I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing All Over Again

Courtesy of keen.com

Courtesy of keen.com

Remember that Coca-Cola ad from the early 70s featuring the song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”? This latest one from the Super Bowl captures that same spirit, and I find myself both skeptical and touched by it.

When I saw the ad during the Super Bowl, I didn’t register what was really happening. The song starts off in English, and I was at a party where people were talking, so I didn’t actually hear that there were parts sung in foreign languages. And why would I take special note of the various cultures represented visually? We are, thankfully, well past the point when seeing people with different skin color, hair and clothes draws attention.

So when I viewed the commercial yesterday as a result of all of the buzz, my initial reaction was to dismiss it as a ploy. But then I remembered the old commercial from my childhood — the one with “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” — and I thought about what might have been behind this idea.

We live in a time that seems less conformist but also more polarized than that of my childhood and the preceding decades. Although we hope that it’s because people are more open-minded about differences now, I think that what is considered acceptable behavior has shifted. Previously, a racist comment uttered at the office or in line at the grocery store might have been met with tentative uncommitted nods or obligatory silence by people who disagreed. Now, those making the comments are outing themselves as ignorant — even if their intended audience only thinks so because of how inappropriate such remarks are. Prejudice will always exist, unfortunately, though not necessarily along lines of race or nationality. There seems to be plenty of prejudice today about political parties and religion, among other things.

What struck me about the Coca-Cola commercial is how they motivated themselves to do something so bold. Obviously, they know that their money will come from a more diverse population from here on out. Those who complained on social media that “America The Beautiful” is our national anthem and that Coca-Cola blasphemed by having it sung in different languages are in the minority. (Let’s not be prejudiced against their intelligence, though. Chances are that their initial outrage got the best of them, and they really do know what our national anthem is.)

Still, it was a risky move — people who support the old status quo are very loud. Perhaps Coke’s execs were inspired by the Cheerios ad from earlier this year that featured a bi-racial family. Maybe they just wanted to be talked about… after all, they paid good money for that spot.

I’d like to think that there was a creative type sitting in his or her office several months back who had this idea… to extend the brand’s history of unity vs. division and bring it into the present in a way that is obvious and unafraid. It’s not enough to teach the world to sing anymore. We need and want unity on a different level. It would be wonderful if someday acceptance could go beyond race, nationality and culture to include those who feel more intensely, struggle in ways that can’t be defined by our narrow definition of disability and just happen to think differently.

We’re not there yet. In our schools, conformity is a sought-after quality in many ways, from test scores to fashions. The Disney Channel may feature ethnically diverse casts, but they are funneling kids in one direction (no pun intended) when it comes to things like behavior, respect (for self and others) and personal choices. Any parent raising a child who “marches to their own beat” knows what it feels like to walk the tightrope of supporting their need to be who they are and the desire to protect them from others’ opinions.

The irony is that while we want our pop culture to celebrate differences, we aren’t entirely ready to bring them into our day-to-day world… even we GenXers whose legacy of skepticism is strong.

The lyrics from Rush’s “Subdivisions” — conform or be cast out — remain relevant, but maybe less so than they used to be, which would be a very good thing. I hope a company like Coca-Cola knows that to the rest of us, acceptance is about more than selling soft drinks.

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1984 Never Ends

1984It’s a sweltering August evening. I’m in the front passenger seat of a sleek black sports car listening to music at high volume in a parking lot somewhere in Northeast Indiana. It’s 1984.

Not the year 1984… rather, the CD my husband and I were cranking after coming from an anniversary dinner to the resort where we were married.

But it could easily have been 1984 in the same vicinity, in the same month, on a similar hot night, in a (much likely) less impressive car with the same CD playing. In fact, that anniversary evening, I had that sensation that is not quite deja vu and not quite flashback, a cocktail of past and present that reminds you that some moments line up on a parallel. There are things in your life that don’t just remain the same… they keep popping in at various points, layering on new meaning each time.

I remember the weeks before 1984 was released. There was all manner of speculation about what the album would be. It was a bold statement to name the album after the year, as if it would be the artistic statement that summed up the era. I would be surprised if that was the band’s intention. The real big news was that Eddie played keyboards on it.

When I first saw the video for “Jump” on MTV, it was actually kind of disappointing, because I listened (and still do) to Van Halen for a harder, more swinging sound. But as soon as I heard the rest of the album, I could overlook it. The one thing it did was open the band up to broader air play, which used to be a much more important thing for a fan than it is now.

There’s something about Van Halen, and especially 1984, that reminds me of being young, more than any other music from that time. In a way it enables me to experience that feeling even now. So, while listening to 1984 might not seem an obvious choice for celebrating a wedding anniversary, it was perfect for my husband and me.

Coincidentally, today is Eddie Van Halen’s birthday. It’s a fitting way to wrap up my week of birthday blog posts on songs that shaped my life.

Cruising Tunes

cassette in carInsurance.com recently did a survey on best and worst driving songs, and when I got over my jealousy of the marketing team who worked on that program, I thought about the general subject of listening to music in the car. The number one pick was “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, which actually makes sense to me, though one might think something like “Drive My Car” or “Radar Love” would take the top spot.

When I was in college, my friends and I would enjoy what we called a “campus cruise.” We would pile into someone’s car and drive around the campus and adjacent student-housing areas just to see if we could catch anything interesting in action. Two gentlemen a few ladies in my group were interested in lived (or hung out at, I can’t remember) the same house, so it was convenient to drive around that block a couple of times. But mostly we meandered with no specific destination in mind. While the idea of this now is probably incredibly offensive to young folks, this was the 80s, and Ronald Reagan had been assuring us for years that it was our God-given American right to not deprive ourselves of any pleasure, as the world — and everything in it — was ours for the taking, especially petroleum products.

So, after plopping out of bed well after the sun rose and devouring a lukewarm pizza from the student union, we’d hop in someone’s car, roll out of the parking lot and pop in one very special cassette — Kick by INXS.

There is nothing on Kick about driving. “Don’t Stop Believing” isn’t about cruising either, but you can imagine why it was the top choice. It’s a turn-up-the-volume-and-belt-it-out anthem that transports you to a place where you are unashamed of who you are, what you want and what’s happened to you. For whatever reason, it seems like when we are behind the wheel of our car, we are in a place that is both public and private. We can sing out loud… to whatever we want… even if it’s Steve Perry and we have no chance of hitting more than four of the notes he does.

We didn’t sing to Kick. We generally ignored or fast-forwarded through the opening song, “Guns in the Sky,” but we did rap along to “Mediate”. We thought we were totally cool to “Devil Inside”. We imagined someone singing “Need You Tonight” to us, maybe even Michael Hutchence himself. Why not? We were in the car. Your imagination can take you anywhere when you’re in the car.

Kick was an obvious choice in the late-80s for a group of gals, but there is something very open-road-freeing about that album for most people, I think. It’s actually one of my husband’s favorites — a guilty pleasure for him, because his standards for musicianship at the time were so high it was surprising Kick even was a blip on his radar. The music is punchy and celebratory, like sticking your arm out the open window on the highway… before you became aware of the rare possibility that a pebble or some other small object could pop up from under the wheel of the car in front of you and puncture your skin and, in turn, starting telling your kids to keep their hands and arms in the car until you got to the last block before home.

The more I write about this, the more I miss it, and its context. A song like “Mediate” told us that the world really wasn’t all right, and several of us had already caught on to the false prophecy of the Reagan years. But we weren’t quite ready for reality. We knew it was coming, but it was our time to savor the last bits of youth.

Nearly 8 Ways This GenXer Felt Old This Week

Nevermind Baby Grown UpYou may have seen this photo on various sites in the past week or so. The phrase, “A picture says a thousand words,” comes to mind. But, in this case, the image needs only three to get its message across — “You are old.”

Those of us who remember the release of “Nevermind” or the demise of Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, are supposed to feel their age when shown this image. But I was already feeling that way this week due to a variety of other harbingers of maturity.

A department head named Dakota.

I was reading a trade publication for work the other day and came to the section where they announce promotions, new positions, etc. There was a listing for a woman named Dakota who had just joined a company as director of one of their departments.

Disclaimer — I am not one of those people who thinks that a guy named Buck can’t be a sommelier or a woman named Ginger won’t land a “serious” job. But the fact that kids born in the era of Montana and Sierra are now leading groups of people in manufacturing companies made me realize that quite a bit of time has passed since the Heathers and Dawns of GenX entered the workforce.

Not a single person in my writing class understood my cultural reference to Rob Lowe.

In the GenX female dictionary, look up the definition of “hot,” and you will find the words “Rob Lowe.” So in the spirit of “show-don’t-tell,” I described a character as looking like Sodapop from The Outsiders. No one understood the reference. It was so off that many of them actually called it out in the notes they wrote for my workshop. When a classroom full of mostly adult women does not totally get Sodapop, you know that you’ve crossed the threshold of time. It makes me wonder if they even know C. Thomas Howell!

The contents of my purse.

I’ve been known to say that the size of a woman’s purse indicates her age. In college, we didn’t even carry purses out to bars, because the possibility of losing them in all the excitement that a $3-pitcher establishment offered was so great. As a female acquires more responsibility, the bag she totes around gains more stuff.

This week, though, it was not the size of my bag but what I found in it that made me feel my age. If the contents of one’s purse reflect that person’s life, I think that a child’s molar, reading glasses and a tube of Motrin for my pending fourth root canal sums it up tidily.

The fact that I went to college when pitchers cost $3.

Granted, it wasn’t the kind of place I seek out these days. But still…

Frances Bean is not a baby.

If the dude from the Nirvana cover is 22, then Frances Bean, Kurt and Courtney’s daughter, must be legal drinking age as well, or at least close. I could google this, but I’d rather retain the small measure of doubt that this is true.

I referred to a portable CD player as “obsolete.”

My daughter received a clock-radio-iPod docker for her birthday, so I removed the CD-player-radio combo we got from my FIL from her room, saying these words as I picked it up and put it on top of the whites load in the laundry basket to be carried to the basement. And while I realized how weird it was to call such a thing “obsolete,” I noted how she had never used it… of course because she has never owned a CD.

I realized I don’t have a Pintrest account.

Wait, scratch that. If I am a 40-something woman, I’m supposed to have a Pintrest account. How GenX of me to reject the mainstream 🙂

Gen X as slacker parents — not so much.

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

Does this look like the child of a slacker?

This morning, I was watching a segment on The Today Show featuring Jessica Lahey, an education and parenting writer, and Wendy Mogel, a family psychologist and author, on the importance of creativity. One of the guests commented on how offering creativity boosters like free play goes against the current trend of days filled with structured activities.

How ironic — the generation known for being slackers is raising its children with an intensity that appears to be unparalleled by previous generations.

As soon as Gen Y graduated into an awful economy, they became the hopeless unemployed basement dwellers who feasted off their parents’ generosity. But let’s not forget our roots. We were the original lazy generation, though no one accused us of being coddled by the latch-key lifestyle of many of our formative years. Yet, I’m sure the phrase, “They aren’t willing to put in the hard work,” has been uttered about every generation when they entered the workforce, especially those gifted with poor job prospects.

Research does show us, though, that each generation has some defining characteristics, and Gen X is supposed to be filled with free thinkers who value family and personal time. And I know that as we matured into our parenting years concepts like “free range parenting” and the like gained notice (though maybe not popularity). But so has the “helicopter parent.” So what’s behind the intensity of the current parenting generation’s practices?

Not only are our kids over-scheduled (which, in turn, suffocates our families and ourselves with commitments), but we do things like put them in sports leagues that require incredible amounts of practice time, increasing their risk of injury to growing bones and joints, or sign them up for other endeavors meant to help them stand out among their peers. I used to work with an orthopedic surgeon who said he does procedures on teenagers that were previously only done on ex-athletes whose joints wore out in middle age. Where I live (and I think it’s the same in other major urban school districts), kids test into the good public high schools, which means that they spend their middle school years being tutored on top of their normal academics and have to hope that they won’t get an A- in gym, which would sink their GPA too low to compete. This kind of thing is only good if you are in the business of test prep or treating anxiety disorders.

Some of this is forced upon us, such as the choice between spending the equivalent of a college education on a private high school or tutoring and test-prepping your child for a shot at a good free education (something most of us were raised to expect in this country). Work schedules make it tough for some people to offer blocks of free time in one’s bedroom or backyard, and many schools have addressed the need for after-school supervision with structured programs.

This problem has been chronicled over the past several years, and Wendy Mogel isn’t the first child expert to warn us against neglecting free play. Why does it seem that we are still heading in the wrong direction?

I can admit that some of the intensity that taints my parenting is self-inflicted. When my child wants to do everything, it’s hard for me to say no. I listen to parents “lament” their weekends dominated by their children’s schedules, and I detect an air of superiority in their “Oh, we’re just so busy,” that has me questioning how productive my family’s weekends are. When I see my kids’ toy room and could submit a photo of it to The Weather Channel as a post-disaster scene, I wonder if they have too much free time on their hands.

But Wendy Mogel said on The Today Show that mess is the work of creativity, so we have that going for us. Perhaps next time I feel belittled by a fellow parent’s weekend field-to-course-to-court odyssey, I can sigh and talk about how da Vinci’s parents must have had to live through such assaults on their household order as we do.

Apparently those sacrifices we make with our feet when we try to cross through the land of 10,000 Legos are, in fact, part of the formula for future success. I heard only the end of this part of the segment, but experts have determined that creativity is a key trait of business leaders. While I have issues with guiding a child through life with only the goal of a well-paying job in mind (see We Are More Than Our Metrics), perhaps this will get more people on board with the idea that we Gen Xer parents should chill out a bit.

Rockin’ summer like it’s 1977

I wonder if the winner of Shaun's shirt still has it or if she sold it at a garage sale to get the money for a Duran Duran pin.

I wonder if the winner of Shaun’s shirt still has it or if she sold it at a garage sale to get the money for an Adam & The Ants pin.

There’s a preteen in my life, and it isn’t the eternally embarrassed 12-year-old who surfaces from my subconscious for random visits.

She is the 10-year-old who is completely into the Disney Channel sitcom, “Good Luck Charlie,” and the music of its star, Bridget Mendler. At some point within the past year, my daughter has turned into someone very similar to the preteen from the late-70s who also was obsessed with another actor with a budding musical career.

At least she hasn’t chosen Justin Bieber or Big Time Rush. My mother couldn’t say the same thing for me, though. I was fully committed to the teen idol du jour of 1977 — Shaun Cassidy.

Life around here is like a mirror between the decades. It occurs to me to compare and contrast teen idoldom of the times.

My daughter asks me to download a bunch of Bridgit Mendler songs to iTunes (unaware that they often come in a collection called an “album”). I received the gift of “Da Doo Ron Ron” as a single and on Shaun’s self-titled debut album (baffled that my mom didn’t understand why I wanted both). A true fan would be embarrassed not to hear him at 45 and 33 rpm.

My daughter asks me who my favorite singer is, hoping that I’ll say Brigit Mendler. (For the record, I pulled the following names off the top of my head — Morton Harket of A-ha, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and Paul McCartney.) In the summer of 1977, I posed this question to my mom every 10 minutes, “Who’s better? Parker Stevenson or Shaun Cassidy?” For some crazy reason, my mom preferred Parker Stevenson.

No, Mom, Shaun Cassidy is cuter!

No, Mom, Shaun Cassidy is cuter!

My daughter researches the cast of Good Luck Charlie online and finds out that Eric Allen Kramer used to have a pony tail (which my husband confirmed after watching a rerun of Frasier). I learned all about Shaun Cassidy’s birthday, favorite color and what he wanted in a girlfriend in Teen Beat magazine.

Bridget Mendler launched her musical career with the support of the Disney hit factory. Shaun Cassidy began his with the help of reliable covers.

But in 2013, the world has changed, and there are differences for today’s young fans.

Back in 1977, not all teen idols were multimedia. If you were a fan of Leif Garrett or Andy Gibb, you didn’t get to see them on television every week. Your only chance was an occasional appearance on American Bandstand, and you had to keep on top of the TV Guide listings to know when that was happening. If you loved Ralph Macchio or Scott Baio, you didn’t get to hear them on the radio or, better yet, 37 times a day on your stereo. You were limited to their weekly show and print media like Tiger Beat and its ilk.

Fast-forward three-and-a-half decades and we’ve gone well beyond multimedia to mass merchandizing. Not only can today’s preteens see and hear their idols anywhere and as often as they’d like, they can bask in them with head-to-toe fan gear. Bieber Fever even extends to oral hygiene. The lucrative boundaries of fandemonium hadn’t been explored fully in the 70s.

So, let me stop and be thankful again that it isn’t Justin Bieber. At least the actors on Good Luck Charlie aren’t featured on toothbrushes or floss.

Calling All Brady Bunch Fans — Did Oliver Jump the Shark?

Remember this guy?

Remember this guy?

Tonight my children were introduced to Oliver of “The Brady Bunch”. (But not in real life… on TV.) My husband and I disagree about Oliver. I love him… thought he was adorable and that it was exciting that the Brady’s got to have a younger cousin living with them. My husband feels that it was “jumping the shark.” GenXers… what do you think?