Monday, October 7, 2013

My generation

One of life’s pleasant illusions is the notion that certain cultural references will never go stale. Sure, anyone over 30 has seen his or her favorite music recede in pop-culture’s rear view mirror. Sure, name-checking Camper van Beethoven or remembering that professional buffoon Flavor Flav once mattered marks you as someone of a certain age. But that's not true of the undisputed classics, right?

So, I was in Pittsburgh last week, and to save money, I used Airbnb to book two nights in the spare room of a Pitt grad student, Nathan, and his wife, Karli. We were making some small talk the first night, and I asked how their experiences participating in the “room-sharing economy” had turned out so far.

“It’s been pretty good,” Nathan said. “One thing is, everyone who’s stayed with us has been great. We haven’t had any problem guests so far.”

“Hmmm. Have I mentioned that Keith Moon is my uncle?” I said.

Keith Moon (1946-1978)
Silence. Blank looks. Urk. So I explained somewhat awkwardly that Keith Moon was the drummer for the Who back in the 1960s and 1970s, and was legendary for wrecking hotel rooms. So naturally it would be funny if he had a nephew dedicated to the family hobby, ha ha …

Moon died in 1978, a good decade before my hosts were born. 

“I’ve heard of the Who,” Karli said doubtfully. Nathan brought up Alice Cooper, rather in the manner one affects enthusiasm for Doris Day to humor an aging aunt. I mentioned, to be on the safe side, that Keith Moon is not in fact my uncle (although one of my uncles did know Alice Cooper, as it happens). We moved on to other topics, and the moment passed. 

The next day I met up with my father. His pop-music tastes have never moved past the era of the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby, though thanks to the "Standing in the Shadows of ..." documentary of a couple years back, he now knows about Motown. He and I have engaged in a certain amount of generation-gap sparring over the years, so I relished telling him that I was now as much an old fogey vis-à-vis the under-25 crowd as I’d considered him to be back in the day. 

I’m not sure he believed it – to my father, anything from the Beatles onward qualifies as young people’s music – but it certainly amused him to hear it. 

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