The story is told of the two old people who stumbled into one of those places where teenagers dance, if you can call it dancing. Shocking sights greeted the old people, the most shocking being their own faces in the mirror. And shocking sounds greeted them too, the most shocking being the music the teenagers were dancing to. It was the music of 20 years ago. It was the same music the old people once danced to, if you could call it dancing.
The children dancing to the old music seemed to be having a good enough time. They bounced around, looked silly and knew all the words, the way young people in those places always have.
Having made good their escape, the old people turned on the car radio and found more of the same music. They changed the station and found still more. They kept playing with the radio until they found a solitary little FM station playing a song they hated and couldn’t understand. They figured it must be the music of today and quickly changed the station, because they knew the music of today is supposed to sound strange and awful to other generations.
That has always been the way one generation approached another generation’s music. What is different now is that the music of today is in scarce supply, because the generation of yesterday isn’t. The generation that rules the marketplace also rules the airwaves.
All over North America, young people are travelling up and down the AM and FM dials looking for the music of today, only to find the music of their parents. (Occasionally, they find The Music of Your Life, which is the music of their parents’ parents.)
Some of the children find the search frustrating. They wonder why they can’t have their own music on the radio when all previous generations did. But the parents of today—that is, the teenagers of 20 years ago—find the situation comforting, somehow. Their kids are liking good music, the old people think—forgetting that it is only rock ’n’ roll, a type of music people once grew out of when they reached a certain age. No one worries about the plight of a culturally disenfranchised generation, forced by the laws of economics to listen on the radio to the
music their parents liked when they were in high school.
And no one sees the consequences, which should be obvious to anyone who can look 30 years down the road ....
Noteworthy are the magnificent senior citizens’ residences that line the streets. The residences are called Boomer Haven and Woodstock Lodge and Yuppie Manor, all uses of the word “sunset” having been banned. Together the residences are known as The Lodges, and all political and economic power is concentrated here.
Each day The Lodges are visited by a steady stream of delivery trucks from gourmet takeout joints, bringing avocados, kiwi fruit, pasta and twotoned chocolates shaped like 1967 Chevrolets.
From the sidewalk, the faint sound of a radio can be detected. It is playingyes: “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” That’s funny. We just
heard that on the radio coming over. In fact, it was on two stations at once.
Now we remember. “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is going to play all day on all the stations. It was announced from The Lodges. Yesterday it was “Bad Moon Rising”; tomorrow it’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Next week’s schedule hasn’t been released yet.
Inside The Lodges, the residents are playing backgammon, taking dancing lessons (today: the Watusi) and watching television. The TV schedule includes Laugh-In, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and reruns of reruns of Leave It To Beaver. The commercials have to do with receding gums, cleaning agents for false teeth and stomach powders.
Sports fans are watching the 1975 World Series again. Most stations play the 1975 World Series most of the time. A few years ago The Lodges decided that Game Six was the best game ever—the “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” of sports events. New baseball games ceased to be played in the mid-1990s, when a consensus emerged that nothing
could improve upon the old games.
It was about the same time that the recording industry stopped putting out new records, other than by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, whom medical science vowed to keep alive for as long as they were needed.
Interest in the present has largely disappeared, although newspapers and magazines have not. They pay considerable attention to the weather, but the main reason for their survival is the detailed coverage they give to those most exciting years of the 1960s and 1970s. More up to date are the columns of music criticism analysing and re-analysing the contributions made to world culture by such figures as The Monkees. There are, in addition, health tips, recipes and financial advice of interest to the aging babyboom generation. And in the classified pages, long-lost nannies can be traced. Since the future can never be better than the past, the newspapers carry no horoscopes.
It is the best of times for historians, the worst of times for fortune-tellers.
The newspapers also give token coverage to the whinings of the younger generations, who say that they are tired of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
A steady stream of trucks will bring gourmet avocados, kiwi fruit and two-toned chocolates to Boomer Haven
The more radical of the young people—that is, the under-65s—are threatening to return to the punk styles and attitudes of the most recent revolt against the values of the majority. The Lodges have answered the threat with a press release saying that the boutiques and hairdressing salons of The Lodges are always on the lookout for any outrageous new fad.
The message is clear: The Lodges are threatening another wave of repressive tolerance.
It may not be enough this time, however. Tired of sacrificing huge chunks of their meagre paycheques to finance the lavish pensions of the boomers, the younger generations are planning bold measures. The first step will be to seize the radio stations.
At The Lodges, the first sign of trouble will be when the elites are suddenly unable to dance to the music coming from the radio. Other points of resistance will quickly crumble. When the revolution is finally over, the new leaders will marvel at the arrogance of a generation that thought it could defend a fortress covered with skylights.
Charles Gordon is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen.
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