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I WAS A TEEN-AGE ROCK FIEND : Kids! What's the Matter With Kids Today? Nothing

February 16, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

I confess. Rock 'n' roll has put a spell on me.

Of all the many stupid things I've done in my life, easily 75% have been directly caused by rock 'n' roll. The rest, I hasten to add, were prompted by trying to pick up girls. There have been so many embarrassing moments that I hardly know where to begin.

My fifth-grade English teacher booted me out of class for a week after we got into a shouting match over the Beatles. He said they'd never last. I told him they'd be around long after he was rotting in his grave, which I predicted would be soon.

Not long afterward, I found myself prancing around the living room to the Who, twirling my microphone around my head like Roger Daltrey did on TV. Just as I was getting the hang of the act, I smashed the mike into my father's aquarium, breaking all the glass and sending a cascade of water across the room. The flood ruined our new couch and an expensive rug and nearly electrocuted me. The fish weren't too thrilled about it, either.

At 13, when Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" was a hit, I almost burned down the house trying to cook banana skins in the oven. They were supposed to get you high. They didn't. They just got you sick to your stomach.

When I was in high school, the hip local rock deejay was busted for possession of cocaine. Impressed, my pals and I immediately went out and bought some after school. (It took us two days to figure out you were supposed to inhale it, not mix it in a glass of water like Alka-Seltzer). I was so hopped up that I sped my Driver's Ed training car through a wire fence and into a street light.

I was reminded of these sordid incidents reading that a distraught parent had filed suit against heavy-metal star Ozzy Osbourne, saying that his 19-year-old son had committed suicide after listening to an Osbourne song called "Suicide Solution."

I felt sadness for the boy's family. When I was a kid, I was rebellious, foolish, idiotic. But rock 'n' roll didn't fuel my anger so much as articulate it. When I first heard "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," I was astounded--not just by the ribald passion of the song--but by the fact that the Rolling Stones had somehow read my mind.

Kids today love Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" for the same reason that I reveled in the Animals' "It's My Life" or the Rolling Stones' "Get Off My Cloud." It's more than just the emotion and cathartic release that these songs offer. Kids often take these songs to heart for the simple reason that their parents hate every note.

Anything that alarmed our parents was almost automatically a good sign. I still remember the horrified expression on my mother's face when I played John Lennon in the fourth grade school play and she realized I had cut the collar off my new suit jacket!

The same potency carried over to our crazy love lives. When I was a freshman in college, my roommate had a girlfriend who idolized Elton John. She was far away at another school, and when they weren't on the phone he played Elton's records over and over, as if to soothe the pangs of distance and loneliness. (When they broke up, he took the records out to the beach, built a fire and burned them, chanting the lyrics to "Your Song" as if to purge from his spirit the last vestiges of adoration.)

But what many adults forget--even today's young parents, who grew up with the same rock songs that I did--is how much consolation and joy rock brings to our lives. In high school, one of my best friends was distraught when his girlfriend left him for another guy. The split was so agonizing that he wondered aloud whether life was worth living.

I was painfully inarticulate, completely in terror of such wild grief and had no idea how to comfort him. Finally, I insisted that he listen to Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown." It's hard to say just what feelings that plaintive ballad sparked inside him. But he sang it for weeks on end until the pain subsided.

Not long afterward, he met another girl, fell in love, and the last time I saw him, he slyly joked that the song has helped him rebound from so many break-ups that he's going to have the band play it at his wedding.

The melodies may have become more dissonant, the lyrics may appear more explicit, but the vivid pleasure and comfort that rock brings has never abated. Even today, when my wife is out of town, I find myself turning to rock for solace, crooning everything from the Talking Heads' "And She Was" to the Replacements' "Kiss Me on the Bus."

So I guess I'm still under the spell. It's easy to see why some parents think rock is a nasty habit--the siren that lures adolescent voyagers to treacherous shoals. But if rock is what my friends and I turned to when we reached the jagged edge, it's also the force that captured our imagination and led us away from the precipice. For all its sound and fury, rock doesn't break hearts. If anything, it can mend them.

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