Parents Guide to Music
by W. Blake Gray
When I was 18, I swore I would never utter the sentence, "I just don't understand this music today."
But the music world reinvents itself every generation. Teenagers today have no more interest in Bob Dylan than we had in the Andrews Sisters. And we have become our own parents, saying things like, "All this stuff sounds the same" and "It's just noise."
It doesn't take long to fall out of touch with music. All you need is one child. You stop buying albums because you don't have time to listen. You let the kids choose the music on the car stereo. And the next thing you know, they're locked in their bedroom listening not just to artists you don't recognize, but to a whole style of music that sounds foreign and, perhaps, wretched.
But step back for a minute, and remember yourself as an 18-year-old, when music meant so much. Production methods have advanced tremendously since The Beatles recorded on a four-track tape machine. Songwriters have absorbed all the lessons of cynicism and media savvy that we learned so painfully. Why wouldn't music today be better than it was when we were teens?
In some ways it is. A whole new genre, electronica, exists because of advances in computer technology. If Beethoven were alive today, he would be a techno-trance DJ.
Music has become more extreme, for better or worse. Parents of the early `60s tried to ban "Louie Louie" because they feared its unintelligible lyrics might suggest some sort of sexual encounter. Today, hip-hop artists who've never heard of Lenny Bruce describe not only every detail of a sex act, but also the punishment they deal out afterward if the encounter was not up to their standards.
And music video has become a medium in itself, adding images that are often more lascivious than anything actually in the songs.
If you're childless, you can shrug your shoulders, buy the complete Rolling Stones catalog on CD and swear off the pop charts forever. But if you have kids, you wonder. What is this stuff my daughter's listening to? Why does she like it? Is it bad for her? Is there anything I can do to counteract its negative aspects without becoming the sort of close-minded parent I would have rebelled against at her age?
The Enlightened Parent's Guide to Modern Music will help you catch up on the world of popular music. We'll tell you about the current state of the five most popular categories: hip hop, pop, rock, electronica and country. We'll point out some good acts in each category — performers that your kids will like, and that you won't mind letting them listen to. We'll also tell you about the problems with each genre, and suggest some ways to help your kids counteract them.
In our sections labeled "The good," you can listen to sound samples of the acts we recommend by clicking on their names. We'll also tell you how to use Napster to listen for yourself to the musicians that your kids like. And we'll tell you how loud your kids can listen to music without damaging their hearing.
Don't forget to take our lingo quiz to see how hip you are. We can't make you 18 again, but if you read this Wise Guide, we can make sure that you do understand the music of today. Rock on, enlightened parents.
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