My father owns one of Keith Moon's drumsticks.
I didn't find out about this until last year, when my mother mentioned it casually during a conversation at lunch. I was astounded. I called my father immediately on his cell phone and yanked him away from his workbench.
"Dad, why don't you TELL me this cool rock 'n roll s__t?!"
"Well, it never occurred to me."
He later proceeded to describe how he saw The Who opening up for Herman's Hermits at a tiny rathole club in 1966. He was eighteen at the time. Keith went through a lot of drumsticks that night, and when one of them slipped from his grip and rolled to the side of the stage, my father reached out and picked up a crude tool from a band that would later be considered by many to be among the greatest rock and roll bands of all time. I imagine it's up in the attic somewhere, possibly in a crusty cardboard box along with my third grade math tests and my sister's ballerina shoes.
Rock and roll has changed, that's for sure. Nowadays, music is viewed as more of a viable career choice rather than an emotional outlet for creative underachievers, and having a really awesome MySpace profile for your band helps to ameliorate your dearth of originality or zest. As a result, the few record stores that still exist are fully stocked with gleaming racks of plastic-wrapped formulaic schlock that has all the bite and vitriol of a "Ziggy" comic strip. Seriously, in twenty years, are we going to look back on soporific, innocuous tripe like Nickelback, Matchbox 20 and Evanescence with nostalgia? I can see it now…
"Honey, your father kissed me for the first time during this song. It was during a Chrysler ad…"
Anyhow, I love a good rock and roll story, and so do a lot of other youngsters, as evidenced by the large number of blue-haired mallrats wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the logos of Pink Floyd, The Doors and The Rolling Stones. You don't have to go to crowded stadium concerts full of scary bikers or damp, patchouli-smelling head shops to buy them now; they're $10.99 at Target.
Alas, I'm rambling again, and I've been meaning to address something — oh yes, the flurry of e-mails I received in response to my previous essay, a vituperative diatribe against elders who condemn the young for their ignorance yet refuse to reach out to them.
I was sincerely moved by some of the messages I received — honest, richly-detailed stories of growing up during hard times and making the best of things as they were, long before that became a trite Hollywood cliché. I heard from electrical engineers and bedridden octogenarians, small-business entrepreneurs and long-retired Marines who still have some fight left in them. To all of you who took the time to share a few poignant paragraphs of your life story with me, thank you.
I'd also like to address a few of the more commonly mentioned points you made about the younger generation.
It's true, most of us youngsters aren't exactly familiar with hard work in the physical sense. There aren't many farms left in suburbia. Sure, eight hours in a busy call center for high-tech equipment is nothing to sneeze at, but that kind of work doesn't usually carry the risk of compound fractures, lacerations or misaligned vertebrae. I wouldn't say I'm familiar with hard work, but I've glimpsed it a few times.
When I was seventeen, I lied about my age so that I could work on a construction site alongside my father for a scorching week in August. For at least ten hours per day, we stood out in the sun and painted wooden siding for a large steakhouse that was going up on the South side of town. After going over the eighteen-foot pieces with a high-pressure paint sprayer and smoothing out the bubbles and imperfections by hand, we leaned them against a green cargo trailer to dry. We did this for over 16,000 feet of siding.
It was hard work indeed. I forgot to wear sunscreen the first day and my skin came off in sheets later that evening. I slathered on the aloe vera as if I was frosting a cake. The next day, I wore a long-sleeved shirt and drank tons of water, and it wasn't so bad. We talked constantly, shared stories, told a few dirty jokes and ate lunch in the shade. John, a former Army helicopter pilot who was helping us out, shared some wisdom during one of our afternoon breaks –
"Nick, this is what the military's like. You work your f—in' ass off and then you wait awhile."
He was right, as I later found out.
I look back on the experience as some of the best times I ever spent with my old man; both of us toiling in paint-spattered shirts, calling it quits around sunset, sipping frosty Cokes and doing a damn fine job. The steakhouse is still standing, and I make it a point to inform others of my contribution to it when we drive by. There's a certain degree of pride that comes with a tangible accomplishment like that, a feeling that you don't get after designing a spiffy website. I highly recommend trying it sometime.
It was stated many times that the youth lack motivation and initiative, and that they rely too much on handouts and bail-outs. Both statements are true, at least in part. After a plastic-bubble childhood of 24-hour coddling, automatic desserts and homework assignments devoid of red ink, people will expect applause just for showing up to work on time. I wonder how many major cities we could power by burning all the surplus coal that used to go into stockings.
Perhaps I'm being a bit facetious here, but I think that a telling symptom of today's languid apathy is the inconceivable willingness to watch big-screen blockbusters on an iPod. Gosh, I can only imagine how exciting it is to experience Star Wars with tiny ear buds while watching it on a screen that's smaller than a Post-it note. A slight smudge from a sticky hand could block out the Death Star completely. May the force be with you, at least until the battery needs charging. Oh, how thrilling it must be to watch the charging armies in Braveheart when they're three-quarters of an inch tall!
"They can take our lives, but they'll never take our convenience!"
Sorry, rambling again.
Several intuitive respondents commented as to what they perceive as gloom and hopelessness in the minds of the young. There is some truth to this.
Post-Watergate children are as familiar with the concept of lying slimeball politicians as they are with Santa Claus and Winnie the Pooh. We've known about downsizing and corporate scandals from a very young age, and when we hear the term "job security," we might assume you mean a place of employment with a well-lit parking lot and magnetic entry badges. No matter how many touchy-feely "people are our greatest resource" seminars we're forced to sit through, we know that we'll be thrown to the curb like a sack of dirty laundry the moment it becomes economically advantageous to do so. It seems as though the only guaranteed jobs are either in the military or in healthcare, supporting our country's two reliable growth industries — blowing people up and putting them back together. Work, check e-mail, watch the news every so often to see what the terrorists are up to, search for meaning in between frozen dinners and mortgage payments, use porn and Xanax as needed.
Why bother cracking books in hopes of a high-paying tech job when you're only going to lose it to a guy from India who will work for half your wages and give an American-sounding name when he answers the phone? Does true love with another person actually exist, or is it just a pleasant distraction until one of you is tempted to upgrade to a better model with more options? Sex is largely devoid of meaning and used to sell tires and tortilla chips. Drugs are issued in tiny plastic cylinders and are solely for nullifying your natural feelings of disgust and ennui. Rock and roll? I think we've covered that.
I'm not saying that everything I just listed above is 100 percent true, but that's the way it appears to many. You either learn to love it through mithridatic absorption, or lapse into Travis Bickle solipsism. Maybe both.
I don't have the answers. I don't think technology can provide them. However, many generations before mine accomplished far more with far less in far worse conditions — so, what was it that got them through? This is something to ponder when the cable goes out.
I'm lucky to have a wonderful family, friends in several corners of the globe whom I visit whenever possible, and a respectable music collection. All of these things help tremendously, as does the drive and ability to create something, anything, without the thought of immediate payment or admiration from others. Laughter has documented medical benefits, and it's nice to own pets and live close to a library or a lake. Want to hear my free advice? When you tell someone that you're going to write to them, do it. Don't flake out on this.
If you're waiting for me to wrap up this essay with a magic philosophical panacea to reconcile the generations, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I will say this, though – to the wise elders out there with great stories and lessons from the past, I urge you to please share them with someone close to you when you have a free minute, possibly over lunch. It can make a big difference.
After all, you're all rock 'n rollers to me.
Nick Vineyard [send him mail] is a freelance writer and radio personality who is currently living in Austin, TX and working on his next escape plan.