swinging to “Minnie the Moocher,” and the Andrews Sisters almost bounced them out of their seats with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
When the class was over and I stopped the music, there were groans—of disappointment! A rap-loving student raised his hand. “Yo, Mr. Shepherd. Did the parents of kids way back then really hate this old junk?” Laughter.
“Completely,” I said. “But that always happens. You should have heard what my mother’s generation called Elvis.” More laughter.
“Why, Mr. Shepherd?” the student said. “I mean, this music—no offense—it’s totally whacked, you know, but harmless.”
“It’s a rule of the Universe,” I explained. “Every generation selects its music specifically to offend the previous generation. It’s one of the few weapons you have.”
As they marched from my classroom, I heard somebody humming a few bars of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” I smiled, but didn’t say what I was really thinking: These gangsta-rapping, head-banging, country-rocking kids have a terrible price to pay at the hands of the next generation.
If there’s any justice in the Cosmos, their kids will love Mozart.