From One Generation to the Next, Sharing the Pleasures of a Three-Minute Pop Song

I put a piece of vinyl on a turntable today for the first time in what must have been decades. My 13-
year-old daughter bought a few ancient Beatles forty-fives from a Covent Garden peddler on our family trip to London last summer and had lobbied hard ever since for a record player. So I hauled my old Technics turntable out of the back of the closet and hooked it up to an old stereo in the basement. My excitement building, I poked around in another musty closet to fish out a few old Al Stewart records, then lumbered back down the basement stairs to cue up "Nostradamus."

At first there was an audiophile moment: the bass was indeed strong, the highs crisp and bell-like. Vinyl really did sound better! Then came the crackles and pops, and I remembered why CDs were such a revelation when they came along. Oh, well. When my daughter got home from school we had a teachable moment when I showed her how to gently lower the needle into the groove.

I'm not nostalgic for the good old days of vinyl; the shelves of my study are creaking with several thousand jazz CDs, and when I wake in the middle of the night I'm happy to have my mp3 player to listen to in the dark. Techier still, I store even more music and BBC podcasts in the cloud to listen to on my touchpad. It's all a far cry from the '70s, when my friends and I obsessed over stereo equipment and loudspeakers. Now just the idea of a receiver attached to speakers seems archaic. From one generation to the next, the technology keeps getting cooler.

But an unexpected pleasure of being a parent has been discovering and rediscovering so much wonderful music, movies and books through the eyes and ears of my kids. My daughter had her teenybopper pop phase a few years ago, but then she started borrowing my Beatles CDs. That led her back to Buddy Holly and Elvis, and forward again to the Rolling Stones and Queen. My son and I, both sci-fi geeks at heart, watch the new Doctor Who together on the BBC cable channel, and even occasionally sit down to a DVD of one of the classic Tom Baker episodes (my personal favorite). Of course, we're both "Star Wars" nerds, and when he was still in grade school we played "Rogue Squadron" together.

And it's not just blasts from the past, either. Indeed, from the animation of Pixar and Hayao Miyazaki to the Harry Potter books and movies, the past decade has been a veritable golden age of family friendly media. For years it seemed as if there was always another Pixar masterpiece to see, another Potter book to devour, and my wife and I enjoyed them nearly as much - and sometimes more - than our kids.

It wasn't always so. When I was a kid the generation gap was a culture war. I'd blast Led Zep from my bedroom, and my dad, who came of age in the 1950s, would yell at me to turn that crap off. Even my love of "Star Wars" was not something I could share with my parents, and when I entered my punk rock phase a few years later I was considered beyond help.

Then something changed, and it wasn't just the technology. Many parents of my generation (if I can be so bold to speak for them) decided somewhere along the way to raise their kids differently than they were raised. Instead of trying to force our music down our kids' throats we actually tried listening to their music. In the process, something was shared, rather than fought over. In our family this has certainly been the case; I tune my kids into the Beatles, and they tip me off to Coldplay and the Black Keys. I consider that a pretty fair exchange.

Of course, none of it lasts forever. The movies end, the bands break up and the books reach their final chapters. My kids' tastes change, sometimes by the week, and I can't always keep up. Bigger changes are still to come; my son will go off to college next year, with my daughter not far behind. Each passing year moves faster than the last, and seems more precious. 

These days as we schlep from piano lessons to aikido practice my son and daughter sit listening silently on their devices, earbuds in their ears like a couple of Secret Service agents. My dad and I used to fight over what to listen to on the car radio; now, watching my kids in the rearview, I worry I'm missing something, that I'm being left out. But then sometimes I'll pop some Coldplay onto the car stereo, the earbuds will come off, and we'll listen together as the miles fly by and Chris Martin sings:

"I turn the music up,
Got my records on
I shut the world outside until the lights come on
Maybe the streets alight,
Maybe the trees are gone
I feel my heart start beating to my favorite song..."

It's a brief moment in time, just the length of a three-minute pop tune, but worth every second.

-Tony Rogers

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