Last week was the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Wasn’t alive, but from everything I understand this was a pretty big deal. Ushered in Beatlemania. The British Invasion. Changed Rock n Roll. Changed pop culture. Helped a generation find a voice that would truly be heard a few years later.
But the big music deal I want to talk about happened exactly 25 years later. 1989. The event? I got a CD player. A bulky thing that sat atop my turntable. No more tapes. Suddenly, the music I could get sounded crystal clear.
First CD I bought was Strange Brew: The Very Best of Cream. I have no idea why. It was near the CD player when I bought it (seemed pointless to have a CD player without a CD to play). And I like Clapton. What really mattered was the second CD I bought. Guns ‘n Roses: Appetite for Destruction. It was new. It was raw. It seemed dangerous.
I remember the dj on the local rock station introducing Welcome to the Jungle, the opening track on Appetite, by saying that we should get our parents to leave the room. Wow. This was not music you shared with your elders. Not because it was dirty or obscene. But because it just boldly felt like something you couldn’t have in common with them. It was aggressive, angry, honest, and loud. Very loud.
I would crank it up in my attic bedroom (very similar to Greg Brady’s when he moved upstairs). My mom would tell me to turn it down. The music felt so visceral, I would gradually turn it back up. Admittedly, there was some cursing and a little sexual innuendo, but there was far more honesty about drug addiction and life in the seedy part of town. While most of the lyrics talked about things I had yet to experience or understand, I knew this music was for me!
Every generation has a demarkation point. Not some year arbitrarily decided on by census scholars that delineates when one generation magically becomes a different generation. No, I am talking about those moments when you wake up and think, I (or we) are different from the past and here is the proof. Guns ‘n Roses was one of those moments for me.
But those a-ha moments are not limited to music or pop culture. I also experienced them religiously. Moments when I looked up and realized that I thought differently than my predecessors. Moments when I decided I wanted to follow Jesus in a different way. Moments when I knew that the way the “older generation” did church would not work for me.
And so I rebelled. Not with sex, drugs and rock n roll, but with different ideas about worship, inclusivity, and how to interpret scripture, just to name a few. Not that these were wrong (I still think they are right), but more importantly they made it clear that I was not in line with the “old way” of doing things.
What is interesting about all this is how it happens over and over again. A generation comes along and is sure that they have found a “better way.” Their passion, zeal, and energy are thrown into correcting the past, fixing the present, and setting a new course for the future. They thrive on being different from what came before. And then a few years later it happens again. And again.
Perhaps it is time to sit back, look at this cycle, and learn a little bit. So let me use rock ‘n roll as an example, as that will probably be a little less volatile than religion for most of us.
Every generation has “their” music. I grew up with my parents listening to music from the late 50’s and early 60’s. When I discovered rock ‘n roll in the 80’s, it was like an amazing switch got thrown inside of me. This belonged to me. And the fact that my parents didn’t like it only made it more attractive.
What I failed to notice at the time was the connection my music had to their music. I saw Guns ‘n Roses as so radically different that it could in no way be a part of the same music my parents listened to. But I was wrong. Guns’ ‘n Roses doesn’t exist without that antiquated stuff my parents listened to on the Oldies station. Too often, this is the mistake of the “new” generation: a refusal to see how what we are thinking has any connection to what the previous generation believes. Instead, we view these ideas as adversarial, and to be honest, we kinda like it that way. It wouldn’t be near as exciting if the older generation just said, “yeah, you’re right.”
Almost the exact same problem exists for the older generation, only running in the opposite direction. We don’t see how the music we loved and was so wonderful could possibly lead to this modern stuff. But we are wrong. The Beatles paved the way for Guns ‘n Roses. And often, the ideas of the next generation are the inevitable outcome of what we did. They may do it louder or in a different manner. But it is still rock ‘n roll. Perhaps rather than just proclaiming our era the best, we should give their music a chance and see its connections to ours.
Boy, I have really stretched this analogy, but here is one last thing. Maybe it would be useful if we all gave up the idea that our music is the best. That our era is the best. That our ways are so different no one else could possibly get it. For any generation to view the one that came before or the one that comes after as completely out of touch, is narcissism at the group level. We are right. You are wrong. Our way is the best. We proclaim that it is all about the music (or all about Jesus), but far too often it is really all about us.
Just some thoughts to ponder as you listen to some music (or get ready for church). By the way, I still love me some Guns’ ‘n Roses. But I also have every Beatles album. They both rock!