Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Gender and Music

A scene in the family kitchen, from about seven years ago -- supper is finished, the dishes are being washed by my adolescent daughters so they get playlist privileges while my wife and I tidy up around them.

Katy Perry's "Firework" comes up.

I roll my eyes.

My wife: "What?" 
Me: "It just gets to be a bit much after a while." 
Her: "You don't like female pop singers?" 
Me: "Well, I have my problems with this female pop singer." 
Her: "Shouldn't we sometimes listen to music that challenges us?" 
Me: "I think I've been challenged sufficiently, thank you. Skipping to another song would be nice. Preferably something not on the Glee soundtrack." 
Her: "So you don't like any of the girls' songs." 
Me: "It just gets to be a bit..." 
Her: "You think it would be better if everybody liked what you liked and didn't give you grief about it." 
Me: "Now hold on..." 
Her: "We should just listen to your music, all the time." 
Me: "Wait, pause the game! That is not at all what I am saying. Let's trade places for a moment. Let's say I'm the breadwinner, and you're the one at home -- only with two boys, ages 10 and 12. And ever since the older boy turned 7 all the two of them ever listen to is AC/DC. "Hells Bells" "Thunderstruck" -- five years later they never get tired of it, that's what they listen to when they wash dishes, when you drive them to hockey or a sleepover, you name it. Nothing else pleases them. You're driving, you say it's your turn to choose the music, and they just stare moodily out the window. But then you put on "Who Made Who" and suddenly they're both singing along -- again." 
[Long pause.]
Her: "That would get to be a bit much after a while."

Alright, let's move on to this bozo.
"I think music has gotten very girly."
I'd rather take the piss than defend him, yet here we are. Full quote:
I think music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment – and that's not good. When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine – I don't care. The moment something becomes preserved, it is fucking over. You might as well put it in formaldehyde. In the end, what is rock & roll? Rage is at the heart of it. Some great rock & roll tends to have that, which is why the Who were such a great band. Or Pearl Jam. Eddie has that rage.
If your social media feed hasn't yet apprised you of the situation, go ahead and Google "Bono" "girly" to see just how much flak he's caught for saying this. And granted, "very girly" is not the wisest choice of words at this particularly fraught cultural moment. But his larger observation, however clumsily expressed, is worth consideration.

You need to find a place for young male anger. I'll sign on to that. Adolescent boys have cauldrons of anger in 'em, and it can't be helped -- they're flooded with testosterone and dozens of other crazy-making hormones that keep them from thinking straight. Here in the Enlightened West the tribal rites-of-passage that once goaded young hotheads past the breaking point and into acknowledging the necessity of the mature warrior committing to communal and maternal expressions of masculinity have been all but abolished. Now take away the circle-pit and see what happens next.
Anyway -- parents of adolescent boys, please enlighten me: are they listening to AC/DC? U2? Katy Perry? Whatever it is, I imagine it gets to be a bit much after a while. That's just the way it goes when you're a mature adult, putting in the work and listening to what others are after.


Joel Swagman said...

Some random thoughts that bounced around in my head after reading this (some directly related to your post, some more tangentially related):

* There are of course several female musicians who are popular with angry young men. (Or at least, were popular with my set back when I was 19). Janis Joplin was the first name that immediately popped into my head, but if you wanted to list them all, you could make a list as long as your arm.

* I always liked the anger in Alanis morissette's music back in the 1990s. It felt raw and real to me at the time.
A few years ago, though, I was having a conversation with a male friend who hated her. "Doesn't her music just sound like PMS in music form?" he asked me.
As stupid as it sounds, it got under my skin in the way these stupid comments sometimes do. It made me think that there was something un-masculine about liking Alanis Morisette, and that this was just "PMS" music.
I'm now thinking maybe this is an example of the double standard. Men get to be angry in their music, but if women are angry, then it's an example of too much PMS.

* When I was 19, I used to really hate the teen pop music that my younger sister loved. And I used to get really worked up about it as well--viewing it almost in moral terms about the struggle between "good music" and "bad music". My parents couldn't understand why I would get so worked up about it, and would say, "Look, if this music makes people happy, then there's nothing wrong with it."
Looking back now, I'm entirely of my parents' opinion, and can't for the life of me understand why I got so worked up about hating teen pop. But it seemed like something important to get upset about at the time.

Whisky Prajer said...

Yeah, tapping into anger is not a "boys club exclusive" by any stretch. When I was a late-adolescent male in the early 80s it was a kick to listen to Joan Jett, Wendy O. Williams, early Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde, Lita Ford, etc etc. And I still like Morissette's music -- I think "Uninvited" is especially powerful. I gather from interviews, however, that she's just not that angry these days (how long can any of us hold onto the rage, really?), so the music isn't coming to her. Or, more likely, maybe the music that is coming to her is too different from the old stuff to make a dent on public consciousness.

What I recall from my adolescent attitudes toward music was just how vitally important it was to have a girlfriend who shared my musical tastes. If she couldn't "rock" what chance did we have? The (highly dubious) question of "taste" did seem to take on a near moral stature. *Sigh* I was an insufferable prat, to be sure.