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WHOSE MUSIC IS IT, ANYWAY? Rock has a way of rolling over from one generation to the next


"What's a moon dance, anyway?" Her words float casually from the next room.

My 10-year-old is listening to her favorite CD of the week -- Van Morrison. Before that, she and a friend spent an entire Saturday choreographing an intricate dance-gymnastics combination to the strains of "Honky Tonk Woman" by the Rolling Stones. One of my sons is partial to Led Zeppelin, but his brother's allegiance does not swerve from Eric Clapton -- plugged or unplugged. In the car, they are as likely to pop in the Neil Young tape as their mother.

It's all rather unnatural, my children loving the music that rightfully belongs to my generation. Like some kind of benevolent rock and roll despot, I would have been willing to let them have Madonna, Michael Jackson, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and every rap song ever written. In return, I expected the same brand of casual disdain for the music of my generation that I'd had for my parents'.

As a dutiful child, I like to think I did my part to respect the musical tastes of my elders. I kept my hands off my parents' Perry Como and Frank Sinatra records. As a responsible member of my generation, I raised an eyebrow or two in disgust when the grown-ups controlled the buttons on the car radio and we were all forced to listen to Frankie Laine.

Behind their backs I made fun of the syrupy lyrics and predictable melodies. I did my share of embarrassed groaning whenever my mother and father would attempt a modified jitterbug in our living room.

My parents and I followed a pattern that made universal sense -- a pattern that intensified tenfold when the Beatles landed on the "Ed Sullivan Show." My friends and I each "took" one of the Fab Four -- my initial tastes running to Paul, but switching quickly to George before anyone had snatched him up. Our parents watched it all play out and honed their parts to perfection: Our fathers complaining about the hair, our mothers worried about the hidden meaning in those lyrics about hand holding. They surveyed the swooning and the screaming and eavesdropped on my conversations with fellow hormonally driven fans and shook their heads.

Since this was my only preparation in such matters, I was broadsided when I realized my children like my music. Actually, they love my music, and a selfish part of me doesn't want to let them have it. Rock and roll had remained a members-only club in my mind for so long, it didn't seem right that children who didn't get around to being born until disco had already died should sing along, or even want to.

And I'm sure I'm not the only parent to realize that the music on which we built a generation takes on different dimensions when it is my 12-year-old singing along with Roger Daltrey about his generation, or it's Van Morrison suggesting, "It's a marvelous night for a moon dance," in my daughter's ear.

My kids listen intently to my sometimes edited, sometimes embellished, always dated stories of concerts at the Fillmore East in New York City, where I whiled away many Friday nights in my youth. Sometimes I overhear them bragging to their friends, as if I am some kind of perfectly preserved rock-and-roll artifact.

So if nothing else, I was there first, and in person. I saw the Allman Brothers when all of them were alive, and Janis Joplin, too. Jerry Garcia when he was much thinner. Elton John when he had his own hair, and Bob Dylan in the days when he had his mumbling under control. Grace Slick when she was pregnant, and Steve Winwood during Traffic's first tour.

I tell them, convincing myself as I go along, that music was part of the political movement -- us against them -- and that in blasting Jefferson Airplane from your window, you aligned yourself with one side.

Of course most of this falls on the unenlightened ears of those who know Richard Nixon only as an elder statesman living in New Jersey. They seem most impressed when I tell them that in the days before Ticketmaster, we often bought our tickets at the door. It's a weak variation on the walking to school in the snow story, but it may be all I have to distinguish their love of this music from my own.

Apparently, there will be no musical generation gap in this house. I will watch my children come of age to the same lyrics, same pounding beat as I did -- the only difference being they will have no one telling them to lower the volume.

If I missed out on what I figured would be the natural progression of seeing the Perry Como-Frank Sinatra disdain in my children's eyes, I also delight in breakfasts like the one we had this morning. At 7 a.m., my 14-year-old chose the music. The Steve Miller Band, in great voice, exhorted us all to "Come on and dance." So we did. All of us.

LINDA DEMERS HUMMEL is a free-lance writer and adjunct faculty member at Essex Community College.

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