Born Yesterday? Does That Mean Pop Music Begins with Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber?
Although I’m not a big fan of musicals for the very cliché reason that I just can’t get into a fictional world where people suddenly burst into song, that’s exactly what I do from time to time. I suddenly burst into song. Last night, it was a refrain from “Planet Queen” by T. Rex.
“Love is what what you want. Flying saucer, take me away. Give me your daughter.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Tony, my favorite bartender in Melbourne, asked me.
“I’m not talking. I’m singing.”
“What are you singing?” He looked confused.
“What’s that?” He looked even more bewildered.
“It’s a song by T. Rex from ‘Electric Warrior,’ one of the best albums ever.”
I might as well have been speaking in tongues. Tony didn’t have a clue. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was because he’d never heard of T. Rex, or because he would have expected something from Madonna, or Kylie Minogue.
“Oh, that was before my time. I was born in 1971.”
When I pointed out that 1971 was the year that “Electric Warrior” was released, and that he was born just in time for T. Rex’s heyday and that he no doubt had heard of the Beatles, a band that broke up the year before his birth, he pleaded not guilty of total ignorance by reason of his boyhood in the boondocks. He came up with some tall corn-pone tale about growing up in a small Australian town where they didn’t have running water, electricity or music.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but so was he. I already knew that he had grown up in Adelaide, which is Australia’s fifth-largest city. It’s not exactly a bustling metropolis, and was no doubt even less of one nearly 40 years ago, but one can say the same thing about Kissimmee, Florida, where I was growing up at the same time as Tony.
I made this point as well, and Tony, still refusing to chalk up his ignorance to, well ignorance, began to paint Australia as being an isolated country that didn’t quite catch on to international pop culture until relatively recently. That would explain the obsession here with vintage U.S. TV shows, but it doesn’t quite explain why a 38-year-old who has travelled extensively, lived in Mexico City for five years, and has been based in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, for some time was acting like he had just emerged from the bush.
Now I understand that as British icons go, T. Rex is not exactly the Beatles or the Stones (although if you’ve never listened to the band’s flawless “Electric Warrior” album, you are truly missing out), so a simple “Sorry, never heard of them; that one must have passed me by” would have sufficed. But age and location were feeble excuses, especially when “Telegram Sam,” a T. Rex No. 1 U.K. hit from 1972, began playing, almost as if on cue.
Maybe I was just being a little cranky, but I am just so over hearing people who consider themselves to be musically enlightened trying to cover up their cluelessness by using their age as an excuse (like the 20-year-old guy I wrote about here). It’s okay if you think Katy Perry was the first person to score a huge hit by extolling the virtues of “California Gurls.” But when I tell you that the Beach Boys did it in the ’60s and David Lee Roth in the ’80s (both with more orthographic integrity, as well as the same Brian Wilson/Mike Love classic), thank me for the tip, and don’t blame your lack of awareness on age. Not when every season on “American Idol,” numerous hopefuls from the 16-to-30 demographic dust the cobwebs off some Stevie Wonder or Aretha Franklin oldie from the Middle Ages. Not when every 20 year old I meet is obsessed with music from the ’80s. Not when every kid learning to play piano is tinkling notes written by composers who have been dead for centuries.
Sometimes it feels like a too-easy way out. Other times it feels like they’re just trying to remind you that they’re younger than you are. Go ahead and celebrate youth, but I’d rather be old and hip to T. Rex, David Bowie and Roxy Music, than be half my age and think that in the beginning, God created Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
Speaking of Bieber and Gaga, I recently saw a news story on Australian TV which said that Michael Jackson is the third most viewed artist of all-time on YouTube (following Bieber, who is No. 1, and Gaga). So here is an artist who built his considerable legend largely on an album that was released way back in 1982. I imagine that a large bulk of YouTube users — and certainly a majority of the ones who’ve been watching Jackson’s videos there — were born after “Thriller” became the No. 1 selling U.S. album of all-time, and the videos they’ve been viewing are predominantly from the “Thriller” era or Jackson’s “Bad” phase, circa 1987. Certainly, a few of them must be living in Adelaide, too.
So if one only can be aware of music that was released after they were born, why are so many kids into Michael Jackson? I consider my knowledge of pop to be well above average, but when someone asks me how it’s possible that I’ve never heard a single song by Herman’s Hermits, a British group that was hugely popular in the ’60s, I won’t say that they were from before my time, even though all of their big hits were. After all, I have no idea what “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars sounds like, and it’s No. 1 this week on Billboard’s Hot 100 and probably playing right now on a radio near you and me.
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