Leonard Bernstein Demystifies the Rock Revolution for Curious (if Square) Grown-Ups in 1967

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?

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via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed con­tent:

Leonard Bernstein’s Mas­ter­ful Lec­tures on Music (11+ Hours of Video Record­ed in 1973)

Leonard Bernstein’s First “Young People’s Con­cert” at Carnegie Hall Asks, “What Does Music Mean?”

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 Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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