Rattling the Cage: Music, cars, TV and food

Music and cars have devolved, TV and food have evolved.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
The last day of school was finished, summer was starting, so we took the kids out for hamburgers and we're sitting outside eating and suddenly I become aware of this so-called music coming out of the loudspeakers. Techno-rap, or maybe hip-hop-house, I'm not really sure what it's called, but music-to-eat-by it wasn't. Bang-bang-bang, hey-hey-hey, the same beat, the same shouted phrase, over and over. Loud, but nobody seemed to notice except me. This is the background music of our era; it blends perfectly with the sound of traffic jams. I looked at my two boys chomping away and thought: God, I feel sorry for you. This is the music you have to grow up with? This is the music that's going to shape your outlook on life? These are the so-called songs you'll have for memories, to make you feel nostalgic when you grow up? That is sad. That is pathetic. I know - my parents said the same thing about my music, my kids will say the same thing about their kids' music and I'm just another complaining old fart. That last point may hold true in general, but not about music. I grew up in the '60s. The music we listened to is still played and adored by people a lot younger than me, and I think they envy my generation because they know that '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll was the best popular music ever, and that the sound of today's generation - this bang-bang-bang crap with all the talking - is at least a thousand times inferior. The music I grew up on is still here 40 years afterward. (In fact, it's become too popular - now it's bar mitzva music, deodorant commercial music. When I was a kid I was crazy about "La Bamba," but if I hear it again this week I'm going to boycott Mexico or something.) Will this techno/house/trance/dance/rap sludge still be around in 40 years? Will it evoke anything for anybody? I don't think so, unless the popular music of the future is even less human, if it devolves into, say, 90-minute tracks of white noise. But even if it does get worse, there's no question that popular music, over the past decades, has gone straight into the toilet. Yes, when it comes to music, mine were the good old days - and they're gone. And not just when it comes to music. MY OLDER boy has grown up loving cars, new cars, and I think: You poor kid. I also grew up loving cars in the early-to-mid-'60s, but we had the '62 Thunderbird and the '63 Corvette and Cadillacs with fins, etc., etc., etc. From two blocks, I could tell the difference between a Chevy Impala and a Chevy Bel Air and a Chevy Biscayne and a Chevy Nova, between a '61 Oldsmobile Cutlass and a '62 Oldsmobile Cutlass. And the difference between the brands, between the Buick and Chrysler and Pontiac, not to mention between American makes and foreign makes like Volkswagen and MG - it was like night and day. Each car brand had its own look, its own personality. Today? I can't tell the difference between a little Mercedes and a big Toyota. I can hardly tell the difference between a car and a truck! They all look the same - they've had all the curves and distinctive lines and eccentricities hammered out of them; they're all basically boxes, all made of plastic, all painted metallic gray or white. They blend in with the smog. They deserve to crash. This is what my kid has to love, this is what he has for inspiration. And I'm not talking alte kockerism here, I'm saying the undeniable truth - cars were great in my generation, and they suck in this one. In fact, they've been identical plastic boxes since the '70s. Actually, cars have been in the toilet for even longer than popular music. BOY, I am really an old coot, aren't I? A nostalgia freak, a hater of the new, right? Wrong. Not everything has gone to hell. Some things, some parts of popular culture, some of the stuff that's especially important to the young is actually better than it was when I was growing up. A lot better. TV, for example. When YouTube came out, one of the first things I watched were old Twilight Zone episodes. What a disappointment. They're so wooden. Alfred Hitchcock - same thing. The Defenders, the legendary liberal TV drama of my boyhood - so melodramatic. About the only show I loved when I was a kid that I still like is The Honeymooners. The rest - badly outdated. Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Will and Grace, Mad Men - these shows are hundreds of times better than the ones I watched in the '60s. They're so much more imaginative and truthful and entertaining; what kind of garbage was filling our heads back then? I know, of course, that there's a lot of junk on TV today, but there was then, too - the difference is that young people today can also watch comedies and dramas that are real art, not kitsch like we had. So if music and cars have gotten worse, TV has gotten better. And I'll give you another example of something that's improved tremendously since my youth, something even more important than TV, especially for kids: food. The hamburgers with all these toppings that my boys were eating were, of course, undreamed of by previous generations of Israeli kids, but they're also much, much tastier than the burgers I grew up on. Who had charbroiled, who had all these spices and condiments? Who had chimmichurri sauce? We ate really plain, boring food back in the '60s. Exotic was Chinese. Today they have Indian and Japanese and whatnot even in the shopping malls. (Shopping malls, though, are a major example of degradation.) And who had ice cream like they've got now? No, I'm really happy my kids don't have to eat the salted cardboard and sugary glop I was raised on. Food has probably never tasted as good as it does now. So those are my thoughts on popular culture for the day - music and cars have devolved, TV and food have evolved. I was thinking of writing about settlements, or US foreign policy, but nobody wants to read about that now, and I don't want to write about it. Summer's started. This is hamburger weather. We deserve a break today.