“Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand. With an equal opportunity for all to sing dance and clap their hands.”
–Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke”
How good is your musical knowledge? Does it matter a whit? If you can’t identify the flavor of the month (Vanilla Ice, anyone?) well, that’s fine. After all there is a lot of music out there, and not all of it good, or even to your taste. Not knowing who Rihanna is– fine. Not knowing who Stevie Wonder is? Not so fine.
Being able to name all the members of KISS and identify them without make-up? That makes you either a fan girl or a teen boy circa 1981. Having some idea that the members of KISS dressed up in face paint and platform shoes, and were popular with a certain demographic?? Pretty basic in the common knowledge encyclopedia.
Last month, a member of a message board I’m on stated in a post that she had never heard a Beatles song. Too many people joined her. One of her defenders thought a guy named Paul McCarthy may have been in the band. However, a goodly number called her bluff. (Not me. I lurk, and shake my head in rapt astonishment sometimes, but rarely join in the fray.) But the concept of this hasn’t left me.
We are talking about a woman in the area of (total guess by her avatar photo only) 28-33? American. Lives on the East coast, in an urban environment, not in the middle of a corn field in Iowa. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She’s single, college educated and a career woman, not a SAHM OD’ing on Barney and Diego. (Just Say NO!)
She says– and I think the bit that has been chewing on me is the pride in which she continues to hold her ignorance in high esteem– she listens to Urban and Hip Hop, as do her friends. That’s what they play in the clubs she frequents. That is probably true; it’s a current dance and popular sound. Therefore, she has no idea of any Beatles song, and can’t be swayed that she should educate herself at any level. She doesn’t know who (nor does she care) Johnny Cash is. Elvis, she’s heard of.
However– The grocery store. The doctor’s office. Ever been? Or Walmart, the mall, an elevator? The Muzak played in the public areas of our world is somewhat varied but usually mild and inoffensive (unless you are shopping in a store geared toward a certain clientele). You may not hear Revolution at the Food Lion, but you have on Nike commercials. But, I Want To Hold Your Hand? Michelle? The Long and Winding Road? All You Need is Love? Yellow Submarine? That’s a nursery song now. Watching movies. Watching commercials on TV. Watching Entertainment Tonight?
Unless you have your own personal cone of silence, The Beatles are just there. They should be. As should a good number, but only a tiny fraction of those who do record music. Because you can’t follow or know everyone. (And just for clarification, knowing doesn’t equate to having to like.)
Do you know Buster Poindexter? No? How about Talking Heads? Black 47? Genesis? The Corrs? Def Leppard? Chicago? Cyndi Lauper? Madonna? Simon and Garfunkle? Elton John? Enya? Mozart. U2? Bruce Springsteen? Yo-Yo Ma? Garth Brooks? Loreena McKennit? Bob Seger? Bette Midler? Evanescence?Bryan Adams? Bon Jovi? Carly Simon? Dave Matthews? Type O Negative? The Eagles? Beethoven? Fleetwood Mac? Jimmy Buffett? Itzak Perlman? INXS? Prince? Dougie MacClean? Aretha Franklin? Billy Joel? Debbie Gibson? Michael Jackson? Queen? Black Eyed Peas? New Kids on The Block? Pink? Lady Gaga? Jay-Z? Iyaz? Miley Cyrus? Usher? Jay Sean? Moby? Coldplay? Daughtry? Shania Twain?
Should you know them all? Probably not. I have a pretty extensive and varied list of music on my Ipod. Can you guess where the line is drawn between stuff I listen to versus music I might recognize (either the music or the group name) falls? Knowing a fringe, alternative or one-hit-wonder falls more to fans. Knowing legends? Pretty much falls to humanity.
There is a type of commonality in music—it’s like a shorthand in our language, in our shared experiences, and that to me, was more what this girl, and those who reveled in not knowing a Beatles song, is missing. She is proud of her ignorance.
And is it too far to take this scenario than to assume that someone who refuses to know a Beatles song (she has to have heard one, just doesn’t know it) and carry it to the natural end point of, “Why should I have to know when the Civil War happened? (Extra points to anyone who can educate our Governor that one of the reasons for said unpleasantness was slavery.) Why should I have to know that Grover Cleveland was a president? How is it relevant to me?” Another person was fine admitting that what she knows about Vietnam is directly related to what Forrest Gump experienced.
I don’t listen closely to a lot of hip-hop, urban, or current pop. But I like Pink (she reminds me of Pat Benatar for some reason, or Joan Jett) and I think Lady Gaga is the real deal. (And if you don’t know who Queen is, can you appreciate how she chose her name?) Listening to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and them singing, “Mazel Tov, le heim”…. If you live in your small, insular, secular world, and you don’t show any interest or curiosity in learning, do you understand or care what he’s saying? (BTW, I predict this is this years PARTY till you drop song!)
Like music, TV and movie quotes are signs of our shared experiences. Sound bites, if you will. My husband is notorious for speaking in movie quotes. And some of them are obscure—(to me, at least. My knowledge base, as he says, is identifying flowers as something other than ‘daisy’ and knowing my music. His is movie lines.)
A shorthand for happiness when your ‘favorite’ boss quits might be humming a few bars of “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead….” (Don’t tell me you’ve never done it!!!!) I’ve used a few little ‘blurbs’ throughout this piece, and if you aren’t a native English speaker from America, you might not ‘get’ them. But if you ARE a native English speaker from America and you still don’t ‘get’ them….well, you may be voted off the island.
This is where we are failing. We talk, and others don’t listen. We say things, but other people don’t ‘get’ where we are coming from, so they misinterpret. My continuing to use the Beatles in this conversation is really shorthand for how willing people are to remain ignorant. How do you perceive and understand other cultural comments? Disney does this very well. Things that the parents appreciate in the language and phrases go right over the kiddo’s heads, but keep us from pulling our hair out at the movies.
How can you accidently not absorb this information? The other week, a high school protested that Phelps man. Teens. 14-18 years of age. They sang “Give Peace a Chance.” Simply by osmosis, the cultural information that bombards us does become a part of us. Hardly anyone would scratch their head if we told them, “No soup for you!” right? I know of Survivor, but have never seen the show. I have never watched DWTS, American Idol or John and Kate Plus 8, but I know of them.
How does one handle small talk if you don’t have the slightest grasp that the Superbowl is about to be played? (No, you are correct, it isn’t. But right now we are in somewhat of a slump for major sporting events, unless you are waiting for the Stanley Cup.) You don’t need to watch, but how can you not be aware? And lets say you are not of the Judeo-Christian persuasion; does that mean that all the shorthand Biblical references that are used consistently in TV, movies, newspapers, books— are going right over your head?
They are commonalities in your world. There are so many things people say, that they probably don’t even clue in on as being a cultural reference, yet idioms are so much a part of what makes our language so rich (and, yes, so confusing.)
Obviously knowing the 50 states, how to find Italy on a map, and that the Vietnam war came after the Civil War is more important than knowing who the Beatles are…(or Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly) But sadly, it seems even that information is lacking.
There are acres of empty spaces in my knowledge base. I don’t go all Rain Man when it comes to music, or books or trivia of any kind. But, I am capable of acknowledging to myself, and to others, when something goes over my head, and even rectifying it on occasion! If an unfamiliar word is used, a reference in a news article doesn’t resonate, I look it up. Don’t you?
Or do you just not care, or figure that if it was ‘that important’ someone else would have explained it to you already?
I am really interested in what others think. How many people can you find today who can’t name a Beatles song, or have any idea who the Beatles were?
Or am I simply getting old?
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