Updated: Nov 16, 2019
I suppose every generation has a genre of music that it most identifies with. My generation was defined by rock ‘n’ roll. We didn’t invent it but we were the first to be raised on it and influenced by it. It was practically part of our genetic make-up and it was like a religion that we worshipped.
Regardless of what kind of music you love most, I’ll bet you never loved it more than when you were a kid. There’s just something about the way music moves you when you’re young. (How often do you see elderly people screaming at a concert?) We may enjoy listening to our favorite music now but it’s nothing like the way we enjoyed it back then.
Remember waiting with eager anticipation for the new record to come out from your favorite band? (We used to call them groups.) We would completely immerse ourselves in the latest album and would devour each song. We didn’t just listen and dance to them, we studied them and searched for hidden meanings so we could analyze them with our friends. The singles that were released off each album were rarely our favorite cuts because those were played to death on the radio. Discovering the lesser known but much cooler songs was the sign of a true fan and a teenager who had nothing more important to do with their time.
Did you ever spend hours in a record store thumbing through the albums? It wasn’t about listening to the music. It was about being in the environment and being part of the culture. We would comb through hundreds of records, typically not knowing what we were looking for until we found it. Since we were so on top of what was current, we were usually searching for older and lesser known gems that we could add to our collection. Sometimes we would discover a great old album or new anthology that could change our lives. It was like going on a magical-musical-mystery scavenger hunt. They still have some retro record stores around but mostly they have gone the way of the bookstore, the full service gas station and the peep show.
As much as there was music we loved, there was music we hated. Kids have a way of being particularly snobby about what they like and putting down what they don’t. There were several terrible songs during my youth that became big hits in spite of the fact that absolutely everybody hated them. Some of my personal least favorite songs and most annoying earworms were, Feelings by Morris Albert, One Bad Apple by Donny Osmond, Have You Never Been Mellow by Olivia Newton John, MacArthur Park by Richard Harris, Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn and pretty much every disco song ever.
However, I’m probably not one to judge. I have to confess that I’ve always had a personal passion for Broadway and movie musicals. And I’ve taken a lot of shit for this my whole life. (Although, even I hated Cats.) But, in my defense, I was raised in New York where my parents took me regularly to see Broadway shows. The first one I can remember was an almost entirely forgotten musical version of Superman. I loved it. It’s still one of my favorites. I have the soundtrack on my IPod and I often sing along with the songs in my car. After that, I was fortunate enough to see the original Broadway cast performances of Hair and Jesus Christ, Superstar along with many other highly enjoyable but less iconic shows. So you see, I was indoctrinated at a very early age. If I were gay then people would have accepted my love of musical theater, but I had to keep it hidden. I am just now coming out to all of you.
I think most people probably have some musical guilty pleasure and secret song shame. Maybe you’re a straight man who enjoys Barry Manilow songs. Maybe you’re into Taylor Swift a little more than you should be. Or maybe, like me, you like some Christmas music even though you’re Jewish. There’s enough guilt to go around here.
I lived through and near some of the greatest music of my generation, but I have to admit that I had no sense of history about any of it at the time. I lived only a few miles from Shea Stadium during The Beatles historic concert in 1965. I wasn't into their music yet, because I was only eight years old. Even if I'd wanted to go, they were performing past my bedtime. I lived in Manhattan in the late ’70s during the hey-day of Studio 54. While some of my friends hung out there and often invited me to go along, I never did. I hated disco music that much. I lived in the East Village just a few blocks from CBGB’s when it was giving birth to punk rock. I used to walk by it all the time but I never went in. Honestly, I was a little scared of all those leather jacketed, hard core looking punks. But none of those missed opportunities can compare to when I went to the most famous concert of all and whined about it the whole time.
I was twelve years old when my mother and father took me to Woodstock in 1969. That’s right, my parents took me to Woodstock. You see, my sister was sixteen and was dying to go but my parents wouldn't let her go on her own. Since they (and nobody else) had any idea what they were getting into, they decided to make a family trip out of it. Ha! I have to laugh whenever I remember it. The traffic was the worst I’ve ever seen. It looked like they were evacuating the city. We must have parked miles from the concert stage and had to walk the rest of the way. Once you got in, there was no getting out. We had no food, no water and the few concession stands they had were overwhelmed. The only thing you could easily buy were drugs.
Remember that I was just a boy at the time and was more into G.I. Joe than Joe Cocker. I could care less about any of the acts that were performing. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of most of them. So there I was in the middle of the most historic rock concert of my lifetime and I couldn’t have been more miserable. My parents weren’t exactly having a good time, either. We were clearly not the target demo for this event. The show started several hours late because most of the acts were stuck in the same traffic that we were. Finally, the first act came onto the stage. Was it Jimi Hendrix? Janis Joplin? The Who? No. It was fucking Richie Havens who, as I recall, opened with Ain’t No Sunshine. Remember that song? Well, in case you don’t, let me remind you just how annoying it is. This is the part where I finally snapped.
And I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know…
All I knew was that I had to get the fuck out of there. So, after one song, we left Woodstock.
My mother & me. (I’m the miserable one in the middle.)
I used to get a lot of mileage out of telling people my mother and father took me to Woodstock. Everyone thought that I had the coolest parents and that I must have been a super cool kid. (I left out the part about being such a whiney baby.) But somewhere in the ’90s the reaction I got to that story started to change. Instead of always hearing, “Wow! You were at Woodstock?” I started hearing, “Wow. How the fuck old are you?” I eventually had to stop telling the story.
In spite of the fact that I have seen some great and unforgettable concerts in the past (The Stones, The Who, The Boss), I find myself very reluctant to go to concerts these days. At least, not in any stadium or large venue. As they like to say in all those old cop movies, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” I can’t think of any artist performing today that would motivate me to go through the hassles of parking and fighting the crowd to see them. And I hate when the people sitting in front of me are moved to stand on their feet. You do realize that you are forcing me to stand up now to see the show. Which is causing a chain reaction of people behind us who will all have to stand up to see the show. I paid for this seat! I’m a tired old man!! Sit the fuck down!!!
Most of us still prefer the songs we loved when we were young. Having a relationship with your favorite music is like being in a good marriage. It starts out all hot and heavy and full of passion. You go out dancing and partying but you also love being alone together. Oh sure, you may be tempted by others over the years, but you always remain faithful. In the end, you have a lot of memories together and you realize that you have always been happiest with your true love. That’s why you still listen to them.