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Whaddaya MEAN, "Oldies"??!!!

What is Rox Populi? | Archived Columns

Posted: June 03, 2003

By Christopher Roberts

I used to rock 'n roll all night and party everyday. Then it was every other day. Now I'm lucky if I can find half an hour a week in which to get funky.

--Homer Simpson

Remember the "oldies" station you would always pass up on the radio dial when you were a kid? The "old" people would always say, "Now that's when music was good. Not this crap you're listening to." Ah yes, how I would laugh at them as I jammed to Men At Work's "Who Can It Be Now?" I remember thinking, "Man, these old people are sure bitter about music." They became especially bitter when a song from their youth was remade by one of the day's more popular acts. I remember when mall queen Tiffany sang "I Think We're Alone Now." It was on all the radio stations, all the time. The "old" people would listen in disbelief, their protestations falling on deaf, ignorant ears. They would snap, "That's a Tommy James And The Shondells" song. What have you all done to it?!!" They seemed to be filled with a feeling of dread. I never knew why. Now I do.

Fast forward 20+ years. I'm in line at a local Subway complaining to a friend how sick I am of hearing about their goofy pitchman Jared and all the weight he lost. In the midst of my tirade, the radio behind the counter begins to crank out a familiar tune. One of my useless talents is the ability to identify songs by hearing only the first few notes. As the guitar strummed, I told my friend, "Dude, Crowded House, 'Don't Dream It's Over.' I love that song." The twelve-year-old girl in front of me turned around slowly and laughed. "What's a crowded house mean? There's only a few people in here." As I looked condescendingly down at her I was about to explain that I was referring to the name of the band when suddenly, the vocals began. This wasn't Crowded House at all!

"I have this CD at home," the little girl said. Almost afraid to ask, I queried, "And what CD is that?" She fixed me with that "you're sooo lame look" and said, "Sixpence None the Richer, of course! They're great."

I was stunned. "Sixpence the What?! That's a Crowded House song! What have you all done to it?" The circle of life was now complete. Cruel fate had sprinkled a dose of ironic karma on me. No way, man, not me. I'm not old enough to have songs from my youth remade. That was only a few years ago. I was still in high school when I first heard that back in the mid- eighties and that was only--OH MY GOD--seventeen years ago!

Seventeen. Seventeen. The number echoed in my brain over and over again. The room started to spin. The poster of Jared started laughing at me. I was losing my balance. I had to get out. I ran to my car and locked the door behind me. I gripped the steering wheel and drew some deep breaths. No problem here. I checked the rear view mirror and just for a second I thought I saw the Grim Reaper wearing a Frankie Goes To Hollywood T-shirt. After I rubbed my eyes, the ghastly apparition disappeared.

My friend got into the car next to me. "Dude, what was that?" he inquired. "Nothing," I said, playing it off legit. "Just felt a bit nauseous." As I backed out of the parking lot, I reached for the radio knob and fumbled with the buttons until I found a clear signal. The DJ prefaced his song intro by saying: "The greatest hits from yesterday! And now a smash from 21 years ago, here's Men At Work with 'Who Can It Be Now?'"

With an exhale of resignation, I listened to the tune, remembering the time I first heard it. When life was full of possibilities. When I did not know what the IRS was. Simpler times indeed. Then I understood why the "old" people were so bitter about their music. Their attachment to the songs was really an attachment to a simpler time for them, a better time. The encroachment of modern music was a reminder of how long ago those times were, so it was rejected and hated. Now that "my" music is a little...okay, a lot older, I too am getting a gentle reminder of my mortality.

This WILL happen to you. When it does, don't worry. Nature can be cruel. Just take care of yourself to live long enough to laugh at that twelve-year-old when she's thirty something and hears a remake of Sixpence None The Richer's remake of "Don't Dream It's Over." Karma, you see, is not without a sense of humor.

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