Let's do this: Meet me Sunday at Tower Records on Sunset, 4 p.m. Bring lumber, nails, audacity. Let's build a physical barrier for one section of the store that will be off-limits to anybody over 18. Let this be our legacy, as Ross Perot would put it, to the next generation. Let us give our children the right to enjoy their music without any adult comment, knowledge or awareness.
I know with every fiber of my being this needs to be done, yet it only struck me a week ago, when two things happened.
First, my daughter, who is 10, asked me if she could have her own CD player for her room. Small thing, $79 job.
"You actually have your own music you want to listen to?"
I knew the name, might have seen a swatch of a video. I'm not very hip about today's Top 10. Most of what I play in my car or on my guitar was recorded 40 years ago by a bunch of crazed hillbillies, or sounds that way. So uddenly I had questions: Should I buy a copy of the CD and screen it first? Should I tell her I was screening it, or do it privately? What future did I envision? One in which we'd ride the freeway singing the lyrics to Ms. Morissette's "Ironic"?
Before I could make a decision, the second thing happened. I saw Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do!," the story of a one-hit rock 'n' roll band that flames out within two months in early '64.
And that answered all my questions.
You get older, you forget. What I'd forgotten, and what Hanks captured wonderfully without ever consciously alluding to it was the way rock 'n' roll was once a private universe for teenagers, a world they did not have to share with their elders.
I loved the film's understanding of music as a happy accident, of how a song could come to life or fail just because a new drummer unilaterally changes the tempo on the night of a talent show. I loved the way it celebrated how the literal world (lyrics) is so trivial and the mystical world (music) is so powerful, so uncontrollable.
It made me remember something a writer named Lester Bangs once said: Rock 'n' roll is a joke, and the joke is on anybody who takes it seriously. It made me want to put an initiative on the November ballot requiring anyone who writes about rock 'n' roll to go out at least once a month and dance to it, so he or she remembers that the way a record feels is a hundred times more important than what it says.
I thought about what '64 was really like for teenagers, and it dawned on me that one of the most glorious things about it was cluelessness of the adult world. You had AM radio and--very rarely--some information on the album liner notes, and that was it. Nobody wrote about it. You stumbled into other bands; you bought an album because of the way somebody on the cover looked.
Each time you pulled a record out of its sleeve and put it on your turntable (and put a quarter on the record player's arm to compensate for having an old needle), you had a complete and total escape. You were safe, free to discover the music on your own terms.
What do kids have now? They have the vice president's wife peering over their shoulders. They have record companies printing parental warning labels. They have their idols feted and analyzed in mainstream adult periodicals. And they have the knowledgeable nods of their parents who, despite the ravages of age, are still plugged into a rock culture so hidebound that new artists are ceaselessly compared to old ones. "Hey, groovy," Mom or Dad can say when Sis comes home with a new CD. "I heard that single. Reminds me of the Who . . . "
How do kids respond? They push the envelope further, until Mom and Dad are too horrified to come in the door. Gangsta rap and heavy metal can be nightmarish places, but at least they're places where grown-ups dare not enter.
Look, nobody my age should have an opinion, written or spoken, about Alanis Morissette. Period. I'm going to take a deep breath and let my daughter discover her own music, the same way my folks let me. I saw Elvis on TV and still did my homework. I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix and never took drugs.
Buy the music, kid. Play the music, revel in the music. Make it yours, figure out for yourself what's good and bad. Fall in love with the artists. Learn how to bring their energy and perfectionism to whatever trail you blaze. Learn why the sound of a record--what that collision of notes and words does to your soul--is so much more important than anything rock critics tell you. They're not only from the adult world, they're from the literal world. Music is beyond human description, kid, beyond parental consent. Each listener is a solo artist.
P.S.: The Tower Records solicitation was a joke. Just like rock 'n' roll.