Tragically unhip when it comes to popular music

May 01, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

A bad thing happened to me the other day. I heard "Kicks" on the radio, and then for the next five minutes I tried to come up with another Paul Revere and the Raiders song. Any Paul Revere and the Raiders song.

And I couldn't.

Of course, I panicked. Anybody would. This may not seem like the worst thing in the world, except it might be the Young Rascals next. And then where would I be?

The business of getting, well, not so young anymore is harder than I expected.

This hit home pretty hard the other week when all the talk was of Kurt Cobain. There I was scrambling to get to my daughter's CD (see, I almost said "record") collection to study up on Nirvana, whose music I always thought sounded more like a dirge than rock and roll.

I listened. I got the anguish, but I didn't get the music. When did music start to pass me by? You remember that scene in "The Big Chill" when the guy asks if the host has any music past the 1960s, and the host says something like, "Was there any?"

At least I'm ahead of one of my friends who got a CD player as a present a few years back and has never even taken it out of the box. He's afraid of it, and also of most inventions that post-date the toaster. Shrinks call this Circuit-City-aphobia.

Actually, I'm ahead of a few friends. At the lunch table at work, I asked how many people could have identified Cobain before his first suicide attempt.

Half raised their hands, although they may have simply been asking to be excused.

These are people who used to consider themselves hip. Heck, they still do. It's the same as the growing-up-thin syndrome. If you grew up thin, you think you're thin even when you look in the mirror and there's Rush Limbaugh staring back at you. I made the hard choice when that first happened to me. I could have dieted. I could have exercised. I decided to get rid of the mirror.

Anyway, I try to keep up. I try to be Mr. Pop Culture.

I can do movies. Well, I could until this latest popcorn news came out. I wondered why I kept seeing all those giant coconut-oil trucks sneaking behind the local cineplex.

Here's the thing that bothers me about the movie-popcorn scandal. I always eat popcorn at the movie because popcorn is supposed to be the broccoli of junk food. Not that it was good for you, but you knew it had to beat Junior Mints.

Turns out, there's more fat in a coconut-oil-doused bag o' corn than in a bacon-and-egg breakfast, combined with a Big Mac-and-biggie-fries lunch.

This upsets me. Not because I want a Big Mac during the movie. I don't. I don't want the burritos they're selling now at some of the theaters, either. You try sitting two hours next to a used burrito. People are starting to bring their own personal-sized Glade to the movies.

For the last 20 years, though, I could have been eating Raisinets, which at least have a fruit component, and are, as you know, the Bogart of movie food.

OK, I'm up on movies. And I watch as much TV as I can stand. But, let's face it, music is where the hip and the unhip part ways.

It's hard. I'm a middle-aged guy from the suburbs and I'm zTC supposed to know rap? I'm supposed to know the difference between Ice-T (not a drink) and Snoop Doggy Dogg (no relation to Charlie Brown)?

Besides, if you want to keep up, how do you manage it? Radio stations are little help. This is the age of niche radio, when one station can play only Elvis songs. Look at the music charts these days. Here are just some of the categories: contemporary, urban contemporary, country, adult contemporary, album-oriented rock, avant-garde rock, new adult contemporary, contemporary jazz, and on and on and on.

You need a guide. If I'm into Smashing Pumpkins, how am I supposed to know where to look? Suddenly, after all these years of reading Rolling Stone, I'm musically challenged. I wonder if this happened to Lou Reed, too.

Here's what is happening to a lot of folks my age. They listen to talk radio (where the danger is that Rush could be on at any time). They listen to country (I'll never be that old). They listen to blues (I do, but bring up Howlin' Wolf in conversation and you get really weird looks). They listen to soft rock (enough said).

Or they get out their Raiders greatest-hit album, crank up the Victrola, and try not to cringe when they get to "Indian Reservation."

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