Many of today’s thirteen-year-olds surely have the Beatles on their iPods (or their iPhones or Androids, or whatever now ranks as the cutting-edge adolescent’s listening device of choice). Yet they would have been born in 2000, forty years after the dissolution of the Beatles themselves. Their parents would probably have been born in the sixties, already the height of the band’s creativity. The startling implication: these kids rock out to some of the very same songs their grandparents may well have loved. As P.J. O’Rourke once wrote upon spotting an aged hippie with a walker and a hearing aid at an Iraq War protest, sic transit generation gap. But back in 1967, when that gap yawned so chasmically wide as to render any communication across it seemingly impossible, the young Baby Boomers and their own Great Depression, Second World War-forged parents used the musical landscape to draw their battle lines. Who could broker a peace? Enter composer, pianist, and New York Philharmonic director Leonard Bernstein. Born in 1918 and hailed as one of the most accomplished and astute musical minds in American history, he could not only appreciate the techniques and innovations of the youth-driven pop-rock explosion of the sixties, he could get the ear of his middle-aged peers and explain to them just what they were missing.
The television broadcast Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution gave Bernstein a mass-communication platform on which perform this analysis, asking aloud the questions of (a) why this music so infuriates Americans over a certain age and (b) why he himself likes it so much. Decked out in a square-friendly suit and tie and appearing on the even square-friendlier CBS network, Bernstein plays clips of songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and the Association, breaking down the genuine musicological merits of each: their vocal expressions, their unexpected key changes, their countless sonic layers, their stripped-down melodic sense, and their lyrics’ adeptness of implication (“one of our teenager’s strongest weapons”). Bernstein also calls upon “Society’s Child” singer-songwriter Janis Ian and Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson to perform live. Quite a few crew-cut, cardigan-clad, martini-sipping adults must have come away from Inside Pop with a new, if grudging, appreciation for the craft of these long-haired youngsters. But now, to address the concerns of the 21st century’s bewildered grown-ups, who will go on television and explain dubstep?
Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.
via Dangerous Minds
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.