As a young man, I lived for music. Not that I was a musician, even though I could pick drag the opening chords to "The House Of The Rising Sun" on a mail order guitar, but I was a connoisseur of Rock and Roll. I could debate the latest and greatest bands and artists with the righteousness of a "happnin" Bill O'Reilly. I was passionate, even elitist about the music of the day. Rolling Stone magazine was the bible of hip while Casey Cassum and his Top Forty were for squares. And the concerts! My best friend Mike put it succinctly in the back of a carpet walled van on the way to a Jethro Tull show pronouncing "Life is going to a concert", to which I and the ten or twelve others present concurred.
But like the bass chords of a Frank Zappa tune, change is inevitable, and music, as well as a young man's proclivities, is no exception to this certainty. While I was open to the personal changes that maturing evinced, I was convinced that Rock and Roll was here to stay. Now, some thirty years after my friend so aptly summed up life, I no longer recognize the names of "it" bands or their songs. And I think that I would rather pass a stone than deal with the decibels and late hour of a concert. Moreover, I find myself castigating and belittling today's music much the same way that my music was slandered by "old people" when I was young. In 1957, that other Frank - Sinatra - said "Rock and Roll is the most brutal, ugly, vicious form of expression-sly, lewd, in plain fact dirty, rancid smelling". He just didn't get it. He and his bobby-soxers were passé and it was time for my g-g-generation .
Never, in my wildest dream or bad trip, did I foresee a time in my life when I would be so harsh in criticism of the next generation's musical tastes. But I hate Rap. Or Hip-Hop or Gansta or whatever it is that the kids today listen to. And while I may not be as acerbic as 'Ol Blue Eyes, in my mind Rap music is a contradiction of terms. It' just an insidious beat overlaid with poorly crafted puerile rhyme, babbled by no talent malcontents. Misogyny and violence notwithstanding, the genre has little to offer that is new. The repetitious beat is the same sound that has been heard since man first took stick to hollowed log. Innovation it is not, just a borrowing of simple percussions that came before much like, um, the, blues, which, ah, sired, uh, Rock and Roll. But Rap is different. It fosters totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. Wait a minute, that wasn't me, that was Sinatra again and he was talking about Elvis Presley, not Rap. Goodness gracious, I've become the Chairman of the Board!
How could I reconcile the obvious hypocrisy that I had acquired as I grew older? Albert Camus once said "To grow old is to move from passion to compassion", but it seems that I somehow missed that second part. My youthful fervor for novelty had morphed into intolerance for the unfamiliar. Was I justified or sanctimonious? Did Sinatra's elders decry his tastes? Am I too old to rock and roll but too young to die?
After doing some research, I found that Rock and Rap had similar beginnings – they both were born of the street, in neighborhoods not far from one another. Five Points, Manhattan was a melting pot of Irish immigrants and emancipated African Americans. The blending of these and other music and dance cultures was the root of what would later be called Jazz and Rock and Roll. Many years later, just a few miles away, in The Bronx, West African and Caribbean influences combined to usher in the birth of Rap. Though the genres may be different to the discerning ear, their roots are very similar. Music has a history of bringing people and their cultures together to form new artistic styles and hopefully a greater understanding of one another. May that never change. And if ones stagnant musical tastes evoke bitter disdain, perhaps a little introspection might even beget a better understanding of one's self, warts and all.
So I have learned to live with Rap. I still don't prefer it, but I no longer scorn those that do. When at a traffic light and a car pulls up next to me with Eminem blaring, I put a Neil Diamond CD in the player and crank it. See how they like Cracklin'Rosie at 90 decibels. I also found a bar in my Alexandria neighborhood that has rock bands on Friday nights that start at 7:30. I can catch a couple of sets and be home by 11. Sometimes I eat there, even if the chicken tastes like wood.