When children grow up listening to rock, hard rock, and heavy metal in the home, and in the womb, it has an impact on their inchoate musical tastes. Children may come to appreciate the parental soundtrack, but it follows naturally that they will seek out their own music–may in fact rebel against parental music choices–upon reaching maturity. Maturity here is defined as middle school and high school in the context of musical appreciation.
It is the nature of pre-and post-adolescents to reject the icons of their forebears in pursuit of their own cultural identity. As a teen I rebelled against Andy Williams, Rosemary Clooney, and Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack with an obsessive attachment to The Beatles, Stones, Animals, and others.
What follows are five songs generated by two generations that followed mine, Gen-X and the millennials. If there was some other letter-coded generation I missed, please spare me, I feel old enough already.
These are songs my children brought home and blasted from their speakers loud enough so that I had no choice but to sit up and take notice. After all, they’d had no choice about having to hear repeated plays of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” (and they liked it!), so turnabout is fair play.
1. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”—Green Day
This I can tell you: when news of an upcoming Green Day concert hit the halls of my son’s high school and my daughter’s middle school in 2004, it was the proverbial “big f%#ing deal.”
There was a scramble for tickets, and the arena-sized show sold out quickly. Green Day was pop, and they were punk, but mostly they were “Uuuuge!” They had the songs, and the chops, but mostly the attitude, a raucous combination of alienation, generational scorn, and enough sneering chutzpah to capture the hearts of Boomers, Xers, and millennials alike.
“Boulevard,” which won the Record of the Year Grammy that year, perfectly captures Green Day’s transgressive charm. Wall-of-sound guitar tracks interweave with ballad-to-balls-out dynamics, creating a gorgeous tribute to aloneness and rugged individualism. Lead vocalist/guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong shines like never before, leaving the door open for love while enshrining this big hit with Sammy Davis Junior’s “I Gotta Be Me” and Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” in pop music’s lone wolf hall of fame.
2. “Still”—Geto Boys
All the kids were talking about a movie called Office Space in 1999. The now-famous printer destruction scene was accompanied by the brutal gangster rap song “Still.” Little did I know that by the time the film hit theaters the song itself was old news to my gangster rap-infatuated daughter (I blame MTV). Whenever I heard rap coming from behind her bedroom door, I told her to either turn it down or use headphones. While I knew what the genre was all about, until Office Space I had never really listened.
Flatulent sound effects percolate through the mix, offset by a menacing keyboard phrase. But it’s the drive-by vocals and sociopathic lyrics that drive home how precarious life is for gang-affiliated youths in our inner cities. You won’t find a more authentic evocation of the territorial carnage by which gang rivals are condemned to street justice.
I’m a student of heavy metal, from black to death to hair to thrash and beyond. There’s a dramatized, even romanticized aspect to even the most sinful-sounding metal that lets the listener off the hook. “Still” is one of the scariest songs I’ve ever heard.
3. “LoveGame”—Lady Gaga
You’re on a family day trip and all day your high-school-age daughter has her iPad earbuds in. At a rest stop you ask what she’s listening to, and can you borrow her buds for a sample.
What you hear circa 2008 is Lady Gaga’s “LoveGame” blasting at an inordinate volume given the proximity of the speakers to your inner ear. After you’ve gotten over the explicit sexuality and made a mental note to perhaps more closely monitor your daughter’s musical interests, you have to admit, the song kicks ass.
What’s heaviest about “LG” is the bass line, a pulsating bottom-end that dredges up carnal motivation and suggests facts of life your parents never told you about. Meantime, the Lady sprawls hither and yon, a siren of frank erotica with one of the best derrieres in the business.
4. ‘’Infinity Guitars”—Sleigh Bells
You’re walking past your son’s bedroom door and you hear something that sounds like metal, but isn’t, recalls punk rock, but not exactly. You knock on the door and ask, “What’s that?”
It’s a duo from Brooklyn, New York, called Sleigh Bells, and a little ditty they put together called “Infinity Guitars.”
This lady’s no Gaga. Straight up brunette, like she could be coming at you on any street in America, with a bat. There’s no sexual interest. Like so many millennial women, she’s inscrutable, you don’t know what she wants, or what she’ll do.
What she does do is vocalize over a truncated crunch riff that stops, starts, and ends in the subconsciously hoped-for conflagration. In the companion video are cheerleaders. In Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the cheerleaders were obviously rocking out. Not sure about the cheerleaders in this one.
Unreadable millennial youth, giving just a taste of what you recognize, and a brief, disconcerting load of what you don’t.
5. “Gotta Get Away”—The Offspring
Too fast or a bit too slow,
I’m paranoid of people and it’s starting to show.
There’s one guy that I can’t shake,
Over my shoulder is a big mistake.
Years after its release as the fourth track and third single from The Offspring’s 1994 breakthrough album Smash, “Gotta Get Away” was still echoing through the halls of high schools and colleges across the nation. I know this because my son was eight years old in 1994 and brought the CD home in 2002, all psyched-up about it.
And why not? The band’s oeuvre spoke to adolescent male social maladjustment, expanding on themes made coin of the realm by Beck’s 1993 mega-hit “Loser.” Major difference: The Offspring took the energy level to the roof.
On “GGA,” vocalist and lyricist Dexter Holland acquaints listeners with the deteriorating mental state of the song’s protagonist, sounding something like a post-millennial version of Beach Boy singer Mike Love if Love had fallen victim to his parents’ acrimonious divorce at age seventeen and been abandoned to fend for himself. A clanging riff transitions to a classic “Whoa-oh-oh” segue that moshing scrums join in on at live shows.
By then you’re five tokes over the line, surfing self-fulfilling waves of angst, and ready to break through to…
To whatever future awaits the youth of today. It’s hard to say.