Time to 'turn it up'

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By John Pawlak

I always find it amusing when my students are surprised to discover that I know the name of the singer or group of their current favorite songs.  Older people aren’t supposed to even know that modern music exists.
 Of course, they’re not always all that far off the mark about what my generation does or does not know.  Sure, most people know who Lady Gag Gag is (hard to miss her in her jewel studded underwear at baseball games), but it’s probably safe to say that most people over 50 wouldn’t recognize names like Avenged Sevenfold, Maroon 5, Drake, Linkin Park, Radiohead, Lil Wayne, Pitbull, Coldplay, Black Eyed Peas, or Foster the People.
Actually, there’s a lot of good music out there, but you don’t generally hear it on the radio.  As teenagers plug themselves into their iPods and bob their heads to solid walls of sound (all bow to “Benny and the Jets!)”, many of their songs are not mainstream.  Despite what Billboard or MTV award ceremonies would lead you to believe, some groups out there do know how to make music.
But I’m not really qualified to decide what is or isn’t great music.  At least not the music of today’s generation.  It’s their music and I’ll defer to their preference (though no one will ever convince me that Lady Smut Smut’s work has anything to do with music).
Let’s get back to teenagers thinking older people are totally disconnected from good music.  Most of my students are shocked to discover that a relic like myself ever went to a rock concert.  When they hear that I’ve seen groups like Bon Jovi, Metallica, Van Halen, and Judas Priest in concert, they nearly fall over.
What surprises me, however, is how few of them know any music earlier than the Beatles.  During lunch one day, I mentioned Al Jolson.  A couple dozen students and not one had ever heard of him.  One however had heard of Cole Porter.
So maybe my father’s music is a bit too historic for them.  But the real surprise came later when I could only find three or four kids who knew who Bob Dylan was.  Bob Dylan?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Don’t they teach poetry anymore?  It should be required reading to learn the lyrics “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine.”
And so I find myself telling stories of some of my favorite musical experiences.  Sitting in the Stone Pony (Asbury Park) listening to Bruce Springsteen jamming on stage.  Going to Big Man’s West and hearing Clarence Clemons play.  Sitting on the lawn of the Garden State Arts Center, enjoying a jamming session by Santana.
 When I was young (with far less consideration about hearing loss), concerts were what music was all about.  Upon leaving a Boston concert, my friends and I found ourselves deaf (literally, we couldn’t hear a sound) for about three hours.  That’s what happens when you have 120 decibels bludgeoning your eardrums.  But hey, it was a great concert!
 And yes, like most rockers of my day, my high frequency hearing is a long past memory.  I guess I shouldn’t have worn those headphones blasting “In A Gadda Da Vida”, huh?
 OK, it wasn’t all great music.  I barely survived the 70s, enduring “Disco Duck,” “The Hustle”, and the Bee Gees singing at an inhuman 20 octaves above normal.
 The 80s weren’t much better.  Toni Basil’s earworm, “Mickey,” could cause nightmares.  “Come on, Eileen” was a one-hit wonder, truly a wonder that it was a hit.  Did anyone really dance to Coast to Coast’s “Do the Hucklebuck?”  I mean, in public?  Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” was anything but the life of the party.  And if I had the chance, I would have stuffed “Footloose” into Kenny Loggins’ loose mouth!
 But you just had to love rock concerts.  The music we loved back then still echoes across the land and it won’t go away for a very long time.
 So rock on, Halestorm!  Everlong forever, Foo Fighters!  Watch that weather, Dead Sara!  And remember, rust never sleeps and rock and roll never dies.  Turn it up!
John Pawlak
Los Alamos Columnist