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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

How old is 'old enough'?

I'm waaaayyy too young to have become an old fart, but a recent experience made me fear it's starting to happen, despite my best efforts.

I fear I'm no longer "cool" - or understand what it is anymore.

Last week, as I was preparing to move to Delaware, I was really looking forward to picking up my granddaughter in South Jersey and spending some time with her on the ride and in my new home. She had told me that her father had fixed up his iPod Touch and downloaded "her" music on it so she could listen to "her" favorites during the two hour ride.

Look, I understand. I have "my" music and "my" favorites, too, which includes Stevie Nicks, Arrowsmith, and Mötley Crüe, as well as Billy Joel, Sweet Baby James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and almost anything MoTown. I'm also quite fond of Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, Dixie Chicks, Girlyman, James Blunt and Mika, to name just a few. I like some opera as well as jazz. My musical tastes are pretty eclectic.

Besides, it was my generation who said, "Never trust anyone over the age of 30."

I might have been a bit touchy because just the week before, I had driven our daughter Julie and our granddaughter Mackie to the rehearsal dinner the night before Mia and Bob's wedding in Ms. Lucy True Bug - top down, music cranked up, singing to some of the tunes on my iPod at the top of our voices.

Mackie knew some of the songs, but wanted to hear some of "her" music, but didn't have her iPod with her. Of course she wanted some of "her" music. She loves Taylor Swift. Adores her. Went to see her in concert. Still has stars in her eyes when she talks about the experience. (Note to self: Download some Taylor Swift this afternoon.)

Julie had downloaded "California Gurls" by Katy Perry (with Snoop Dogg) on her iPod. I had heard it, of course, but was amazed that they knew ALL the words - even the Snoop Dogg rap part.

I was even more surprised that a few of the lyrics made me squirm when I heard a nine year old sing them: "California girls / We're unforgettable / Daisy Dukes / Bikinis on top / Sun-kissed skin / So hot / Will melt your popsicle / Oooooh Oh Oooooh."

Okay, so "Daisy Dukes" - of the TV program "The Dukes of Hazzard" - was a 70s show that saw a bit of a revival when Jessica Simpson played the role of Daisy in the 2005 movie version. "Daisy Dukes" has come to mean the very short denim shorts worn by that character.

Hmm . . . but, about the "melt your popsicle" reference. . . . As we sang and I watched my daughter and granddaughter "put their hands up" and sing with absolute abandon, I considered that this nine year old didn't really understand what she was singing - and that the sexual connotation didn't seem to register with my 30-something daughter. I figured I was probably over-reacting to the fact that this wasn't "my" music.

Besides, it was just flat-out fun to be singing together in the car - three generations of us - celebrating the impending marriage of someone we dearly loved to a young man who would soon become part of our family. Already had, in many ways.

So, while I was getting a cup of coffee to go at Starbucks, I picked up the latest CD by Katy Perry - the one with the Cotton Candy theme - and thought, if Mackie didn't have it on her iPod touch, I could play "California Gurls" for her and we could sing again. I would redeem myself and be a "really cool Nana". Indeed, I might even give her the whole CD. Wouldn't that be "cool"?

I did notice the "parental advisory" on the front and figured I should listen to the whole CD before giving it to her. Probably a few f-bombs littered here and there, I thought, which I could advance and skip over. If that were the case, maybe I would keep the CD for myself, if I liked it.

I remembered playing the 8-track cassette (Gee, maybe I really AM that old), of "A Chorus Line" in the car when my children were Mackie's age. I would skip over "Tits and Ass" even though they knew the song from listening to it at their friends houses.

"Awwwww, Mommmmma," they would groan. "We already know what they're singing."

"I know," I would say, "But you won't be singing it in my car."

Somebody has to hold the line. That's part of a parent's job, isn't it?

WELL!!!! Good thing I had plenty of time on the ride to South Jersey.

So, the first song is "Teenage Dream". An upbeat, bouncy tune with lyrics that have sexual innuendo written all over them: "Let's go all the way tonight / No regrets, just love / We can dance until we die / You and I / We'll be young forever."

Okay, okay. So I remember when the Everly Brother's song "Wake Up, a-little Suzy" was banned from the airwaves because of the lyric, "The movie wasn't so hot / it didn't have much of a plot / We fell asleep / Our goose is cooked / Our reputation is shot."

Just as I was mulling over whether or not to skip this one, the next song came on: "Last Friday Night". A few upbeat cords to open the song. Then, she starts to sing: "There's a stranger in my bed/ There's a pounding my head / Glitter all over the room / Pink flamingos in the pool / I smell like a minibar / DJ's passed out in the yard / Barbie's on the barbeque / There's a hickie or a bruise / Pictures of last night / Ended up online/ I'm screwed / Oh well / It's a black top blur / But I'm pretty sure it ruled."

I'm no prude, but I confess that my jaw dropped. By the time she got to the part about "menage a trois" I immediately skipped over it and went onto the next cut on the CD.

There are a few other tunes which aren't bad. "Firework" is passable. "Circle the Drain" - drops an f-bomb but it's about her being fed up with her boyfriend's addiction. "The One that Got Away." All modern anthems to old teenage themes.

And then, there was "Peacock". I don't know if you're ready for this. I certainly wasn't, but here goes: "Wanna see your peacock, cock, cock / Your peacock, cock / Your peacock, cock, cock / Your peacock / I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock."

I know sex sells. But I mean. Really?

This is a long, long way from back in the day when my parents had a fit because "Elvis the Pelvis" was on The Ed Sullivan Show. They finally decided to let me watch it because my mother remembered her parents not wanting her to watch Frank Sinatra.

"Someday," she said, with a touch of something unmistakable in her voice that defied my young years to define, "you'll be a mother and you'll understand."

I don't think either one of us could have imagined that there would one day be a young woman named Katy Perry who would sing, "Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock? / What you're waiting for, it's time for you to show it off / Don't be a shy kinda guy I'll bet it's beautiful / Come on baby let me see / Whatchu hidin' underneath."

Needless to say, I slid the CD into my purse so Mackie wouldn't see it and grumbled that I had actually paid $10, thinking I'd give her the CD, when in fact I would only play one song on the damn thing.

I mean, I'm glad for the 'parental advisory' on the front of the CD cover. But, really? This is what passes for "pop music"?

I really don't know how to compare it to anything else in pop culture because I confess that I don't listen to much on either commercial television or radio. Oh, I like some of Beyonce's stuff and I think Lady GaGa's music is much more artful than her . . . um . .. "presentation" (frankly, I think their videos are nothing but soft porn - whatever that is), but I find most of it pretty vapid.

I'm really not "old fashioned", I don't think, but isn't this stuff just a bit beyond the pale? Have we, at long last, lost all sense of decency?

Help me out here, friends. Is this stuff you listen to? I'm not passing judgment, I'm just really curious.

How old does one have to be to find this music - well, not the music, which is fine, but the lyrics - "acceptable"? For you or your children or grandchildren?

What are the parameters here? Where do the lines get drawn? How do you decide? How do you deal with 'peer pressure' when curiosity begins to peak and hormones are beginning to surge through pre-adolescent bodies? When do songs like this begin to provide tacit permission to behaviors that kids are simply not ready for?

How old is 'old enough' and how old is 'old fashioned'?

A few days later, Mackie saw the CD which I had placed near the other CDs at the music center in the living room.

"Oooo, Katy Perry," she squealed as she started to dance and sing, "California Gurls, we're unforgettable. Fine, fresh, fierce, we got it on lock. West Coast represents, so put your hands up. Oooooh Oh Oooooh."

"Can we listen to the whole CD?" she asked.

"Look at the lower left hand corner of the CD cover," I said.

Her face fell, "Parental advisory. Awww." She put the CD away and said, "Okay."

Okay? Okay! So, okay.

No argument. She understood. She got it.

Obviously, her parents are doing a great job setting the boundaries and defining the parameters. I'm not alone in this. And, neither are they.

This is good. This is very good.

I heard my mother's voice saying, "Someday, you'll be a mother and you'll understand."

I think I am finally able to define that unmistakable tone in my mother's voice. It has to do with the sadness of sensing the end of innocence mixed with the challenge of beginning to set boundaries to protect as much of it as you possibly can.

It has to do with letting go a bit so your kids can discover for themselves who they really are as unique individuals while still setting the parameters on expected behavior for being members of this family.

It does take a village to raise a child. Indeed, I think it is even more important now than when we actually lived in villages.

Funny thing is, I'm not feeling quite so old any more.

I'm feeling 'old enough' to be a contributing member of the village. A part of something important. Vital. Still an active participant in shaping the future.

And still pretty "cool," if I do say so myself.

"Nana's represent, so put your hands up. Oooooh Oh Oooooh."

10 comments:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, the "good" news is they probably think that "melt your popsicle" line is about a real popsicle. But I don't think you're gonna quite be able to stretch some of those other lines that far...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

S'okay, Kirke. I won't have to. She won't be listening to them in my presence.

Joie said...

Well, I'm 33, not a prude, and feel exactly the same way. Problem is, a lot of these same songs have fun beats and music (not artful necessary but fun). I had never heard a lot of them until Zumba and, thankfully, have never been able to discern lyrics in pop music. Always have to look them up. They get away with this because of the innuendo but the sex isn't what bothers me, per se. What is troublesome about so many of the lyrics is the objectification of men AND women. That's an important place to begin discussions when Miss Mackie is at the right age.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Joie. You're right, of course, about the worst part is that this objectifies men and women. An important conversation to have with all the grand babies when that time comes. And, I sense, that day is fast approaching. Alas! It goes too fast.

JCF said...

Great post, Elizabeth!

I've never the forgotten the time I was about 12 years old, and alone w/ my grandmother in her car (in my memory, we're driving over the SF Bay Bridge). We're listening to "my station": 6-10 K-F-R-Ceee!

It's 1974. Of course, here comes Marvin Gaye:

There's nothing wrong with me, lovin' you (Not nowwww, baby)
Givin' yourself to me could never be wrong (if the love is true).

So true: how sweet and wonderful
Life could be.

I'm asking you baybee, to get it on with me. Oooweee!

Let's Get It On!
Let's Get It On!
Let's Get It On!



...and I'm just sinking lower and lower into the passenger seat, DREADING that "Gaga" (yup, that's what we called my maternal grandmother!) is going to say something about Marvin and his, um, "request".

Heh: times change....

Malinda said...

This is repeated for me over and over with the youth group and believe me there are a couple of songs I've said, "not here, not now, not in this car/van," and then when the moaning and pouting are over asked them "what do you hear, what do think about these words?" And generally it is a better conversation than one might think, they do understand A LOT but when you open the door without flying off the handle they talk about how it feels to be objectified (never use that word - but) and also how it feels to be isolated. Guess I've learned to swallow hard, keep my hands on the wheel and let music play.

kehf said...

I'm hesitant to get on a high horse about 'today's music' since a lot of the bluegrass and folk music that I listen to tells pretty grim stories of death and destruction (frequently set to a catchy tune). Is today's music worse? I don't know. I really think, to a large degree it is a matter of personal taste. Would I like it-- I don't know. I listen to "Black Metal" out of Scandinavia and frequently the lyrics are quite dark (and in English) but I like the headbanging quality of the music. I didn't really listen to pop music until I was in High School and that was my choice. I liked John Denver, the Muppets, John Denver and the Muppets, and Opera. Opera is also full of death and destruction, children born out of wedlock, parents killing their children, lovers poisoning each other both accidentally and on purpose, etc...

I'm lucky in that my son seems to have similar tastes in music (to the point where he's telling me I can't listen to 'his music' when it was my CD in the first place).

I think the main thing is for parents to teach kids to be decent human beings that treat other real human beings with respect.

Music is storytelling and, for the most part, the characters are fictional and just like a trashy romance novel, sometimes the reason to listen is to escape into another world for a while.

Kids bring their own context to their 'things' be it music or toys. Teach them that they are loved and trusted and to be good people and they will carry that with them even when they are listing to a death metal rocker growling into a microphone about sex and death (so far I haven't heard any death metal about taxes).

chris said...

I teach in an urban elementary school where rap is the rule and girls are 'growed up' by around 4th grade. Many have seen or experienced first hand what the lyrics portray before high school. It's hard to fight the fabric of their lives when much of what they hear is their reality.

Paul Powers said...

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now Heaven knows
Anything goes.

sfmesq said...

I spent the week before Labor Day with my 4 and 2 year old grandchildren - their favorite songs are California Girls and Single Ladies - I am not a prude either, but I was saddened and surprised. I remember when all they wanted to hear was Baby Beluga and Joshua Giraffe.