Recently, I was listening to a little cluster of students who huddled around a computer, giggling at what each other didn’t know and at what was too old to care about. One proudly explained that she couldn’t name a single Beatles song, though her friend began to sing the chorus of “Here Comes the Sun.” A third proclaimed loudly that Madonna was overrated and that Beyoncé is so much better. This is the same group who call ’60s and ’70s classic rock “dad rock.”
As a dad in Wayfarers, I’m not sure how to respond to this half-joking diminution. It’d be nice to be the cool old dude, but one must be careful not to veer too far and end up like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty or worse, like Dennis Hopper in River’s Edge. Old-dude cool is dangerous territory, even at this late date in pop culture. While it is acceptable for me, in my 40s, to play Pixies louder than a middle-aged man should, it would not, for example, be okay for me to listen to Lana Del Rey at all. (Who’d want to, when you’ve got Velvet Underground & Nico and Portishead?)
Here’s the catch: the double-standard is real, apparent, and obvious . . . and no young person apologizes for it— even though young people readily plead the case when faced with a double-standard dealt out by an older person. For example, if a teenager has something old, then it’s “vintage,” but if I have something old, then it’s just old. Old-dude cool involves knowing all about that undefined and deeply hypocritical line – the edgy edge of edginess – and it means grasping what Bob Dylan taught generations of us: if you have to ask, then you don’t get it.