I grew up with a Mum that taught me about David Bowie, and Marc Bolan, and a Dad that played The Smiths in the shower as loud as the stereo would go. I spent a large portion of my childhood being physically forced to transcribe James lyrics so he could learn them for the Karaoke. There was never any question in our house about what real music was.
I did buy the Number 1 single every week, and knew the lyrics to Take That, and The Spice Girls, because I had to fit in at school, but I always knew, at the back of my mind, that that wasn’t the real music. The real music was what my parents played at full volume when they were getting ready to go out. The smell of hairspray, and perfume; the twist of lipstick, and the creak of leather jackets, will always be married to The Style Council, always The Style Council, and Rod Stewart.
My parents didn’t forbid me anything musically, but neither did they need to tell me that modern music was trash, because they demonstrated by example. For my sixteenth birthday, I was given a Motown compilation, not because I needed educating, but because I needed more.
The same applied to comedy. I was recently discussing comedy with some work colleagues between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, who sited ‘old comedy’ as The Fresh Prince of Bell Air. When I mentioned Blackadder, Steptoe, Fools and Horses, The Young Ones, Pete and Dud, Rising Damp, I was met with a room full of blank faces. Similarly, when I returned from Glastonbury in the Summer, full of excitement that I had just seen The Rolling Stones, I was greeted by a room that was silent for half a beat, and the dissection of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna singles then resumed.
These blank faces of the young people, particularly the teenagers, lead me to wonder what their parents are teaching them. I wonder, when I see one of these “Directioners”, or “Beliebers”; a new generation of technologically fuelled obsessives, why their parents aren’t teaching them that there is more to life than One Direction. Why is no-one in their life teaching them what real music is? Because it sure as hell isn’t Justin Bieber.
Mania has always existed, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, right through to Take That. Teenage girls have always been frighteningly obsessed by popstars. For my Mum, before she fell irrevocably in love with Marc Bolan, it was The Bay City Rollers. She sewed tartan into her jeans, and slashed her lip with a razor so she’d have a scar like Les McKeown. Unfortunately, because she made the cut in the mirror, it ended up on the wrong side of her face. However, whereas Beatlemania was on a certain level; girls screaming at airports and concerts, and then going home for their tea, happy and safe, the recent documentary about Directioners proved that this new generation of fans have taken things to a whole new level. Aided by the internet, teenage fanatics can now devote their whole day, every day, to their chosen subject, and the hours spent online are proving extremely unhealthy. The level of obsessiveness has already reached life-threatening depths.
Taste is very personal, and the kind of music, books, and comedy a person likes is what defines them, and what kind of person they choose to be. These things are part of our identity, and how we signify to the world that were are angry, happy, goth, metalhead, pill-popping clubber, classically refined, jiver, swinger, crier, harmer, mod, rocker, romantic, new-wave, dubstep, rapper. What we listen to is who we are, and there are no two people the same. However, nowadays, that idea is already almost extinct. The idea that no two people are the same is being rapidly extinguished by a generation of people who wear the same, listen to the same, watch the same, say the same, think the same, do the same. Everything they do is the same, and the pictures they post of it on Instagram are the same. What makes it dangerous is that they have no comprehension that there is an alternative. For these young people, there is nothing else.
Whilst recently browsing Twitter, I saw the hashtag #10songsthatmakeyoucry. Bored, I clicked on the hashtag, hopefully expecting perhaps REM, The Smiths, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley, Jonie Mitchell, maybe Adele. After scrolling for a good ten minutes, I didn’t see a single song listed that wasn’t by One Direction, Rhiana, Beyonce, or Justin Bieber. No exceptions. That was it. There were no other artists listed, just hundreds and hundreds of people listing the same handful of songs by those four artists, perhaps with a Lady Gaga thrown in. Where is the autonomous thought? Where is individuality?
I’m from a generation which, like those before us, take immense pride in the individuality of our musical taste. When I was eighteen, at sixth form college, when questioned on your taste in music, what you listened to absolutely had to be completely different from anybody else in the group. If you mentioned an artist or song that was mentioned by somebody else, instead of solidarity, you’d be labelled generic, and mainstream. Your musical taste had to be eclectic, individual, authentic. You had to actually like music for specific reasons, not just because everybody else did. What has happened to that world? From what I’ve seen, it’s slipping away.
If I have children, I won’t forbid them any music, but I’ll make sure I educate them well enough that they can choose intelligently, and find music that brings them to life. Music should make you feel so many things, and I want my children to have the power to choose from anywhere in history, rather than the top 10.
I want to grab these teenagers by the shoulders, each and every one of them, and scream into their faces that Lady Gaga is not the most inspirational artist ever to have lived, and play them some David Bowie, or T-Rex. I want them to lose their breath as Nina Simone ends Feeling Good. I want their throat to catch, as Bowie’s does, I want them to feel their heart quicken as Marc Bolan takes a sharp intake of breath, and they hear his words; ‘Take me.’ I want them to know what’s out there. There is so much out there. I want them to hear Bowie cry ‘Oh no, Love, you’re not alone’ in Rock and Roll Suicide, and feel a far greater solidarity than the one they get from having the Twitter Username ‘1DirectionFan32545223’.
Please, know that there is so much out there. Your life can be enriched. You can be so moved by people who play instruments, write their heart and blood into the words, and sing their entire soul out into the microphone. Listen to somebody singing their own words, and you won’t even call Justin Bieber music.
Listen to Alex Turner, if you want to be modern. Music sung and performed by the people that wrote and lived it is completely different to the plastic, mas-produced, computer-produced pulp and trash that floods the world as music nowadays. Listen to Mick Jagger. Listen to Bob Dylan. For God’s sake, listen to David Bowie.