A brief (musical) note to bridging the generation gap
by Carolyn Wyler
I live in an old folks’ home. Well that’s not entirely true, but I was in my late 40’s when my husband and I moved to the 55 and older active retirement community. To say it is “55 and active” is being far too generous. I would have to say that a majority of the people here were probably born somewhere between the 1930s and the early 1950s. Most are grey haired, round bellied, wrinkly-faced types, with walkers and matching polyester pants and shirts. They often peek out of their windows to monitor the streets, tracking hoodlums in the area who look like they don’t belong (i.e. my friend and I) so they can immediately press the speed dial on their phones to notify the community security patrol that there are intruders in the area.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of the people in my community. There are no late night loud parties because they are all asleep by 10 p.m., myself included. There are no fast cars zipping up and down the streets, no domestic disturbances necessitating police assistance. The most excitement we get here is when an ambulance arrives to haul someone away, hopefully just to the hospital, but sadly, often to the mortuary. Like lava from a volcano that has molded into the earth, settled and hardened, the people in my community have reached the age where they feel solid and comfortable in their saggy and wrinkly skin.
I have some great neighbors and friends, many old enough to be my parents who I have grown to love and respect. It’s just I often feel that I am from another place and time, an intruder into the 1930s-50s world that many of my older friends are perfectly happy to remain in.
I have tried to fit in. I went to one of their dance parties and hummed along to the music of Perry Como, Bing Crosby and early Elvis Presley. I’m not a prude and have in fact heard of and even enjoyed some of those performers’ songs. I waited patiently for them to play some Lady Gaga or Blink 182. I even thought I would cut them some slack if they would just give me Elton John, Neil Diamond or the Beatles, but I don’t think anyone made it out of the 1950’s that evening.
I attempted to dance freestyle while everyone else were dancing the waltz, fox trot and jitterbug, but gave that up after several disapproving looks and stares. I love those dances, and in fact can do a couple of them, but my husband (how do I put this gracefully) has not been blessed with a gift for dancing. I retreated to my corner and tried to pull my eardrums out of my head.
Quite frankly, there was only so much Dorsey, Callaway, Como or Crosby I could take before I really wanted to start smashing things. I gave up going to their parties after that, but didn’t give up going to the clubhouse.
The indoor pool at the clubhouse smells like 1968 when my dad used to take my younger brother, older sister and I to the private indoor pool at the college he taught at. For a few minutes, as I swim laps in the heated pool, I am taken back to when I am again spending time with my dad and he is teaching me the back float. And then Frank Sinatra comes on through the speaker system singing “As time goes by.” What the hell? What is wrong with you people? I go and try to change the station but I just get more old songs like “Looking for Yesterday,” “Daddy’s Home” and “This Changing World.” As much as I banged on and cussed at the buttons, it stubbornly refused to spit out any Foo Fighters.
And there they are again, the disapproving looks. Oh crap! I banned myself from your parties, am I going to have to ban myself from the pool too? Hey, I’m willing to work with you people. I can listen to, respect and even like some of your music. In fact, those songs that were just playing weren’t too bad and if I took a minute to think about it they may have been what I actually needed to hear at the moment. But why can’t you even try any of mine?
And then I hear it, an echo, a bell. No, more like a screaming coming from my teenager’s 1995 bedroom. Turn that noise down I yelled at the shut door.
“It’s not noise mom, it’s Sammy Hagar from Van Halen”, the door yelled back at me.
“Well tell Sammy to get the Hale in his Van and drive to the nearest hospital cause it sounds like he’s dying.” Like my neighbors I too had been stuck in my own era of the ‘60s-80s, thinking that this period was the only real period of music and anything else was undesirable.
With the invention of the iPod, satellite radio, Shazam and iTunes, came a connection to several generations and brought together 60 to 80 years worth of music. With just one touch I can be in the 1950s and “All Shook Up” with Elvis and two minutes later be forwarded to 2011 on “The Edge of Glory” with Lady Gaga (talk about time travel made easy). I’m not stuck in one era anymore. I can pick and choose what I like from the last several years and build a bridge over several generational gaps. Now if I can just get my neighbors in this community to subscribe to some of these gadgets.
Music has an incredible ability to bring people together. It can bring laughter and enjoyment to a party. It can tell a story or give a history. It can help unite a couple in marriage or tell a loved one a final goodbye in death. It can bring a smile to a face, trigger a fond memory or inspire someone to be a better person. A song can calm a troubled heart.
So take the good from each generation and start building that bridge.
“Wouldn’t it be Nice”, if “100 years” of songs could “Come together” and build “Respect” and a “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“Imagine”, “I want it that way.” It would be some “Good Times” and “Good Vibrations.”